On Designing Visual Identities, Independent Publishing, and Longevity with Tony Brook
This episode features Tony Brook, the co-founder and creative director of a British design studio SPIN and an independent publishing venture Unit Editions. We cover topics such as independent publishing, lessons he learned early in his career, SPIN’s organization as a design studio, their process for designing visual identity systems, and much more.
Tony Brook is the co-founder and creative director of a British design studio SPIN and an independent publishing venture Unit Editions. Founded in 1992, SPIN’s small but extremely dedicated team, with Tony as creative director, has received both national and international recognition. They’ve worked with clients that include Apple, Tate Modern, BBC, Nike, Design Museum, Google, Channel 4, Whitechapel Gallery, and Ministry of Sound, to name a few.
"As a designer, you should never have a boring conversation with your audience."
In a feature about SPIN on Lectures in Progress, Will Hudson writes: Over the last 20 years SPIN have firmly established themselves as one of London’s best design studios. Delivering consistently high-quality work across a huge range of clients that span the arts, communication, broadcast, design, electronics, and entertainment sectors as well as application, their portfolio includes identities, books, marketing campaigns, motion graphics, packaging, and websites.
In 2009 Tony co-founded Unit Editions, an independent publishing company. In 2011 he was guest curator of ‘Wim Crouwel – A graphic odyssey,’ a major retrospective at the Design Museum in London. Also, he’s a member of the prestigious Alliance Graphique Internationale, lectures regularly, and is knows as an avid collector of graphic design printed matter.
- Introduction [00:00]
- Episode Introduction [00:51]
- Becoming a Creative Professional [02:54]
- Advice for Young Designers [12:49]
- Routines of a Creative Director in a Design Agency [21:15]
- Challenges on Tony’s Professional Journey [31:51]
- Short Episode Break – Support the Podcast [42:09]
- Challenges in the Graphic Design Industry [42:52]
- Design Is About Opinion [48:58]
- How to Design a Brand’s Visual Identity [53:41]
- On Independent Publishing and Unit Editions [01:07:18]
- How to Be a Better Creative Professional [01:12:33]
- Episode Outro [01:16:47]
Tony: “Part of it is like knitting and part of it is like painting the Sistine Chapel. We got to find excitement and desire to get both of them as good as they can be.”
This is the Creative Voyage Podcast, a long form interview show with the mission to help creative professionals to level up. I’m your host Mario Depicolzuane. I’m a creative professional myself active in the fields of graphic design, art direction, and creative consulting. In this podcast, I present in depth interviews with some of the world’s most inspiring creative professionals revealing the stories that shape their lives and careers, plus actionable strategies to help you take your mindset and skills to the next level. I invite you to join me on this journey.
Mario: In this episode, I talk to a creative director and designer.
Tony: My name is Tony Brook. I’m a founding partner of SPIN, which is a graphic design studio based in London.
Mario: Tony Brook is the Co-Founder and Creative Director of a British design studio SPIN and at an independent publishing venture Unit Editions. Founded in 1992, SPIN’s small but extremely dedicated team with Tony as a creative director has received both national and international recognition. They work with clients that include Apple, Tech Modern, BBC, Nike, Design Museum, Google, Channel 4, Whitechapel Gallery and Ministry of Sound to name a few.
In a feature about SPIN on lectures in progress, Will Hudson writes, “Over the last 20 years, SPIN have firmly established themselves as one of the London’s best design studios, delivering consistently high-quality work across a huge range of clients that spend the arts, communication, broadcast, design, electronics and entertainment sectors, as well as application. Their portfolio includes identities, books, marketing campaigns, motion graphics, packaging and websites.”
In 2009, Tony co-founded Unit Editions, an independent publishing company. In 2011, he was a guest curator of Wim Crouwel, a graphic odyssey, a major retrospective at the Design Museum in London. Also, he is a member of the prestigious Alliance Graphique Internationale, lectures regularly and is known as an avid collector of graphic design printed matter.
In this episode, we’re going to listen to the highlights of the conversation I have with Tony in June 2019. We covered topics such as independent publishing, lessons he learned early in his career, SPIN’s organization as a design studio, their process for designing visual identity systems and much more.
As a kid, Tony was drawn to Egyptian hieroglyphs and Greek art. As a teenager, he was utterly obsessed by Leonardo da Vinci and then in turn, by Pablo Picasso. He’s so been creative throughout an entire life as they did as the ultimate goal.
Record sleeves were always of his interest as well, especially punk and post-punk graphics. Like most of us, young Tony had creative tendencies, which is nothing unusual. However, he was led by those inclinations toward his profession. I’m often curious about that inflection point in someone’s journey, the transition from an amateur to a professional. I began my conversation with Tony asking him about that point in his journey and early lessons he learned at the time.
Tony: I had a very simple ambition and that was to be paid to do a piece of design that I could be good enough, but someone to think it worthwhile to pay me money to design something. That was my feeling all the way through college. That was my ambition. Now there will be these design competitions and there will be of things I knew about D&AD and other competitions and that was all very laudable and fine.
Tony: I remember hearing about the Alliance Graphique Internationale, which is an elite club of designers. I remember thinking, “Well, it would be amazing to be a part of that,” and then laughing at myself at the ludicrous idea that I could ever be part of that, which I know I am. The idea of making something that someone would think it worthwhile and they had enough worth to be paid for was very, very important for me. It was a real ambition.
Tony: When my first job, I call about a guy, he basically said he would be happy seeing my portfolio. If you picture the case, they’re on the fourth floor and I’m dragging my massive portfolio on the stairs. I get to the top of the stairs and this guy pushed out through this door that I was just about to make for, he pushed past me, stoned out. He just resigned his position. Then I came in, walked in and showed my portfolio. A week later, they took me on for a week for just one week. I got paid 90 pounds for that week. That was my ambition fulfilled.
Tony: I’ve been a professional designer for a week and someone paid me money to turn up and make some design. I mean, I stayed at that place for seven years after them taking me on for one week. I think that the reason they took me on for so long was because I would get in early, I would go home late, I would make the tea, I would do anything that was required. Nothing was too small a task.
Tony: The funny thing is that graphic design is a very narrow industry in terms of hierarchy. You are either doing menial tasks, because they need doing, or potentially highly creative things, because they need doing. That’s about it. You’ve got to get used to doing both and you’ve got to find satisfaction in both and the best that there is in both. I mean, doing captions for a 500-page document, or coming up with a creative solution for an international event, or company, or an identity, which is going to last for 10 or 20 years, the thing is they all require the same passion.
Tony: Part of it is like knitting and part of it is like painting the Sistine Chapel. You got to find the excitement and the desire to get both of them as good as they can be. It’s a funny professional lineup.
Mario: How old were you at the time?
Mario: In the hindsight when you look back, is there something you wished you know, or wish you could advise yourself?
Tony: Yeah. I stayed too long in the place that I was at, because I was so grateful to get a job. I was unemployed for two years. That’s a long time. It was not very pleasant. It was pretty grim. I wish that I have had more confidence in myself and that I push it, because that was a side road in which I learned how to be a professional designer and I started feeling my worth and that I was worth something, but it took a long time.
Tony: I took a long detour before I got back into where I felt I needed to be, because I had a fairly strong opinion about what I wanted to do, but I wasn’t able to do it in this place, even though I was doing record sleeves and stuff, I wasn’t able to do the design that I wanted to do. I remember the first time they gave me anything to design, I did it recklessly when it was incredibly minimal and pure. I was so pleased with it. I showed it to the case and what’s that? That’s nothing. Why have you done that? Rather than lose my job, I compromised pretty quickly. It was a long detour before I started actually listening to the voice inside my head and became more confident about expressing my ideas on design, which funnily enough, I look back now, I didn’t know it at the time, but I look by now and realized we’re already there, my love of ideas, of color, of form, of experimenting, of open-mindedness, as far as the possibilities for graphic expression we’re concerned, were all there.
Tony: They were all pretty much there from the age of about 7 onwards when I just collect stamps and I went to organize them aesthetically. They weren’t organized by worth in terms of money, they were organized in terms of beauty. I had already got a very strong unique idea of what I thought was beautiful and what I thought was worth poring over and looking at what wasn’t.
Mario: Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s fascinating. That’s very early on.
Tony: Yeah. Probably it’s the same for all of us. I mean, we just don’t have something to measure that by. If you look into your past, look at the record sleeves that you might have bought as a kid and the ones that you really like, the ones that you remembered the most, or the books that you might have looked at and the ones that you really treasured. Quite often, the visuals are mixed in with the whole story and your affection for them as well.
Mario: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. I think it is, yeah, for most people, it is like that. But it’s hard to get back to that place. As we start being professionals, it’s just trying to make a living and trying to step into the professional world. I guess also often, I think maybe people don’t perceive there’s no value in that. It’s just like, “I was a kid and I like these three things.”
Tony: Yeah, I can see that. There’s some things, like I hadn’t thought about it until my father found this stamp album and that I had in his loft and go to me and suddenly it all came back. Then I started looking at other things that I had created. It seems insane that I was so tortured about becoming a designer, because I was recently good at drawing, so I was thinking I was going to be an illustrator, but that just didn’t do it.
Tony: I collected stamps. I collected beer mats. I start collecting so many singles, because I could afford them basically in my pocket money for seven-inch singles. Quite often, I will buy them based on their covers, because I can – they went on the radio, quite a lot of them. I was a guest going down to the record shop, was just like, was anybody’s guess what I was buying. I would just buy the things that I thought look cool.
Tony: Before I made the decision to be a designer, I had already been collecting graphic design 10 years before I had to make them. I didn’t even know what graphic design was. When I was first introduced to it, my mum, I was looking to go to college and art college was the natural place for me to go. I wasn’t really interested in anything much other than that. She said, “What about commercial art?” I was like, “What is that?” She explained to me that I had a choice. I could either be a starving artist, or I could possibly earn a living as a commercial artist.
Tony: I thought, that doesn’t sound too bad. That set me up in that direction. Then I still was a distilled torturous route of being – wanted be an illustrator and then wanting to be a photographer. Then working out that one was to be an illustrator, I think your work needs to be full of your own personality and expression. It didn’t really sit with me. I’m back here, somebody telling me what they wanted me to draw. It was a similar thing with photography was that I loved photography and I still do as a subject and I have a huge respect for people who are good photographers and great photographers.
Tony: If I see anything as my art, as a bit of me that makes art, it will be when I take photographs. I’d see that as being an artistic endeavor. That when I’m working as a designer, I see that as being professional. I think there’s art in design, there’s your art in graphic design and art and crafts in it. It’s not I don’t see any less and that’s even in a lesser light and quite often the greater. I just in a slightly different way, I’m trying to come up with an inventive, invigorating fresh solution for something.
Tony: For me, it’s really important that people connect with what we do and what we’re making. I hate the idea of doing an invitation for a party for someone and nobody turning up. I want a fact. I don’t just want – I want to make a nice piece of design and everybody ignores it.
The transition to professionalism can be an overwhelming task, as almost anyone who tried to get a summer internship, or land that first proper job can attest to. The creative market is exceptionally competitive and somewhat volatile. A good portion of higher education fails in equipping the young talent with the essential skills for that transition. At the same time, many young professionals do not make it easier for themselves, with the myriad of rookie mistakes and lack of attention to detail. Tony is a seasoned professional with over 30 years of experience. I’ve asked him for his perspective and advice for those who are starting their creative careers.
Tony: People sending CVs with stupid spelling mistakes drives me insane, I would say. Just go with me for a second on this. You’re a designer, a young designer, you’re sending your precious work that you put your heart and soul into in an e-mail to a designer and you made two or three absolutely stupid mistakes, the spelling mistakes. There’s no excuse for it. If you’re going to do that in that situation, then you are absolutely bound to make those mistakes later on.
Tony: I found out recently with a young designer who we’ve had as a placement student, who I thought that if I discussed it with them before they did that placement that they wouldn’t make those mistakes, but they found three different ways of spelling Sheffield. I can’t go into too much, but they made some silly mistakes. There’s something that I call the paranoid gene, where you feel physically ill at the idea of making a stupid mistake. It keeps you awake at night and you think, “Did I get that right? Is that correct?”
Tony: Now, I think that designers, especially graphic designers and people who are working with typography and words need to have an element of that paranoid gene, that concern for getting it right.
Mario: Yeah. I mean, I occasionally get just an e-mail from a student who is maybe asking for an internship and I don’t get it that often, but it’s surprising how often there’s just a lack of care or attention to detail.
Tony: Well, they are throwing it out into the ether without realizing that there’s a person on the end of it. I mean, if someone says, “To whom it may concern,” at the top of their letter, say what? You’re sending it to me. One of the profound advantages of being a young designer today is that you can send a PDF or a URL in an e-mail and it will land on the desk of the person that you want to talk to, that you want to be in front of.
Tony: Now, I’m old enough to remember before e-mails and you never got to see anybody. If you send a PDF, or a link to someone, they will look at it. They can’t help it. You’ve got to open it. You’ve got to see what it is. Your work is shown on these beautiful screens and it’s going to look the best it’s ever going to look. Just take a little care. Be professional about it.
Tony: There was one student recently who I would have definitely taken on an internship, but had got four epically mad spelling mistakes in their work and in their letter and in their – just close your eyes for a moment and think how bad that looks.
Tony: There’s also another thing, which is curation. If you imagine that someone sends you a mail and 80% of their work is very good and you think it’s fantastic and 20% sucks and is really bad. Now, so the optimist would say, wow, if they do the best work they can, this is going to be quite something. Then your pessimist comes in and says, “Yeah, but what if it’s 20%?” If that’s their level, but they’ve been helped with the other expert. Suppose it’s a little bit of self-criticism and self-awareness goes a long way.
Mario: Yeah. Do you have any other advice for young people who are entering into graphic design professionally?
Tony: Well, it’s a tough industry. I think a lot of people have been coming into it, certainly in the UK have been coming into it, thinking it was an easy option and it isn’t anymore. I think I’ve got a huge amount of time for people coming out of college now, because they’ve got to be self-motivated to a large degree, they’ve got a little programs and it’s very difficult, it’s very complex. When you see these coming through, like you were talking about earlier about being creative and longevity and what have you, being a creative professional. Well, if you’re coming out of college now, you’ve got to have some professional skills, you’ve got have some ability to contribute to a studio.
Tony: The best skills that you can have are motion skills and online skills. There are some fantastic students and we see them reasonably often, who have taken on those challenges while they’ve been in college, the challenge of learning how to make things move, the challenge of learning about how to get things into a website, or whatever. Still see an awful lot of them, who just wish that that wasn’t the case and wish that they were born 20 years earlier and that we were still doing silkscreen posters all the time, which was never the case anyway.
If your skill is limited to doing just print, then you really are – you’re going to struggle really, because nearly all the work that’s created now, all the design works created now ends up on multiple platforms.
Mario: Yeah, exactly.
Tony: You have to be ready for that. I don’t know that necessarily, the universities, or the lecturers are quite up to speed on what’s happening technically, but it’s a big advantage to the students as they are.
Mario: Yeah. There does seem to be this nostalgia about back in the days, it was all, I guess fun, or tactile. There’s a bigger value in creating a poster than a website.
Tony: Yeah, most certainly. I remember when I saw my first website and it looked like some bizarre Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit thing. It was disgusting. I could see that it obviously been designed by a programmer who had no graphic sensibility at all and I thought, “My God. This is the future, we better get on it, because it’s going to be –”
Tony: That’s proven to be the case. It’s funny, because we’re now – SPIN now is exploring a lot more and nearly all the projects that we do, there’s some element of this, of exploring the combination of the digital and the analog. About a year ago, we moved into a space which we now occupy, which is basically a purpose-built studio at the bottom of my garden.
Tony: Then we did that for one very specific reason. We wanted to encourage more experimentation offline in the real world and bring that into the computer and then work with that material. We’ve done that and it’s very interesting how it manifests itself and how you stretch yourself creatively by physically making things and then taking them into. I’m fascinated into a computer. I’m fascinated by how these things behave next to each other and the contrasts and the dissonance between the two things. It’s a really interesting thing conceptually under certainly.
Tony: Everything ends up being digital. Even if you make your stream poster, it still has to go through a digital process. The idea that students are still wandering around, thinking that they can do some the oldie letterpress, clean all their life. It’s just not the case. It’s just not real. I feel for them in a way, because they have to be more technically adept than they used to be, but that’s just life. That’s just what’s happened. That’s the reality.
Tony is a hands-on creative director, designer and leader at SPIN. He also finds time to work on self-started initiatives, most prominent being the publishing venture unit editions. At the same time, the work that he stands behind is executed at the highest level. It’s relevant, impactful and beautiful. I find that to be something to look up to, so I was interested in hearing about the work behind it, particularly on how SPIN operates as a studio, Tony’s role and his work routines.
Tony: This is a process that’s developed over time, right? It’s not just we start off from the sound. It is about over time. On Monday, we have a planning meeting. We all sit around together and we talk about all the things that we did the previous week and all the things that we need to get done in this week. Also, if we have deadlines and if we have meetings, so that there’s some structure to the week. Now structure creates impetus, creates momentum. If you know that you’ve got something to do for Wednesday, we get it done for Wednesday.
Tony: I’m very keen on – as this sound a bit odd, but I don’t like the idea of working late, or working weekends, because I think they give an excuse for buggy behavior, buggy thought, not being focused and not being intense, because intensity is the thing. Structure, even a loose structure as we have, it creates a certain amount of intensity and a certain amount of momentum, because of the way that we do things.
Tony: The weird thing is I’m saying, I don’t like the idea of working weekends. I don’t like the idea of working late, but I never stopped thinking about projects, about solutions, about ideas. I never really switched off. I can’t say that that’s a good thing, or a bad thing. It’s just how I am. I the idea that we’re working within this parameters and that we work hard within these parameters. If we’re having to work by – if we’re having to work, we can. It’s because we’re just under such stress that we don’t have any choice. Other than that, you can have a life.
Tony: I’ve worked at places where people who finish at 6:00, that the people would just be hanging around until 7:00, 8:00, just hanging around and just to look like they’re working late. No, go home. Go have a life. That’s not good. I prefer it to be intense and focused in the time that you’re here. We have our Monday morning meeting, then we have more detailed meetings usually Monday, Tuesday, we’ll have more detailed meetings on what our solutions might be. We tend to stand around, have a border in the corner of the studio and draw pictures on that and other people would draw pictures on that. It looked like crazy scribbles now, but over time they make sense.
Tony: We talk about the creative solutions that we’re going to explore and the themes that we’re going to explore the things that we’re going to try and do. Then we all get down and do it and we all work on different projects. It can be that during the week, a lot of development work happens and we don’t all know what’s going on, even though we’re small, even though there’s only three of us, essentially to the creatives. We don’t know what’s going on.
Tony: On Friday evening, we have a creative review. 4:00, beers come out, each of us show what we’ve been up to for the week. Now we share it with the rest of the studio. Trish and Edie who look after the running of the studio and the client liaison and all that stuff and the intern, we all get together all of us and we go through the work that we’ve created for that week and we show what we’ve been doing. That way, we all feel connected to everything that’s going on and we all know what’s happening and we all feel the love and feel the bumps.
Tony: That’s a really good thing to do. These are little formal moments within the week that really help to keep us focus and keep as intense and keep us moving. I think that design studio should be –well, are certainly as I see it very much like a Michelin-starred restaurant. That’s the vision I’ve got for SPIN. We’re creating special bespoke responses to people that come in with certain dietary needs for them and want to create something that surprises them that they’re going to love, that this is going to be amazing, that’s better than they could have done themselves is really important. This creates something special and effective. We’ve got huge ambitions for the projects that we undertake. I think that’s the key to longevity really.
Mario: Yeah, and then between Monday and Friday, how are your days organized? Because I mean, you’re also I assume have to also do more like a management role in some ways, or a leadership role. How do you balance that, or how much do you actually create and design, versus lead or direct?
Tony: Well, it’s a very flat thing here. There are three of us; myself, Claudia and Jonathan. We all work together. We all can take leadership of different points in different projects and we tend to do that, or take responsibility for different things and different projects, are all working on projects all the time pretty much.
Tony: The organization of a project and what needs to be done at any given time is a really key part of delivering a project. It’s tricky to talk about not because it’s sensitive, it’s just complicated. There are a lot of different moving parts in any project. We have a really great open dialogue about what we’re doing. At any given time, we can talk about what should be a priority, what’s just become a priority. It’s a very fluid situation. It’s important that you ride those waves and that you keep on top of things and that you keep talking.
Tony: Say for instance, this week, we had the week all planned out, we knew exactly what we needed to do. Then a client rings us up on Monday and says, so they’ve got an urgent requirement that has to be delivered on Tuesday or Wednesday. That knocks out two of us for two days when we got all of the stuff planned. Therefore, Claudia and Jonathan have ended up working on that stuff and I’ve ended up doing all the other things that we were going to do at the time. Therefore, I have to be more concentrated and more focused.
Tony: We managed it and we nearly always do. It’s very rare that things become out of hand, or problematic, because we’ve got a fairly intense and rigorous working approach. It doesn’t tend to get too messy or too out of hand. I think we’re all professional enough to know that what’s required. If someone gives us a project and it’s got half a day to deliver something, which is not often but let’s say they have. The best way to approach that is to not get stressed out and run around waving your hands in the air, but to sit down, look at it calmly, work out what needs to be done when, break it down and then start to deliver it. That’s essentially what we do.
Mario: The studio is not big, but I assume you still need and I mean, it sounds like you do have quite a good structure. I’m curious the day-to-day, how are you organizing yourselves. Do you have like some project management system, or how do you like to navigate that?
Tony: In terms of the communication, the easiest, almost understandable way, or thing to talk about really is unit additions, because that has a very structured requirement. We’re making it –we’re designing a book, we need to get a specification for a printer, so we will give – Claudia and I generally will sit down and we’ll work out what the print spec needs to be, the physical nature of the book, the papers, the blah, blah, blah, write all that down. We’ll give that to Edie and Trish. One of them, they’ll ask us what printers we’d prefer, or are interested in. They’ll ask them for costing and dummy.
Tony: We don’t have to think about that. Once we’ve done a spec, go direct from us and it’s ongoing and in two weeks’ time, we’ll get dummies back and we’ll have a look at them. Then there’s a lot of management of different aspects of editorial work and content. Say for instance, we’re working on a huge book at the moment that requires a lot of content from the subjects. Edie takes responsibility for that. She will ask them request content and I’ll do a certain amount of it if I need to. But usually, Edie, she’s looking after it. She’s chasing the content puts it in the right place, so that when we’re designing the book, the content is in the right place and that we know what we’re doing with it.
Tony: Then there’s going to be the client liaison tends to be through Trish, not always, but a lot of it is through Trish. She will deal with those conversations, a special conversation about money and budgets and structure, delivery structure and whatever issue. She takes care of all that. The delineation of roles is quite clear. Everything, the whole structure is about allowing us to deliver the best designs that we can in the best way that we can, because there’s always a physical element, as there’s also a digital element, so that’s one thing, but there’s always a physical element to it. They both represent fantastic opportunities.
Tony: The math part of being a designer is taking advantage of those opportunities. The physical is easier to imagine. If you get the right texture, the right paper stock, the right color, the right fill, the right flesh, it adds an awful lot to the design that you’re making and to the end result and how people feel about it. They’re there to support us in achieving that.
SPIN’s journey is wonderfully documented in their 2015 book, SPIN: 360°. That 520-page monograph looks in mouth-watering detail at every aspect of SPIN’s work and includes text by Paula Scher, Rick Poynor, Stefan Sagmeister, Wim Crouwel and Steven Heller. As the book’s description suggests, it is the studio monograph reborn for the 21st century; honest, revealing and bursting with specially designed and art-directed content.
It’s a guide to survival, growth and maintaining creative excellence over 20 years, making it essential reading for anyone who wants to take a deep dive into a thriving creative studio. Here, I wanted to get a first-hand insight into some of the main challenges Tony experienced on his professional journey to date. Here’s what he shared with me.
Tony: Well, there’s one thing that it’s going to sound really basic, but it’s very true it takes people a long time sometimes to get a handle on, is that you can – it took me a while to get a hold of. When you have your own studio, well actually, no, just in your life generally, you can make decisions. Making decisions is something that takes a little time to get used to.
Tony: When we first set up, I had quite a clear ambition again. I’d read that most studios ground business in the first year and most businesses go – vast majority of businesses go out of business in the second year. Businesses very rarely last in one, two years. That was a challenge. I was determined that we were going to survive two years.
Tony: If you imagine that for two years, I would do anything, anything, everything that was thrown at me, I would do and gladly. Grateful to get whatever we got. I try and make the best job that I could. I took one weekend off in two years, because I was so anxious about not going out of business and keeping it on the road. I just didn’t take any time off, which is not a good idea. I’m not saying that’s a good thing in any way, shape or form. It’s not a good thing.
Tony: I think it was a nervous wreck after that. I got very specific memory of my brain – a picture of my brain being like plasticine. There was nothing left in it. It was just a lump of mushy grey dough. I thought, well, this can’t be right. After journaling on for I think about three years, I decided that we needed to make some changes. We needed to – I had something inside me that wanted more than we were doing and to be better than we were doing. I have more ambition for the design side of things and have you – it’s all well and good, just making a living. In the end, that isn’t enough.
Tony: It’s got more than survivable. We resigned about three or four clients on Christmas. I can’t believe we did that, but they were making us desperately unhappy and they weren’t – it wasn’t the work that I wanted to do. We accidentally hit upon the idea of making, or idea of making the work that I wanted to be commissioned for. It worked.
Tony: We started to make experimental bits and pieces, self-initiated projects. From that, started getting the projects that we wanted to do. The idea of being so frightened, so anxious about just existing, that you can’t actually make anything that you think is good or worthwhile, it’s quite sad really. They’re not a great place to be. Like I said, it’s brave, but I don’t think it really was brave. I think it was actually a necessity. I needed to do it.
Mario: It came to the point where it was like, “Okay. Something needs to change here.”
Tony: Yeah, and I changed it. We knew that it was scary. We knew that it was an obvious thing to do, but they had to be done. If you mentioned look quite small at that point, then later on we grew and we were 35 people or something like that. That has its own problems. I would go into work and I would look out the window, at the road and the traffic kept going past the road and I would think, “How the hell did I end up here? What is this?”
Tony: We’re doing some very, very good work, but we turned into something that I just didn’t understand. I wanted a design studio, not some – I was managing all the time, managing things all the time and spending very little time designing. Again, we made a decision. We made a decision, once we could make a decision again, I could say, I could make a decision and say, this isn’t our one things to be. We decided to move and become smaller. We went from 35 to 12. It was very stressful.
Mario: Yeah, I can imagine.
Tony: I actually lost my voice at one point. It was really, really stressful, but it was the right thing to do. I wanted to be a design studio. Then after how many years, again I felt like I needed a change, we needed a change. I wanted to push things further. I want to find out how far could we go and how good could our work be and how exciting could we make it and how interesting could we make our lives as designers and what potential have we got.
Tony: Well, you saw this notion of the scary room. A scary room is the place where you’re going to and you’re not sure about where you are, or what you’re doing in there and you make things that you feel uncomfortable about. The opposite of the scale is the lazy room, where you don’t really think, I have to think too much. A scary room it’s like, what am I doing here? Where am I – Spending more time in the scary room, making things that you’re not sure about, you’re trying things out. I want us to spend more time in the scary room and experimenting and making things that were unexpected and that were interesting.
Tony: I also feel that we – I mean, I shouldn’t really say this, but I feel that design studios in the UK and maybe another place too, they tend to be quite conservative and adventurous places. That’s sad. Design studios should be leading. They should be part of an avant-garde of creativity. Yes, there are always commercial projects and I love doing commercial projects, but also by the same token, there’s room for pushing boundaries and making different things and being surprising too.
Tony: I enjoy commercial projects as much as the next designer, but I also think it’s really important for us to be testing those boundaries. It’s amazing how often clients want the stuff where you are pushing a boundary, or where you want to do something fresh and interesting. I think it’s really, I mean, big clients are [inaudible 0:39:15.0] and I see that thing you did and that that experimental thing. I’d love you to follow that and try more of that. It’s fantastic.
Tony: I think it’s always paid off that inventive spirit and that expressive spirit has always paid off. Whereas, I started very much on a conservative, scared trajectory, I just want to keep my job and be paid, to taking a leap of faith and flying. There’s always enough down time in a design studio to make stuff, to start exploring things. There’s always some downtime in the studio.
Mario: Yeah. I mean, during those more challenging periods when you had to make those difficult decisions, how do you personally go about it? Was it just like, you came to a place which was let’s say, that bad that you were like, “Okay. I need to be more reflective and see what to do.” Or is it just like something that you’re continually doing? How would you like to approach that?
Tony: I think it’s difficult to get distance from things sometimes. If you don’t feel that something’s going well, or something needs to change, or first of all, you’ve got to have that little niggly feeling in the back of your mind that something needs to change or something needs to be looked out, thought about. I tend to carry that around with me for a long time. It’s difficult to get distance.
Tony: A couple of things I’ve started to do which designers would get out anyway, which is making lists. Lists give you an itemized cooked- down version of whatever the problems might be. Then diagrams as well, very graphic design solutions [inaudible 0:41:01.0]. Start doing diagrams of where you are what you like and what you don’t like and what you think isn’t working, or what the problem is.
Tony: It’s funny, because we’re going through this recently. It’s exactly, exactly what we did was make lists, make diagrams. You start to get a picture of actually, get an emotional psychological picture through the making of listen to bedrooms of what you want, where you want to be, how you want to do things, what your ambition is. Sometimes it’s very, very hard to figure out what the hell you want and what is good and what’s not so good.
Tony: The other thing is to take yourself off somewhere and go for a weekend somewhere with the expressed purpose of giving yourself a little bit of distance and thinking about these things. I think that’s been very useful as well. It’s a good device. If you take a sketch pad and a pen and go to – just go somewhere else and just give yourself a little bit of distance. It’s the distances that you go, because you’re so caught up quite often on the day-to-day complexities of things that you need to find some clarity and distance is very difficult.
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Here’s a paragraph from the About section on SPIN’s website. “Graphic design is our passion. We are obsessed by the challenges of a discipline that exists in a state of constant flux. At its best, it is thought-provoking, memorable and leaves a lasting impression.” I’ve asked Tony to discuss what he thinks are some of those challenges, both for the industry at large and for him personally to date and in the near future.
Tony: See, if you imagine when I was coming through, things were utterly compartmentalized. A graphic designer’s job was mainly to do layout. A typographer’s job was mainly to design typefaces. An animator’s job was to animate typography. A graphic designer’s job was not to put the typography in, that was to job of someone else. That was the typesetter. You tell the typesetter what type you wanted, they would play it in and there would be a whole team of people.
Tony: Now all of those things, all of those walls, all of those divisions have evaporated. A graphic designer can do the animation, can do the layout, can do the type-setting, can design a typeface. I suppose, it’s never been easier and never been harder to be a graphic designer either end. Your grand mark and designer and let head on the things you can do and she wants that’s – I actually think that’s great, because it gives them some notion of how skillful graphic designers are.
Tony: It’s like if you play football and you’re a bit shit and then you see Messi, or you see Ronaldo, you think, “Wow.” You have some appreciation, because you’re so terrible at it, but that how good they are on it. Or Leonardo in drawing or whatever it might be. Same with graphic designers and Leonardo, but there’s some skill involved basically. To be a graphic designer today, you have to have a huge range of skills. In many ways, it’s much more demanding than it was a long time.
Tony: I mean, you only have to think of one small section, one small part of things. It might be that it returns to degree to that, because more compartmentalized again and more specifically focused. At the moment, all these barriers will dissolve and it’s all in one area. I’d say for me, the difficulty in being a student now and being a young professional now, sheer range of possibilities to try and control those possibilities and try and focus yourself on certain aspects and learn your graphic voice and your approach and to be a professional quality in all those areas is quite a challenge, so that’s quite a hurdle.
Mario: Do you foresee, or ever think about – there is like, you’re in a current position currently, do you think like, “Okay. Then what’s going to happen in 5, 10, 20 years?” Let’s say, what could be challenges for SPIN, or –
Tony: Automation. Actually, that’s a challenge to graphic design generally. Automation of processes is something that I’m just interested to see how that goes, because machines could do layouts. I’m interested to see how that goes. I don’t know how many graphic designers you need in the world. In fact, we were talking yesterday, saying I don’t know what happens to them all, because in each year, thousands and thousands of designers graduate from college in all countries all around the world. Where do they go? I’m curious about that.
Tony: As far as SPIN is concerned, we have a lot of things that we want to explore and start to look at. I’m really interested in the idea of making things, making objects, making – and I’m not sure what those things are. I’ve noticed that applying graphics to things and often, not very nice graphics to things seems to be something that happens. It could be fashion. It could be in the home.
Tony: The people that are doing it tend not to be as good as I think they could be and should be in terms of the design of things. I’m interested in exploring that. I don’t know where that is going to lead. We’re trying to work that out, how do we do that? How do we achieve that? What do we make? How do we follow it up? That’s interesting. I’d like to think that we keep publishing things. I’d like to think that as I said, I really enjoyed commercial projects and I’d like to think that we’re still going to carry on with those.
Tony: I love the whole thing of creating an identity, creating a visual language that can be recognizable and held within certain graphic forms is endlessly fascinating and has huge possibilities. The way that we see identities is essentially as organic living things. Whereas, saying that this is – you’re making a very basic case for it, but in the 50s and 60s, you might have created a single mark and you put that mark and you repeat, you repeat the in red on the side of everything. That’s it. Well, that’s not the way it is now. That mark, or that whole language, which your language can grow, be organic and it can develop and change and it can change in form and it could change in color and it can change in movement and it almost has to, to keep people engaged and keep people.
Tony: I sometimes talk about graphic design has been a form of entertainment. Sometimes it is. If you just simply press the button and repeat, then people are required within their rights to stop looking at it. Taking them mostly, just not – it’s not worth any attention. Wonderful possibilities in that area, the area of identity creation that often creates something.
During the preparation for this conversation, I’ve heard the following statement in one of Tony’s interviews: “Being a designer is about opinion”. That sentence intrigued and stuck with me, so I asked him if he could discuss it further.
Tony: I think that that comment was really about an idea that was floating around in the 60, 50, 60, 70s of the subjugation of the designer’s opinion for the sake of the communication of the client. In the modernist, designers talk about neutralizing their opinion and it not being about their opinion. It’s like something where their opinion is removed from the equation and you’re just dealing with pure, unadulterated fact or information.
Tony: Now, I just don’t believe that. You can’t actually hide your opinion, because your opinion comes through in – let’s say, a Muller Brockmann music of either poster. That’s just typography. Now he’s made a decision through his opinion. He’s made a decision that the type should be black and red and where it should be black and red. He’s made a decision on the types, the size of the typography, on the curling of the typography, the position of the typography. All of it every single moment, even though it’s only – it’s just pure typography and a very supposedly neutral typeface, the Sans Serif typeface.
Tony: Every single moment of that is full of opinion and full of attitude. Neutrality is absolutely just – it’s not possible to be neutral, to not have opinion. I understand that somehow they’re talking about a desirability for the designer, not to be in between, conversation between the consumer and the client. But we are. We absolutely are. We can’t deny it. When you admit that to yourself and say, “Well, that’s just the case, because whatever choices I make they are opinion, even if it’s Helvetica,” then it opens up a whole lot of possibilities, greater possibilities.
Tony: I was thinking about this the other day in terms of our opinion. I just had a moment of an epiphany, shall we say. It was basically that we’re occupying two opposite positions. One is that we make codified, reductive, neutral and formalized typography. Structured, legible, modernist-inspired, grid-inspired typography.
Tony: Simultaneously, we make fluid, flamboyant, expressive, idiosyncratic, personalized lettering. I think that that’s evolved. That position is evolved over time and become something that we’re very interested in exploring. Also, when our perception – the stories you tell, the legends that you tell yourself that help you to create, when we create an identity, we talk about creating the seed of an identity. We’re looking for the kernel, the seed, the little nut that’s at the very center of an identity. Then once we’ve established that notion of what that is, how does that grow, how does it live, how does it move, how does it evolve? That gives you a very purposeful and focused and deliberate process to go through.
Tony: I think between those two worlds, knowing the structure and function and beauty of typography formally arranged and how effective that could be visually, in concert with the freedom and the fluidity of language that can surround it and be part of it, but we don’t know the answer to the question before we’ve been asked it. If you look at the identities that we’ve created, there’s quite a lot of variety in terms of expression and approach. That’s because they ask different questions.
Tony: We’re not assuming a style, or a certain result, end-results that we go through a process of rational thinking that ends at a certain place. The other thing about rationality is that if you push rationality, you can end up in slightly odd places, or slightly irrational-looking places, which is also really interesting.
SPIN has a holistic approach in dealing with clients’ complex requirements, which is supported by extensive experience in delivering rigorous visual identity systems across all platforms. In my opinion, they’re one of the top studios globally when it comes to brand identity creation. Designing identities is one of my main professional occupations. SPIN is certainly one of those studios I look up to. I was thrilled to use this opportunity to ask Tony about how they at SPIN approached the development of a visual identity.
Tony: When I see a visually identity that I think it’s successful, every time I see an expression of that identity, I know who it is. That can be very minimal, or it can be very maximal. It can be very profound – have a very profound personality, or it can be quite a subtle personality. You know who’s talking to you every time you see that identity. You know the basis immediately.
Tony: Now, that can be very ugly sometimes and quite often, actually in corporate design world. When you see it done well and done beautifully, or done with a huge amount of confidence and well, it can be really spectacular and really memorable and effective.
Mario: Yeah. Would you be willing give us an insight in how you at SPIN approach creating a visual identity? I’m curious if you do have a specific process that you follow, because often, design studios and agencies do have a formalized certain steps to creation from more initial workshops, or discovering what the brand is all about, to then design process.
Tony: There are some things that we always do. We always do some research. We always have conversations, so online research into the area that’s surrounding the client. We always have conversations with the client about what they’re hoping to achieve. I think that’s where usually the key comes from. That’s where the insight comes from. That’s where the inspiration, the fire, the little moment tends to come from those conversations and it can be something that’s really incidental, that they don’t even realize that they’ve said, but it gives an insight into their ambition and to their hopes for their identity.
Tony: There’s nearly always – in fact, I think pretty much all of the identities that we made, the inspirations come through a conversation with the client and then amongst ourselves. We can always say, this identity is like this, because. Quite often, this identity is like this, because you said this. Your position, your thinking inspired it.
Tony: Now, it’s very rare, more often that happens, those real insight is happening conversation, than they do through a document. A documentation, what I mean by that is that people are quite often give you very involved briefs, which are very useful. I’m not saying they’re not. They’re very useful, but they don’t tend to give you that moment of insight for the form of an identity. They tend to be more about what you want to achieve, what you want to do and how it apply in the situation they find themselves in and what have you, rather than just that core of what the identity needs to be. I think the core of what the identity needs to be tends to come from conversation.
Mario: Do you formalize that in some way, like during your process? I mean, of course you have initial meetings and stuff like that, but then do you actually, I don’t know, make client workshops, stories that’s more organic?
Tony: We have done it. It depends. It depends if it’s required or not. Generally, well course it’s not required. My experience of them is if you foresee someone into a situation that they don’t really feel comfortable with, so you’re asking someone to tell you their five favorite brand identities on why they’re your five favorite random and they don’t know. I like apple and I like, whatever. That’s not really that useful.
Tony: If there’s a real will on their part, or a real desire on their part to want to go through those processes, then we absolutely and we have, then we’ve gone through them numerous times. In the main, the lead from the clients tends to be, we have this company, there is an identity and we want to achieve this. We’re looking to be on the international stage. We want to create an impact. We want people to notice what we’re doing. We want to elevate what we’re doing. All those words mean something. It means something in terms of an identity and then they’ll give you, like I said, just some little notions, something that can either be very specific, or just very lateral, which you after – it is open for, I guess that you just – that’s their experience.
Tony: That just sets you off on a path. Those story, very, very identity. When you’ve gone through the process of discussion, research and if they’re workshops or whatever, there’s always a story to tell about how you ended up, or why you ended up there. It’s usually a lovely, short, pithy little story that gets you to the heart of why the identity is the way that it is, or it was the heart of the identity is the way that it is and then how it expands from that point.
Mario: Do you have a specific ratio of phases in a project that you’re going to spend time on, because there’s research, there’s development and they’re just in production and designing? How does that relate usually?
Tony: The starting point is that we create a document based on the document of the client on the information that goes through a series of staged presentations. The first thing is to get it all down and explain the process and explain the cost. The next thing to do – The first stage would usually be meetings, conversations. The second stage would be creative. We always say that we will show a number of creative routes.
Tony: We tend to sometimes, occasionally we’ll go with one route, because there’s so much – it’s so strong and so right and so perfect and that does happen. More often, you might have two or three routes. One thing I would say to any graphic designer is don’t show anything that you wouldn’t be really happy at developing. They will choose it. It’s your own fault, you should never have shown it.
Mario: Yeah, that’s good advice.
Tony: There’s one that you probably learn the hard way. Once you start with creative routes, there’s a certain amount of development within those routes. I’m just looking at actually, just as I’m talking, I’m looking at a page of all of the identities that we’ve created over the years. Thinking about how many iterations when we show for those identities. A lot of them have been multiple routes. A lot of them, one or two routes.
Tony: That’s because we’re in really close contact with the client and we’re sharing the journey with the client. That doesn’t require hundreds of iterations. I’m not trying to avoid doing hundreds of iterations. It’s just that that’s not productive if you’re in genuine conversation with them.
Tony: I’m looking at there’s one identity on this year we’ve met, where we did I don’t know, lots and lots of iterations and ended up with the most simple mark imaginable. That’s because it’s a cultural institution that had a very specific relationships with a certain part of the world and we start to explore visual language based on that part of the world.
Tony: It’s impossible to encapsulate that part of the world, or any part of the world, one particular style, graphic style. We ended up with a less-is-more position, which is totally appropriate for this. It’s not trying to say, everything that you can possibly save. Essentially, not translate anything, but it’s got a neutral position. That’s an exception. The vast majority of identities have a concept and an idea behind them and that idea is always sprung from a conversation, and so has some root in reality and some root in the process.
We go through this process of explanation, then presentation and then production. The presentation can take some time, there can be some tuning them throwing in and exploring different things. Then you move on to production. It’s three stages.
Mario: Yeah. Then during the that creative part, you said you’re in conversation with a client, but does that mean as soon as you can have that one or two ideas, which are you’re happy with, do you immediately share them, or show hints of it? Or do you actually keep it more closed off and develop it a bit more and show how it can work and then share it? Is it like a more open process, or more you go shut off your doors for a bit and develop it “fully”?
Tony: What’s really important is that I suppose this comes from experience to a degree, is you have to explain your idea coherently and reasonably fully, so the person you’re explaining it to can understand it. When you’re inhabiting this – well, they’re saying inhabiting in a sense. It’s like, it’s with you all the time, you’re thinking about this all the time. You’re thinking about this identity all the time. You can be mistaken for thinking that the client is in the same place that you are and they’re not. It’s you. You’re spending hours and hours considering, thinking, wandering around, having a shower, brushing your teeth, sleep and thinking about this identity and they’re not.
Tony: You’ve got to take them along the journey that they’ve inspired in you, but you got to take them along this journey and explain and take it step by step. Again, finding a little distance between yourself and the project, so you could say, “Does this make sense?” I have a picture, which is – in my mind, which is have you walked through the jungle and then ended up in a lovely clearing? The client can then say, “Oh, yeah. I see. We’ve got here. This makes perfect sense.”
Tony: Or just helicopter them into the clearing, so there you go. You need to take them through the journey with you a little bit enough. Not so much that they both stupid with it, but enough that they get what you’re driving at, what the potential of this thing is. That requires quite a lot of development sometimes. It’s lovely, if it’s coming from a real place, in a place that they’re connected with, I think that’s really important that they feel connected with it and you can show them the benefit of it and show where it works. You don’t need to do more than that, but you need to do that.
Mario: How long does the process usually last? Let’s say, if you have a – there’s no specific requirement from a client. They’re like, “Okay, we need a brand. Give us your proposal.” How much time it takes from that first step to developing something for a medium-sized company?
Tony: I mean, it’s not always possible. I’d say that you’d like to have it running around in your mind for a while, for two to three weeks, or just knowing about it, knowing that you’re going to do it and just having it running around in your subconscious. Then after that six weeks of development, something like that. Then a little bit of tuning in fray. Afterwards, it shouldn’t be too long. Yeah, I think it can – if things go on for months and months without any real progress, then that starts to be a problem. The client starts losing interest and you start losing interest a little bit.
Tony: It’s important in the first instance that you have some time to think about things, even if it’s a week or two weeks. Let some time to just let it run around your head. Then we get down to it and start making, that process isn’t so long that you start adding things just for the sake of it. If that supports six weeks, that’s great.
Tony: Then after that, hopefully you get a positive response. I’m thinking of a job we’re doing now, we get a positive response. Then we’re dealing with a lot of practical issues and there’ll be stages within that. For instance, there’s a corporate site to be dealt with. There’s the website to be dealt with. There are some commercial things, then the commercial aspects to be dealt with. These are all different things that require different deliverables. They require a lot of investigation in terms of production of say, items for marketing and items for print and items for all different kinds of things.
Tony: There are still aspects of the job which are unresolved. The main thrust of the job that are solving creatively developed as you go through these things. The first of the job has been agreed and the everybody knows from the right direction.
In 2009, Tony Brook together with Patricia Finegan and Adrian Shaughnessy formed Unit Editions. It’s an independent publishing venture producing books for international audience of designers, design students and followers of visual culture. Since then, Unit Edition published a series of beautifully produced essential publications, including What is Universal Everything, Paula Scher: Works, Manuals 1 and 2, and Studio Culture to name a few personal favorites. At the time of our conversation, it was their 10th anniversary, which is no small feat for an independent publisher. I’ve asked Tony to introduce us to Unit Editions and what we could expect in their next decade.
Tony: Unit Editions is a very, very small thing. It’s like a cottage industry. Well, a cottage industry, we used to take bags of books down to the post office, carry them down literally ourselves for the first five years, but we don’t do that now and we have someone who – so that’s a small improvement. The reason we do the Kickstarters is because we don’t have big finance behind. There’s no any finance behind us. We only exist through the support of designers and people who are into design, into visual culture. If it weren’t for that Kickstarter, other social media-funded, should I say, then we wouldn’t be able to do it really.
Tony: It’s ironic that we’re making books in the age of the Internet. The reason we can make the books is because we’re in the age of the Internet. It was supposed to kill print, but instead, it’s done the exact opposite. It’s allowed us to survive and to thrive. There are so many wonderful stories within design. I can only speak to myself.
Tony: If you go back to the time when we were just setting up, I just finished working on a project for a commercial publisher and I thought there was so many things wrong with that process. It wasn’t by designers. It wasn’t run by people who really got design, I didn’t feel, so the paper start slowing, that important. Some of the content wasn’t as good as it should be, etc.
Tony: I thought a lot of publishing was making dumb books and that I thought that there was much, much richer stories to be told about graphic design. I love the idea that we say, architecture, or any of the arts really, that graphic designers made these wonderful books for them, beautiful books, but weren’t doing it for themselves.
Tony: The notion of graphic design, a publisher majoring on graphic design typography, that was telling these stories in a meaningful way and giving them the books that I thought they deserved, seemed to be an exciting prospect. In those terms, the future is going to be making more rich, interesting books, hopefully through crowdfunding is financially it’s not. I don’t make any money out of it, so it’s very much a love thing.
Tony: I do think that some of the books that we’re making and having people value and that’s really important to me that people founded the books that we’re making. We’re planning our next Kickstarter thing, which might be a SPIN project actually that we’re working on, that will take me an hour to explain, unfortunately. We just seen the design republic book, the plan is that’s finished in the next couple of months, so that goes to print.
Tony: We’ve got a series title lined up, but they’re going to be really good. We started off talking about young designers and what they should be doing and what they could be doing. I think one of the things that graphic designers are subject to do, or what it requires is proof practitioners to really love it and to be really involved in it and to know more about it. If Unit Editions was about anything, for me though and that was probably it, that we got this fascinating, amazing and interesting history.
Tony: The more of us ought to know more about it and be part of it and realize that we’re in this fantastic lineage of wonderful creatives and brilliant work and be proud of it and know about it and add to it, we’re actually just turning up and laying out type everyday that we’re actually feel like we’re part of something that’s worthwhile.
Mario: I mean, I think you’ve been doing, yeah, a great job. I’m always excited to see what’s coming next and books are – yeah, they’re beautiful, in short.
Tony: Yeah. Well, thank you. It’s really great to – I think it’s not easy. Books takes so much effort and time to make. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your words, really as I go here.
We’ve come to the last topic I’ve discussed with Tony. As with other guests, I’ve asked him to leave us with vital advice and insights based on what he experienced so far on his professional journey.
Tony: If you’re feeling comfortable, then be concerned. To be a creative, you need to feel alive, you need to feel connected, you need to feel really alive, really aware. You need to be absorbing everything and not using it all, but just absorbing everything and having an open mind. I think that designers are, or have a potential to be a wonderful, positive force in the world and a real force for good. If we can remind ourselves of that every now and again, and also that beauty is important.
Tony: Now, beauty isn’t always obvious. I think if you’re too comfortably creating your beauty, then that is also a problem. Beauty can be slightly uncomfortable. Beauty can be a little odd and a little weird. Beauty isn’t necessarily lazy. It can be unusual. It’s our duty or our reason to be here is sometimes bring that out. I love the idea of designers just insisting on being innovators and being creators and surprising people. If you imagine that you’re conducting a conversation and you’re a designer and you’re conducting a conversation with an audience, you have an audience, as a designer you should never have a boring conversation with your audience. There’s no excuse for you to be boring, for you to have a dull, thoughtless conversation.
Tony: Whatever the subject is. You can be working on financial reports. You could be working on artist posters, you can be working on anything at all. All of it can be designed well. It can be designed beautifully and interestingly and surprisingly. It’s out duty to try and make that happen, whatever the question.
Mario: Yeah, amazing.
Tony: I mean, I still feel that it’s easy to be conservative and to have recipes as a graphic designer. Now you can have certain things that you think are very tasteful and polite. There are basically structures that you rely on. It’s very easy for us to do that. If you arrange Helvetica left, then you can’t go too far wrong. I have nothing against Helvetica, but I have against lazy thinking. I think that we just have to try and be demanding of ourselves and remind ourselves every now and again that we just shake ourselves up out of our –
Tony: The enemy of design is complacency, essentially. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating good design, or design that’s exciting us, or making something and being excited by it, but the next day, same again. It’s not good enough to – because it’s a subject in which you can’t just coast through it and you can coast through your career and never, never make anything that’s of real interest.
Tony: Whatever we say, we all have these opportunities. One of the big qualities that I think designers need is relentlessness, not giving up. Yeah, but sometimes you’re going to have a client who’s not going your way, but don’t buy down. Try and keep it as good as it can be, even if it’s not going your way. The next day, get up and do it again and try again.
Tony: I think that the key to longevity is not giving up. It’s keeping that optimism. It’s easy to say and it’s a very tough thing to keep, but just try and remain optimistic and keep creating things that you think are worthwhile.
Hey, everyone. That’s it for this episode. I hope you find it useful. If you like this podcast, tell a friend. I want to thank Tony for coming onto the show. I’ve been obsessed by his work since my university days, so it was a pleasure to meet him and have this conversation. I’m grateful for his time and all the insights he shared.
Links to Tony’s work, as well as to some other things mentioned during the conversation can be found in the show notes at creative.voyage/podcast. Also, you can follow @creative.voyage on Instagram, join The Monthly Edit newsletter, and if you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe. Until next time my friends. Take care.
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