Pure inspiration

When we asked six top design practitioners to present their creative heroes, the range of genres they picked was refreshingly diverse, from beautifully timeless seating to Italian museum architecture, CG Jung’s work and some eclectic 1960s book covers

JOE FERRY, Virgin Atlantic Airways
My design heroes are Charles and Ray Eames. From the very first seating project I embarked on through to the present day, their work has had an enormous influence on me.

Their level of attention to detail and the harmony they created between design and engineering is superb. They achieved this level of construction and aesthetic, while never losing sight of excellent functionality for the end-user.

Considering that most of their designs were completed in the mid-1940s to the early 1960s, it’s incredible how fresh, innovative and relevant their work still looks. They designed such icons as the classic lounge chair and ottoman. Its balance of aluminium, wood and leather is magnificently executed and incredibly comfortable.

The aluminium group chairs are beautifully engineered using the chosen material’s properties to great functional effect while also exhibiting it as the main aesthetic. La Chaise brings art, design and engineering together in a piece that wouldn’t look out of place in a gallery. To this day, the Eameses’ designs are still objects of desire and reflect the standard of design that I aspire to.

My first visit to Castelvecchio Museum in Verona, Italy, was not as a museum designer, but just as a designer. I knew little of its creator, Carlo Scarpa, but it was clear as soon as I entered – even before, because of the beautiful wall that leads you in – that this place was not ordinary. Scarpa takes his visitors on magical journeys – around things, under things, inside to outside to inside, with every room, every detail, every view, every juxtaposition, every material, every texture another surprise and a further delight. He makes us believe that the objects are the most beautiful in the world – which they are not – with the simplest of moves and, as all great artists, he makes it seem so easy – which it is not. Some time later I reviewed a book of his drawings – entitled ‘I draw because I want to see’ – and I began to understand some of his process: slow, agonised, unable to finish.

Building little and always local to the Veneto, Scarpa was dependent on exceptionally patient clients and close working friendships with his makers: ‘Please Maestro, not wishing to hurry you or anything, but any chance of seeing something, a sketch, a drawing before… next year?’ No contracts then, no programmes, no project managers, and, as it turned out, no architectural degree or licence – just the ambition to make the ordinary extraordinary.

For quite a while, I hoovered up the design and writing of my design heroes, whether it was the work of Paul Rand, Bruno Munari or Tibor Kalman. These days, I am more likely to be inspired by an approach or a thought than by a single person.

So my ‘hero project’ is when they curated, designed and sent records into deep space attached to the Voyager space probes, some 32 years ago.

They contained recordings of earth’s noises, voices, an image library of pictures, and dozens of tracks of music that were felt to represent the finest achievements of mankind.

Why this project fascinates me is hard to pin down. The chances of any extraterrestrials scooping them up is pretty low, as is the likelihood of their being in any fit state to be played after millions of years drifting through meteor-strewn nothingness.

I think it’s the grand ambition of the project that I love – the mad schoolboy sci-fi ‘what-if?’. A bunch of astroscience hippies persuaded space agency Nasa to do it, then they just had weeks to pull it together.

How Chuck Berry made it and The Beatles didn’t is for a separate discussion, but in terms of a project that elevates me above the humdrum and inspires’ what-ifs’ of my own, it’s right up there.

When I was 17, I started to read a book that I really couldn’t decipher. However, it moved me greatly. My understanding of it came through feeling rather than any intellectual assessment. The book -Memories, Dreams, Reflections by CG Jung – changed my creative life.

If you look on my bookshelves at home, you’ll find that the design books are far outnumbered by others on the nature of thought. I’ve always tried to find new ways to think about my work and how to approach it. Jung’s tome Memories, Dreams, Reflections is a touchstone.

Back then I began to record my dreams. At first it was a rather haphazard endeavour, but these days it’s a cherished discipline. The rewards are bountiful. A whole array of creative solutions have come directly from this source.

We all have extraordinary internal worlds and it takes so little to embrace them, yet life is so much richer for it.

This little quote of Jung’s I think says it all: ‘The world today hangs by a thin thread, and that thread is the psyche of man.’

So for me it all comes down to one thing – the quality of our thought is the quality of our future. You can apply that to anything, but most especially to our creative processes.

Since that first naive read I have been back many times. Each time it appears to be a different book – a marker, I guess, to how I am changing.

MIKE DEMPSEY, Studio Dempsey
My first inclination was to cite the great Josef Müller-Brockmann, for it was his book The Graphic Artist and His Design Problems that was responsible for my Damascus moment back in the 1960s. But a little later, when I started to spread my graphic wings, it was another man who had a profound effect on my work. He is probably unknown to most, but to me he is a hero. I became so attached to Jack Larkin’s work that I used to remove his jackets from library books. Forty years on I still have them, and I still get a buzz from looking at them.

Larkin was briefly art director of Good Housekeeping in the 1960s, and in parallel he undertook many book cover commissions. It was his work in this area that I admired so much. His covers were vibrant and economical, and featured his characteristically immediate style of illustration.

The cover that I still rate is Joby – it epitomises Larkin’s ability to be both graphic designer and illustrator. He moved back to his native Australia in the 1970s and taught for many years. Now in his 80s, Larkin lives quietly in Melbourne.

MALCOLM GARRETT, Applied Information Group
Over the course of the years I have had many heroes, so naming just one would always be a difficult task. Some are obvious, such as Andy Warhol, or the teachers at the Bauhaus, and I’ve cited Barney Bubbles many times in the past, but there are many who are somewhat more obscure.

I’ve always been inspired by the unsung talents that are found on the fringes, and haven’t quite achieved the levels of fame that perhaps they warrant. I’m inclined to say some of my heroes appeal more for a sense of notoriety than for any specific creative successes.

It is an attitude and approach that inspires me. It is for these reasons that I choose Cal Schenkel, for his anarchic, creative collaborations with Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

His work had a cerebral, if not an obviously stylistic, influence on my early attitude to design, and naturally influenced my own record sleeve design, in quite subtle ways. His work was chaotic yet arresting, and usually visually challenging. His work could not often be called ‘beautiful’.

Most importantly for me, though, was that it was imbued with numerous layers of detail – further meanings and links to other works were implied, forming part of what Zappa described as a ‘conceptual continuity’. I took that statement to heart and it continues to inform my own design to this day.

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