Andy Altmann – “I don’t really have ambitions: I just wait to see where projects take me”

Following his talk at Offset creative festival on Sunday, the co-founder of Why Not Associates tells us about the diversity of his job, his love for typography and a painful spelling mistake he made on a Ted Baker design.

Andy Altmann © Offset
Andy Altmann © Offset

When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?

I don’t think I ever really wanted to be a designer. I was pretty lazy at school but ended up on a foundation course and loved it. Most of the work I did was three dimensional, so I couldn’t make my mind up between sculpture or graphic design for a degree. In the end I chose graphic design as my dad advised me that there may be a job at the end of it. It wasn’t until I was at Saint Martin’s that I became very interested in typography.

What was your first job?

My first job was washing up in a hotel kitchen. After the Royal College, our first paid design job was to redesign a magazine for an American hair and cosmetics company called Sebastian. It became the starting point of Why Not Associates.

How would you describe what you currently do?

I guess Why Not Associates is a multi-disciplined studio. On any given day we could be designing some postage stamps, directing a TV commercial, designing a typographic pavement or branding a TV channel. It’s incredibly varied but they are all just design problems that need solving.

What has been the biggest change in design since you started?

It has to be computers. We left the RCA with just three drawing boards in 1987. The first thing we bought with a loan from the bank was a state–of-the-art black and white photocopier. It seemed so cool at the time! We didn’t get a computer until about 1990. It cost a fortune but we embraced it, unlike some of our contemporaries who seemed hesitant to work on one.

What is your favourite project that you’ve worked on?

It has to be the Comedy Carpet in Blackpool. I have always been a huge fan of British comedy so when Gordon Young approached me with the idea, it seemed like the job from heaven. It took five years from initial idea to completion and was a very difficult journey full of many ups and downs. But it is incredibly satisfying to see people really enjoying themselves as they shuffle around the design laughing out loud.

Comedy Carpet. © Why Not Associates.
Comedy Carpet. © Why Not Associates.

What is your favourite project that you haven’t worked on?

A James Bond film title sequence.

What is your biggest mistake?

Spelling the word receipt wrong on a receipt holder for Ted Baker. It was the only word on there! Several thousand were printed.

What is your greatest ambition?

I don’t really have ambitions: I just wait to see where projects take me.

Who is the most inspirational person you have worked with?

I think it’s more a collection of people. We have had many designers work with us over the years, as well as a steady flow of interns from around the world and they have all constantly surprised and inspired me at different times.

What piece of advice would you give to people starting out in design?

Work hard and be yourself.

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