Remembering Glenn Tutssel: “I am in the business of the big idea beautifully crafted”

We look back at the life and work of the designer Glenn Tutssel, who has died aged 68, following a 50-year career in the design industry, marked by iconic packaging and branding and a legacy of young designers.

Glenn Tutssel, image courtesy of Leon Tutssel

“Glenn’s standards were higher than you could imagine — it was the best thing about him,” Garrick Hamm says of Glenn Tutssel.

Tutsell — the designer acclaimed for his ‘drugs and drinks’ packaging — was known for being a “taskmaster” but it was that persistence, combined with a singularity of vision, that led him to become such an influence in the industry. “I can’t think of anyone else who touched so many designers, and helped them succeed,” Hamm, his frequent colleague, adds.

Tutssel, designer, husband and father died this week, aged 68 following a battle with cancer. He is survived by his wife, Jane, and his two children, Leon and Lauren.

Over his 50-year career, he worked with a wide variety of brands, from BP to Boots. Tutssel’s particular interest though, was drinks; he helped create identities for Bacardi, Guinness and Peroni.

Hailing from Glamorgan in south Wales, Tutssel was inspired by design at a young age by his school art teacher, Doug Sutton — who he also took judo classes with. With Sutton’s help and inspiration, Tutssel took a foundation course at the West of England College of Art in Bristol. Talking to Design Week, Tutssel spoke of the importance of Sutton’s mentorship, saying, “You only need one person to believe in you to succeed.”

From there, he went to the London College of Printing to do a BA in Graphic Communication. His tutors at this time, David Lock and Tom Petterson, ran a design company, Lock Petterson, where Tutssel freelanced. Following his time at college, Tutssel went to work for them — calling it a “natural progression” — designing brochures, corporate identities and annual reports for clients like Esso.

The next two decades saw Tutssel reach the top of his game — twice. He became a director and senior designer at Lock Pettersen, and then moved to Michael Peters, where he eventually became the creative director. It was there that Tutssel hired Hamm in 1989, a moment the latter describes as “walking on air”. It was also where Hamm learned that Tutssel was a “hard boss”.

On one particularly difficult project, Hamm recalls how Tutssel gave him an ultimatum: “If you don’t crack this project today, I’ll fire you.” As the day went on, it became apparent that Hamm was “sinking not swimming”. “Glenn came up to me, and said, ‘come to my house this Sunday’ and so I turned up in the morning and we worked through it together at his home. When we finished, he took me to the pub for a couple of pints.”

This became a tradition on Sundays while Hamm was a junior designer. And it is during this period where he saw a different side of Tutssel; a “charming, warm-hearted family man”. Tutssel’s natural inclination towards mentorship was also made obvious to Hamm at this time.

“What Glenn taught me is that if you want to be successful in design, you have to put in the time. If you wanted to compete on his level, you had to get in early, work hard, and have ideas. Otherwise it was curtains. That ethos has never left me,” Garrick says.

Tutssel Penderyn
Tutssel’s work on Penderyn whisky

At 40, he left Michael Peters to set up his own company, Tutssels, bringing Hamm with him. Seven years after its creation, Tutssels merged with Lambie-Nairn to form Brand Union in 1997. Two years later, Brand Union was bought by WPP (it is now Superunion).

Hamm says that Tutssel has touched an entire generation of designers. “He had a hand on so many shoulders of designers, always taking care of younger ones coming through. It’s an endless number of people.”

One of those designers is Spencer Buck, creative partner and founder of Taxi Studio, where Tutssel spent two years as executive partner after he left Brand Union in 2014.

“Glenn knew the value of design — whether something took five hours, five days, or five months, he knew that good work had value, and he instilled that in us,” Buck says. “He taught an entire generation of people the importance of craft,” he adds.

Perhaps the clearest distillation of Tutssel’s design ethic was a project for Guinness’s sponsorship of the rugby World Cup, which he discussed with Design Week as a career highlight. Tutssel himself called it a “simple idea” to replace the traditional shamrock in the top of the pint with a rugby ball — but it worked.

The design process behind makes for a typically good story — one that Tutssel used to tell with “great gusto”, according to Buck. Having been given the brief one afternoon in London, Tutssel had the idea on his way back in the taxi and presented it to the head of marketing. “It took moments to do but lasted a long time,” Buck says.

It was an example of what both Hamm and Buck refer to as Tutssel’s pursuit of a singular idea. In fact, Tutssel’s catch-phrase was ‘Show me the one’, though Hamm says that that skill was a difficult skill to master.

Tutssel’s relentless pursuit and execution of the right idea resulted in iconic branding. He himself said: “I am in the business of the big idea beautifully crafted.” And though he worked across disciplines, his primary love was for packaging. Tutssel also highlighted his work for Peroni, where he “crafted every element of the label” which has since become a classic.

Another alcohol-based favourite had a personal side for Tutssel; the creation of the Penderyn Welsh Whiskey brand. “As a Welshman it’s an honour to do work for a home-grown business that has become an international success,” Tutssel said.

While Tutssel has five decades worth of work to choose from, what he might be remembered for is his enthusiasm. Both Hamm and Buck talk about how he ignited a passion in design in them and their fellow designers.

Buck says that when Tutssel came to Taxi Studio, he was struck by his undefeated energy. “After spending 25 years in the industry, you can become jaded,” Buck says. “But Glenn’s passion was like working with a big kid.”

Though serious at work, Tutssel was “congenial” at social events and the “light of every room”; known for his impression of the Welsh actor Richard Burton, according to Buck.

After leaving Taxi Studio, Tutssel set up the creative consultancy, Brand Inspiration, in 2015, building on his extensive work with brands. Most recently, he had been working with Welsh distilleries on two new openings.

Tutssel’s work on Penderyn’s gin

Tutsell was involved in tangential fields too throughout his career; a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a freeman of the City of London and a liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Distillers.

Working so widely in the industry meant that his impact was felt on a large scale. John Mathers, who was chief executive of the Design Council, says that Tutssel, his colleague and close friend of more than 40 years, was a “progressive force” within the industry. “He was capable of working across any discipline because he brought a creative flair and inspiration to everything that he did,” Mathers adds.

Mathers points to Tutssel’s aptitude as a creative director, calling him the “gold standard”. In particular, it was Tutssel’s team spirit stood him in good stead in his various directorial positions. “It’s amazing how much you can achieve when you don’t take all the credit yourself,” Mathers adds.

“Glenn had a special way about him that clients trusted,” Mathers says. “He loved his craft and knew what he was doing that was right. It was very important to him that people believed in his work.”

At Brand Union, Mathers and Tutssel set up a trainee scheme, working with six universities, taking on three or four students each year. “I still have youngsters today telling me that they owe everything they have to Glenn,” Mathers says. “Many of the leaders of the industry are people who have gone through a Glenn pupillage, and learned how to do things properly from him.”

As well as his classic design style, it is this sense of mentorship that Mathers says will be Tutssel’s enduring impact. “He loved surrounding himself with young people with great ideas – he saw the potential in people and pursued it,” he says. “His legacy will be the people around him.”

Glenn Tutssel died on Tuesday 24 September, aged 68, and is survived by his wife, Jane, and their two children, Leon and Lauren.

You can read our interview from 2015 with Tutssel about his career here.

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