The design business is full of artists. They are the people who can turn an idea into reality, who, when the talking stops, get on and deliver the goods. Independent by nature, they are usually well respected and popular people in design consultancies, because they are really good at what they do and they don’t make a lot of noise about it. They can’t always tell us how they got there and we are usually reassured when they tell us that they have taken it as far as they can. They rarely disappoint.
So who are these people? What motivates them? What advice would they give to people who might think of following a similar path?
I talked to four of them, all employed by design consultancies who obviously value the craft that these individuals produce.
Martin Roche is a senior designer at Enterprise IG. He studied interior and exhibition design at Reigate School of Art nearly 20 years ago. “Art school gave me a wonderful self belief, an arrogance, even, and I thought I could do anything when I left,” he says. On leaving he started working with Brennan & Whalley, which specialises in interiors and museums. Roche describes it as “a company which really believed that God was in the details. It was like a time bomb had gone off. Suddenly, I was being knocked into shape by people who really knew what they were doing. I quickly realised I had all the attitude, but not the skill of an accomplished designer.”
Fourteen years later, Roche had learnt just about every aspect of the job, from initial concepts right through to site supervision, and he feels this gave him the necessary skills to adapt to this ever-changing design world.
After a spell at Met Studios, he joined Enterprise IG in 1997. “Joining Enterprise IG was a real career move, because I had never heard of branding before and it took me six months to understand what anybody was talking about,” says Roche.
“I found that I had to rebuild my own sense of value, so I started by listening more and eventually discovered that I could use my visualising skills to translate people’s ideas to good effect.”
When working on branding projects, Roche uses drawing like a kind of sculpture, to allow his ideas to take shape. “I hack away at the drawings until they clearly communicate the ideas that we are trying to get across. Drawing for me is only a means to an end, as it is not the finished product. Drawing has it’s own set of problems, too, so I try not to get too involved in it. It is just a way of expressing what’s in my head. You have to learn to care and not to care about your own work – if you get precious with any of it the work soon suffers.”
When Roche works with a team, his job is usually to translate ideas and see if they make any sense. He finds the conceptual part of the job the most painful, but also the most rewarding. “Concept work requires a relentless application, you have to be comfortable with uncertainty. It is emotionally painful and physically hard, too,” he says. He never draws at weekends or as a hobby, preferring inspiration from anything but art, it seems. Music and his kids seem to be the common theme. “Children never cease to amaze me – how they can look at things with a freshness that adults often miss – and all types of music influence me in the way that mood and atmosphere can be created,” he says.
“The future in design is about providing people with more than just transactional experiences, but emotional and personal experiences that affect all the senses,” he says. Roche advises any would-be-designer who’s interested in applying themselves to this craft to “be prepared for the knocks, keep your attitude and only bring it out when you really need to Oh, and pace yourself,” he says.
Roger Berry is a designer at Loewy Group. He has been working there for a “mere 39 years”.
He grew up near Harrow in Middlesex, and started out at junior art school there before moving on to do a National Diploma course in graphic design. It was the likes of Peter Blake, he recalls, who created the wonderful “freedom” that he felt at art school. Berry’s first job was with Hoover in the publicity department, doing “a bit of everything”. A few other jobs followed before eventually settling at Loewy, where he has worked since 1972.
In the early days there was no Letraset and all typography had to be created by hand. “Because lettering, for example, took so long to render, you picked up an intimate knowledge of how it was constructed, so you developed a good feel for what was the right font to draw,” he says. “Packaging was about 70 per cent logo and 30 per cent picture. Then the logo had to say everything: the product, the quality, the price and the attributes that the product stood for. All this you had to try to get across with a piece of type.”
Berry still works with the same clutch pencil he had when he started out. “All I need is my pencil and my C90 tracing paper and I am away. I don’t like reference books for ideas. We are continually bombarded with imagery today, so, instead, I try to unlock what’s in my subconscious because anything that’s got in there has got stuck for a reason, and I look no further”.
“With the design team I try to latch on to one word in the brief or something someone has said that captures what we are trying to communicate,” he adds. Has the computer held back the quality of Berry’s work? “Not really,” he says. “When Macs first came out, I used to spray my tracing-paper sketches on to the screen with Spraymount and then try to match it in Illustrator. The angle and pressure you put on to the paper affects the quality of a line. A mouse can’t do that. I basically trace what I’ve drawn, but then I can stretch or distort it a little before I start to look at things like colour. But if I start to tamper with my original sketch by, say, more than 1 per cent, I’ll scrap it and start again.”
But there are advantages, too. Roger has arthritis, and the Mac has taken a lot of the physical work out of the process. “I couldn’t be dealing with hand-rendering now,” he adds.
These days he prefers to work on the bits of a job rather than the whole thing. Designers ask him to create a piece of the pack or identity in order to explore different directions. “I have a box file with lots of bits I have done in the past that they can go through to try and get a bit more sense out of them,” he says with a wry smile, adding: “What they don’t know is that when they say we want something modern, I have seen it come in-and-out-of-fashion a couple of times before.”
Berry’s advice for anyone thinking of going into design is to do one thing well, “draw”, he says. “If you can draw it, you can do anything.”
Someone recently asked him for an original sketch drawing so that he could hang it on a wall at home. “He didn’t care what it was just so long as it was one of my original drawings, no computer or any of that sort of thing,” he recalls. Was this person in pursuit of a museum piece to look at and admire, the way we like to marvel at engravings from the old masters? Or was it just the pure quality of the craft that he valued, made by a real craftsman? Perhaps it was a bit of both.
Ian Hay works as a designer at Wolff Olins. He is perhaps best summed up as someone who can look at things differently.
Hay studied at the Dundee-based Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design. He got into design because a mate told him there might be some money in it, and being an artist would leave you poor.
“Art school was brilliant because of the people you met and the fantastic freedom you were allowed,” he says. He started working with the Forestry Commission, illustrating and designing books, and the people at Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, who, Hay recalls, “really cared about your education and looked after you”, gave him his apprenticeship.
After various ups and downs with different companies, Hay ended up at Wolff Olins around 1976, and has been there more or less ever since. “Michael Wolff and Wally Olins were amazing. They were real catalysts for new thinking,” he says. He cut his teeth on the Volkswagen identity, which took four years to complete.
Repsol was another one of these. What were you trying to achieve, I ask? “You don’t always know until it finds you sometimes,” he says. “The Spanish government, INI, wanted to create an international brand that it intended to float. In its infinite wisdom it named the company after its lubricant product. The breakthrough in thinking came about by not seeing it as an international company which happened to come from Spain, but reflect instead a proud and progressive Spanish company with all of its dynamism, warmth and culture of its people,” says Hay.
Hay describes himself as a craftsman. “You have to dig and dig, until the problem that has presented itself is properly answered. My job today is working with the younger teams, making sure they are asking the right questions, cross-checking what we are trying to do. It’s also about adding depth, as well as, of course, the hard graft of making it happen,” he says.
The concept phase is also about changing the way that you approach things mentally. “When you are in concept mode you turn on your receptors to everything,” he says. “It can be exhausting because the right idea can come from anywhere at any time, and you have to be ready for this,” he says.
Where does he go to look for inspiration? “Anywhere.” When does he know he has got something which is well crafted? “You just know,” he says.
What advice would he like to give to anybody who wants to follow a similar path? “Don’t,” he laughs, before adding, “Believe in yourself that you can do it.”
Paul Desmond studied illustration at Camberwell College of Arts following a foundation course in Liverpool, where he grew up. He knew from his early days he wanted to pursue illustration and even halfway through his course-work he began doing commissioned work. After leaving Camberwell, he and a couple of friends set up a studio in London’s Covent Garden doing all kinds of illustration and visualisation work. “It was fast and varied work. You did anything and everything, working with markers to airbrushing to acrylics,” he says.
He then started working for Landor Associates. “The consultancy already had an in-house visualiser, but eventually he left and, before I knew it, I had his desk, and then once you’re on the phone list, it’s all over,” he says. He has been with Landor Associates since 1990, and now works part-time with the group along with other consultancies. “I get asked to work in a number of ways,” he says. “If it’s packaging, it’s usually trying to capture a mood for a photograph. If I’m working with the identity teams, then I get involved at the early stages of mark-making. Environmental work means that I can make use of my visualising skills to help demonstrate how a space might work.”
I ask him how he feels about his work. “Oh, I’m not precious,” he says apologetically. “It’s important that the designers really feel that this is their work, so I don’t become attached to anything I do.” But you must get a bit fed up when designers inevitably tweak and tamper with your creations, I insist. “It is nice when stuff I do goes straight through without any modifications, but it isn’t essential,” he adds. I press him on the subject of quality and crafting for deep emotive responses, but Desmond stays quietly impassioned. “I work quite methodically, I have been doing this for years. I know how to draw. I build my drawings up through layers of sketches until it feels right, and I have gained confidence over the years so I know I don’t get fazed by any aspects of a job. I will try anything to get the right result,” he explains.
He has such a cool, detached attitude to his craft and he has kept an open mind to new ideas. Like all professionals, he practises the basics day in, day out. He claims, “If you have a decent idea then my drawings can bring them to life.” It’s as simple as that.