When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?
I grew up in a very creative house. My parents were designers, illustrators, painters, interior designers, lecturers and teachers of the arts. I had no choice. It was going to be the arts for me.
I mucked about a lot at school. A lot. But I loved computers. I had a raft of them. Commodore 128. ZX Spectrum 48k (and later a 128 with MicroDrive). Even an Oric Atmos 48k. I kind of understood how they worked and spent many hours concocting complex programmes in BASIC.
I’d noticed that the local Currys electronics shop had a pretty terrible window display. Four TVs lined up in the window stuck on the BBC. All night. I thought this was a wasted promotional opportunity and so went about my first creative pitch. I wrote a program that sent robotic men walking across the screen carrying promotional messages. Like ‘Computer Games £1.99’ – the following Saturday I walked in armed with a cassette tape holding the data. I secretly loaded it up on their demo ZX Spectum.
Then, politely asked to speak to the manager. When I showed him the work already running on his TVs and explained that this could be a way to advertise to the exact audience who would be interested in buying computer games, he loved it, and asked me to go and create a series of Ads that would run over the next three months. I did them for anything TV based. Sales went up. Everyone was delighted.
I was 14. So couldn’t be paid as I was too young to go on the payroll. I got paid in computer games and tech. I knew I wanted to do more of this kind of thing. Something I loved, and got paid for.
What was your first job?
The first job I got of any consequence (apart from my early foray into Advertising in Currys on Reigate High Street) was working in the legendary roadside brand The Happy Eater in Betchworth Surrey. I was head of ‘dispense’ which meant I was the guy who did all the drinks and all the desserts.
My signature KnickerBockerGlory was widely admired and people would travel to the place purely to experience my wildly off-brand high-stacked creations. They owed a lot to aerosol cream and had very short lives before their collapse so it was always a race against time to get them to the table before they toppled, but they were a great source of tips. I generally scored double the average. (And what a CRAZY brand identity/name)
How would you describe what you currently do?
I’m the co-founder of a progressive design practice that specialises in launching, relaunching and managing brands reputations. This means I wear many hats. A typical day will throw strategy, typography, presentations, reviews, photography, organising parties (we take those very seriously. The last one in Berlin was so wild I think we are all still recovering from it, finance, illustration, graphics, motion and meetings my way. Often at the same time. What I try and do at all times, everywhere is stop bad things happening to good ideas.
What has been the biggest change in design since you started?
It’s all got faster. A lot faster. I remember spending a day running up and down stairs getting photosetting ready for waxers and artworking using lighter fuel and spraymount (which will probably mean nothing to the newer generation of designers). Now, it’s so much easier to progress the technical side, which is great as we can devote more time to the craft and the conceptual.
What is your favourite project, that you’ve worked on?
It’s pretty much always the one I’m working on right now, or the one I’m about to start… I¹m loving working with FastJet… they are pretty much the perfect client, applying creativity to every part of the organisation. A brilliant organisation. And it is radically changing the sector. I have about five live projects on at the moment that are really exciting and pushing things forward in fascinating ways.
What is your favourite project, that you haven’t worked on?
I didn’t work on the recent re-design of Valio, Finland’s largest dairy co-op. I love the way the pack changes with the seasons. Progressive, interesting and charming. David Law did a cracking job with the SomeOne team there.
What was your biggest mistake?
I have no regrets. There’s no point. Equally, I don’t think I’ve made any huge errors… the thing is, anything that hasn’t worked immediately has led to better and more effective ideas. We did narrowly miss out on an opportunity to do a radical project for Coca-Cola. I would have loved that, it was a wild idea.
What is your greatest ambition?
To leave an improving legacy in the creative industry. There are hundreds of creative companies working in the UK today. But which ones will be remembered? Very few will leave a mark on the industry. Very few will help push things forward. I’d love it if we can do something of significance for the long-term improvement of the sector. We’re trying hard not to just toe the line.
Who is the most inspirational person you have worked with?
There have been many. Working with the team at LOCOG for the London 2012 Olympics was pretty amazing – an incredible challenge for all involved, and inspirational to see it all come together on a world-stage as the biggest event on the planet. The team at SomeOne inspires me (and takes the piss out of me) everyday.
What piece of advice would you give to people starting out in design?
Design is not the easy career option you end up doing if you were good at art, but not good at adding up. It’s a competitive and tough business, where you do happen to have a lot of fun if you get it right. But… everyone thinks they can do it. Everyone has chosen their curtains, or a carpet, or a chair… they all (think) they know about design. So even everyone outside of the design industry has an opinion about what’s hot, and what’s not. So you can imagine what it must be like in the design industry…
The question is… what’s your opinion? Make it interesting, get it noticed. You’ll probably go far.