A biography of Michael Peters

On his way up, Michael Peters worked with some of the top names in European and US design, and went on to influence an entire generation of creative movers and shakers. Former employee Glenn Tutssel looks at a biography of this legendary figure

Take one design guru and one design legend, put them together and you get a great result. Yes Logo, the new biography of Michael Peters by Sarah Owens, is a masterclass in how to tell the story of 40 years in the life of a man who broke the rules. The balance between the story of Peters’ unique life and David Hillman’s mastery of editorial layout makes this book compelling reading. The two great art college friends, who met while at the London College of Printing, have collaborated on a book that every student, designer, aspiring designer, visionary and library should have on their bookshelves.

The book is lavishly illustrated with photographs, and tells the story of Peters’ life and work, from the early days of childhood, trying to fulfil his scholarship at Yale, building the Michael Peters Group, through to his last company, Identica. The sheer volume of work over this period is staggering, and the quality is outstanding. He shows work by other designers who influenced him, such as Tom Eckersley, Saul Bass, Harry Beck and Paul Rand, which clearly set the standards for his future career.

This is what a book on design should look like, beautifully illustrated throughout, allowing the craft of the work to be seen and appreciated with clear, concise captioning and a layout that lets the story be told without clutter. Hillman has weaved his magic into the typography and spreads to make each one a visual treat. The book is a historical record with its time-line illustrations tracking more than 40 years, ten of which I spent working alongside Peters. MPG grew from 25 people when I joined to more than 700 worldwide.

It was a period when design was moving at a rapid pace, when clients realised the power of design and when a generation of young, emerging talent wanted to be designers. Our reputation was one of excellence, and both clients and designers knocked on our door to be part of this great culture. We worked late, very late, and most weekends, too, looking for that breakthrough idea that would add value and enhance a client’s business fortunes. An idea that would win one of those coveted D&AD pencils. It really was the ‘university of design’, and many of us eventually went on to run our own consultancies, still upholding the standards set by Peters.

I remember looking at the portfolio of one student who had arrived via the bursary scheme that I had set up. The hugely talented, charismatic and energetic Garrick Hamm went on to run his own successful business, and is now president of D&AD.

The work in the book stands up well over the 40-year period, because it is all based on sound ideas and is classic in execution. Winsor & Newton inks, Penhaligon’s and Cricketer’s gin were all examples of packaging that people not only bought, but collected and talked about, too. The packaging created during this period moved from pure product protection to become iconic brand assets. The corporate identities shown in this book, such as Universal, are an inspiration, and some of the print and retail work was groundbreaking.

The standard set by Peters was ‘good is not good enough, it has to be great’. Well, this book is great. You get to know the man a little bit more here, but he is a hard man to understand. His vision for the design industry is legendary and, as the last pages of this book were put to bed, his mind was undoubtedly thinking of the next step in his amazing story. •

Glenn Tutssel is executive creative director of The Brand Union Yes Logo: 40 Years of Michael Peters Branding, Design and Communication, by Sarah Owens, is published by Black Dog Publishing, priced £35

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