Ten Questions for: Adrian Shaughnessy

Designer and writer Adrian Shaughnessy talks about designing Engelbert Humperdinck album covers, learning from mistakes and not becoming a pop star.

Adrian Shaughnessy
Adrian Shaughnessy

When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?

I realised I wanted to be a designer about the same time that I realised that short bald guys didn’t get to be pop stars. I figured that if I couldn’t be in a band, I could at least design album covers for a living.

What was your first job?

Apart from a spell as a gardener (sacked), and an even shorter spell as an office clerk (sacked for using ‘fancy lettering’ on file boxes), I eventually got a job in the design studio of the Decca Record Company. It was a dream come true – I was earning a living designing album covers. Only problem was, it was Engelbert Humperdinck album covers.

How would you describe what you currently do?

How long have you got? Since giving up studio life nine years ago, I have lived as an independent design consultant and writer. Two days a week I teach at the Royal College of Art. One day a week, I’m consultant creative director at my friend Georgina Lee’s new social design company – Tira. And the rest of the time, I’m working on my publishing company Unit Editions. This means I’m on duty seven day weeks – but to quote William Holden in The Wild Bunch – I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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

I started in the pre-Mac era, so I’m tempted to say the arrival of computerisation in the early 90s. But I actually think the internet has wrought the biggest change in design. It affects every aspect of being a designer – from the practical to the idealogical.

What is your favourite project, that you¹ve worked on?

It’s always the next one. I’m perpetually and congenitally dissatisfied with everything I do.

What is your favourite project, that you haven¹t worked on?

I don’t have project envy. I never look at other projects and think I wish I’d done that. When I see a cool piece of work, I know it didn’t just happen. It was the outcome of a unique combination of talents. Change the elements and you get something different.

What was your biggest mistake?

Any mistake that I didn’t learn something from. It’s only by failing and making mistakes that I learn anything. So if I make a mistake and don’t learn from it, that’s a big mistake right there.

What is your greatest ambition?

To never stop learning. I wonder what it would be like to wake up and not care about learning new stuff? Makes me shudder, just thinking about it.

Who is the most inspirational person you have worked with?

I find difficult clients inspirational. I’m never happy if a client is too easily impressed. I like the ones – as long as they are fair-minded – who test me and demand that I go further. I’m suspicious of easy clients.

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

Understand that life is about constant change. Whatever you think your life will be like in 10 years time, be assured it wont be anything like that.

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