“There is a beautiful irony involved in giving a talk about my pathways to success today as last week I shut Designers Republic down as a business. I will explain more about that later, but at the outset my best advice if you are going out in the real world or looking to get a job is:
This is important for everyone but additionally important for anyone wanting to make some money from their talent as a creative person.
I never studied graphics. It wasn’t fashionable when I was a young person. I was born in Croyden but I grew up in Bracknell, a new town outside London which was every bit as bad as the reputation of new towns. When I was at school in the late 70s I was in a punk band. I came to Sheffield because of the music I had listened to on John Peel - early Cabaret Voltaire and early Human League. Also my dad and my granddad were quite big on the socialist movement and I was pretty idealistic. I ran Rock Against Racism in Reading for 2 years and was involved in the Anti- Nazi League. I believed Sheffield was the ‘socialist republic of South Yorkshire’. What I found was not a socialist republic but somewhere a lot more honest and lively.
I got involved in design as I was in a band but I couldn’t play. This was ok when punk was in its heyday but couldn’t really cut it afterwards. I did things like posters and flyers, promotion, managed Person 2 Person (made up from people from ABC) and then I got into doing record covers. Other people asked me to do their flyers and posters and I liked it. I had got thrown out of art at school when I was fifteen, so I had no art background and I had never done design at college or uni.
When Person 2 Person split, other people in the music business asked me to manage them. The band had decided at the beginning that they wanted to retain as much artistic control as possible, including all flyers and record covers. I did this in the days before computer graphics armed with a few sheets of Letraset, Rotring pens and graph paper! I got on well with the guys in the art department at Epic /CBS and they explained what to do with my ideas. I learnt how to do the mechanics of record covers (before computers) doing all artwork to give to the printer. I was liked by other bands and people in the industry. Then in late 1985 three things happened:
The people I used to be in a band with got a deal with MCA records, who insisted on proper company status to pay me. I couldn’t draw the things I wanted to draw (or enough to make me money) but I had a friend who could so we applied to Enterprise Allowance Scheme which helped small businesses set up. We got £40 per week for a year. So Designers Republic was set up in 1986 because we had a demand for our services, had contacts in the music business and help with funding.
We started out just planning to do record covers. We had a lot of luck, working with music press darlings like Age of Chance and Pop Will Eat Itself. For the first three years we just did record covers. Designers Republic was a misnomer then – we were not designers or had any design training whatsoever - but we wanted to communicate our ideas. In our heads we had more of an artistic outlook and we were interested in what the client wants.
What we have done over the last 23 years, is taken the client brief, reworked it to something we want to do and they want too. Often client briefs are very prescriptive. Some agencies will just do what they want. If you look at it and tell them you don’t agree with what you want you must justify this and then you have to work twice as hard to go back to them with something better. If you just want to meet your mates down the pub at 6 o’clock, just do what they want and take the money. But as a designer, I can’t see the point.
Creativity is a really important thing. There are other jobs elsewhere where you can make as much money. You owe it to yourself to push the boundaries and do something special. I can see work that I have done that has influenced other people. I have worked eighteen hours a day, taking no holidays but I have had my job and passion and business all in one. Because we had a lot of passion we got a lot of press coverage then we were asked to do exhibitions."