A tribute to Design Week’s first art director Bob Bateman

Jeremy Myerson recounts the career of Bob Bateman, the art director behind the launch of Design Week, who has died at the age of 62.

Bob Bateman, art director, 1952-2014
Bob Bateman, art director, 1952-2014

Bob Bateman was one of the unsung heroes of British magazine design. Working alongside publishers Michael Chamberlain and Noreen Laurie, he was the creative inspiration behind several of the most successful titles in the Centaur Communications stable.

Bob designed the distinctive formats for Creative Review, Televisual, Marketing Week and other titles before going on to mastermind the launch of Design Week in September 1986. Later he would run his own design consultancy and work for many other publishing and corporate clients in a distinguished career that peaked in the pre-website era of great magazine print design.

Bob Bateman was a creative problem-solver who understood that design for fast-moving magazines in the era of photosetting and galleys needed to be easy for others to put together at speed. So his art direction was simple, direct and compelling. In 1980, his black square format for Creative Review, with its large L-shaped logo and back cover as a reverse image of the front, really caught the imagination of the design community. Designers immediately began vying for editorial space with advertising agencies in Creative Review’s pages. 

I first met Bob Bateman when I became editor of Creative Review in January 1985. I’d arrived at Centaur armed with an idea for a weekly magazine for designers, based loosely on a mix of Campaign and Building Design. Within a few months we began working on this secret project together to explore how it might look and feel.

I told Bob I wanted a ‘heroic’ look for Design Week to help overcome the inferiority complex that designers traditionally felt within the communications industry. So he took his inspiration for the bold, black-and-white format of Design Week from Bauhaus, a movement that first saw designers with big egos come to prominence.

It was ironic that Bob should spend hours poring over monochrome images from Weimar and Dessau in the 1920s to create a publication for the crazy designer hothouse of 1980s London. But it was a hugely successful launch, supported by Chamberlain and Laurie’s decision to run a controversial advertising campaign adopting religious imagery to describe design as a calling from God.

Bob Bateman, art director, 1952-2014
Bob Bateman, art director, 1952-2014

Noreen Laurie was the publisher, Roger Beckett was the advertising director and Claire White was art director on the launch of Design Week. But Bob was always there in the background, cigarette in hand, a casual, unassuming figure that could be relied upon to keep the whole show on the road.

When the first issue of Design Week rolled off the press, we all travelled down with Bob to the printers in South Wales to watch this proud moment. Flushed with our success, we returned to our hotel and began drinking heavily into the night. At which point Bob leapt to his feet and announced, ’Guys, we’ve launched a weekly. A weekly! You’ve got to produce another issue next week. And the week after…’ We all meekly went to bed and took an early train back to London.

By the time I handed over the editorship of Design Week to Lynda Relph-Knight and left Centaur in April 1989 to start a freelance career, Bob Bateman was already busy running his own design firm. So I took space in Bob’s studio and spent the next four years of my new life working closely alongside him on a variety of projects. These included the glossy large-format publication World Architecture, where Bob and I reprised our Design Week double act by producing a magazine about some of the biggest egos in architecture.

Bob Bateman was as practical, straightforward and easy-going as the magazine mastheads and layouts he designed with such flair and efficiency. He was a great colleague and friend who made his mark in magazine design for the creative industries at a time when those industries were first finding their feet in the UK. He leaves three children from his first marriage – Haley, Simon and Tim – and twin daughters, Sasha and Lucy, from his second.  

The funeral of Bob Bateman takes place at 12pm on 18 July at The Kent and Sussex Crematorium, Benhall Mill Road, Royal Tunbridge Wells, TN2 5JJ

Jeremy Myerson is the Helen Hamlyn Professor of Design at the Royal College of Art

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