Born in Leicester in 1947, Sampson was educated at Leicester College of Art and Ravensbourne College of Art and Design.
He founded Sampson Tyrrell in 1976, with Terry Tyrrell. The consultancy joined WPP in 1986, and in 1991 Sampson became head of identity and design for the UK-based companies, later chief executive of identity and design, Europe.
Sampson Tyrrell was absorbed into Enterprise IG – later The Brand Union – in 1996.
Glenn Tutssel, executive creative director of The Brand Union, says, ‘I first met Sam Sampson at a lunch at Terence Conran’s Quaglino’s restaurant. The usual design fraternity were there and I was introduced to Sam. He had sold Sampson Tyrrell to WPP many years earlier and was now involved in very grown-up stuff like mergers and acquisitions. On introduction, before I could say my name he said, “Who are you?”I said,“I’m Glenn Tutssel.” “Oh that’s OK, I thought for a moment you were a suit. Let’s talk about type.” “That’s funny,”I said, “I thought you were the suit.”From that moment on, I made sure I didn’t wear a tie when we met up, and we became friends.
‘Of course, I didn’t know at the time that I would sell my business to WPP and Sam would base himself at our offices in Victoria. He would swim every day before work, ate healthily and had a dry sense of humour. He was very astute, bright and calculating in the way in which he would solve a problem – analytical and precise.
‘But although he had stopped hands-on design many years earlier. he loved to talk to me about it. He would come over to my desk and ask to see what I was working on, and enjoy the craft and intricate detail. One day he spotted a steel typescale on my desk and we had an hour-long discussion on casting-off type and the colour value of a page of typography – I loved it.
‘After he left WPP, we would meet up at the White Swan in Richmond near our homes and we would pick up our conversations over a pint as if they had never stopped – Sam, of course, would remember every detail. He had started courses at Richmond College, had got into building websites, took on non-executive roles and was enjoying himself. I will remember him as gentle Sam, a gentleman.’
Callum Lumsden, creative director of Lumsden at Small Back Room, says, ’I would regard Sam as one of the great unsung heroes of the UK Design sector. His knowledge of our industry was considerable and in retrospect, was also highly influential. Sam was a man who understood the business of design whilst passionately championing the creativity which generated the business in the first place.
’He genuinely cared about the stable of design businesses which he harnessed at WPP and his time with me at Lumsden Design Partnership as a non-executive director was both entertaining and invaluable. He will be sorely missed but I am sure he will be entertaining everybody ’upstairs’ with his jazz saxophone.’
Helen Keyes, principal at Blue Ink Co Design in New York and former design director at Sampson Tyrrell, says, ‘Sam Sampson: A complicated man to work for who referred to me as his “maverick designer” whenever I had the call to his office to be reprimanded for my latest budget infringement. My argument was always on the side of beauty, which he could not deny me while he smiled and was “seen” to be telling me off – I think that instance was the Royal Mail guidelines.
‘I will always remember him laughing, full of joy and rather cheeky. His memory will be kept alive by those of us with many stories to share. He will be missed.’