Designing the path to success – what inspired the Designerati to take up a career in design?

As The Drum seeks to identify the top design individuals in the UK in its second annual Designerati, some of the designers from the 2014 list tell us what led them to take up a career in design.

The path into a chosen career varies from person to person – for some, it’s a clear route, while others end up taking a rockier path.

The Drum caught up with some of last year’s Designerati – a list celebrating the top individuals in design – to find out who or what inspired them to get into design. Over the next few days, we hear how everything from comic books to Leonardo da Vinci has served as an inspiration for design talent.

You can nominate individuals for The Drum’s 2015 Designerati by completing a short survey.

Dan Germain, group head of brand and creative, Innocent

It was a book called the Rock Yearbook Volume VI. It was a review of the year in rock and pop music, which I got for Christmas in 1985. The section that I looked at again and again was their list of the best designed album sleeves, and the worst. I was fascinated by the pretty serious descriptions that the journalists gave as to what constituted good design: what was it that made an album look cool?

It also helped that my favourite album that year (Cupid & Psyche 1985 by Scritti Politti) featured in the ‘best designed’ bit, seeming to validate my opinion on their music. I loved the fact that the style backed up the substance, and I liked the thought that perhaps these cool musicians gave a shit about how their work was presented, as well as trying to make perfect pop music. That was when I first thought about design being an important ‘thing’ (I was 12 years old).

Wayne and Gerardine Hemingway, designers, HemingwayDesign

Neither of us ever planned to become designers. We both grew up in working class households where the concept of design never mind the concept of a career in design would ever be mentioned. Gerardine left school at 15 and got a job as a trainee wages clerk at Riley’s Snooker Tables in Accrington, earning money to make clothes, buy records and go out dancing. I spotted this lovely-looking lass in a wonderful homemade frock on the dance floor, sidled up to her, had a dance and we got together in our teens.

We gave it a go in London; spent our time clubbing and I formed a band. It was only when we sold our own clothes on Camden Market at the turn of the 80s to earn some money to pay the rent did the idea of a career in anything resembling design start to come into focus.

When we formed Red or Dead, we soon came up with a philosophy to create “the world’s first affordable designer label for people who grew up not knowing what design meant”. The affordability element is a small step to social justice and has helped us through our careers. It is now the main driver of HemingwayDesign in all the regeneration work that we do.

Tim Greenhalgh, chairman and chief creative officer, Fitch

To be honest, I think, like many designers, it largely came from within. It’s what I wanted to do – I spent all my time drawing or making, and it quickly became more than simply filling down time in a pre-Xbox world to something I wanted to do every day. I had an amazing art teacher, the Reverend Cawthorne, who despite his upright nature and dog collar taught me to draw in a lyrical way rather than forcing a stick of lead round a piece of paper.

Never really being able to decide what form of design I wanted to do – I still can’t – I found myself appreciating various practitioners, from Ettore Sottsass and the whole Memphis movement to Bernard Leach and Wally Keeler – leading studio potters in the UK.

At the end of the day it is, and always has been, something that makes me smile and that’s inspiring enough.

Jonathan Ford, founder, Pearlfisher

The person who inspired me to become a designer was Bob Gill. They say “don't judge a book by its cover” but it was his brilliant, and much copied, cover for his self-penned book, 'Forget All the Rules You Ever Learned About Graphic Design: Including the Ones in This Book' that did the trick and made me choose design. So I was really honoured to have him visit our studio in New York a few years ago to meet our team and to have him say to them that our work was no good with a twinkle in his eye.

Jonathan Sands, chairman, Elmwood

Actually I entered the design profession by accident. I always knew that I was no academic and that as such I was much more aligned and in tune with the more intuitive nature of the creative industries. At school I quite fancied entering the acting profession as others on my father’s side of the family had done. I started out working for an ad agency called IAS Advertising and I loved it. I ended up at Elmwood quite by accident.

After three and a half years at IAS I realised I needed to escape the paradigm of the office junior and clown. I applied for a job at Elmwood which in those days was a jobbing artwork studio, thinking I'd get two years on my CV and then go back into Adland. The truth is I hated my first few months, thinking I'd made a huge mistake but rolled my sleeves up nevertheless and got on with it. Two years later at the age of 24 I was deputy managing director. At 28 ended up leading a successful management buyout when the holding company wanted to sell. So in truth my whole career has been an accident rather than designed, although working in the design profession and with the people that make Elmwood, Elmwood, has been the happiest accident I could have ever wished for.

Phil Carter, creative director, Carter Wong design

Way back in 1970, at the impressionable age of 15, many of my school hours (and textbooks) were filled with renderings of ‘tomorrow’s sportscars’. My passion for cars extended to Saturday morning visits to Lotus’s test track, a short cycle away at Hethel, and for me the owner Colin Chapman epitomised the great unsung British designer.

This obsession was further fuelled by having, as luck would have it, our local newspaper Motoring Correspondent, Peter Dunn living only a stone’s throw away, his driveway graced every Friday by the shiny new car he had to test that week.

And having three daughters proved too big a draw; before long I became the surrogate son he never had. With that came test drives in exotic cars, my first drive of a Ferrari 348 on a disused wartime airfield well before my driving test, countless Grand Prix trips and a memorable meeting with my local hero.

On discovering a test prototype Lotus 408, furtively hidden behind some flats whilst on a cycle ride, I returned with Peter to check the authenticity of our ‘find’. On arrival, a very sheepish Colin Chapman appeared and, on having made our introductions he kindly suggested the course of action to become a car designer. My creative path took a turn to graphic design, however I still spent many an hour as it turned out with my Automotive Design flatmates at the RCA discovering the illusive magic of rendering the perfect car.

Tomorrow Designerati alumni including Simon Manchipp, Spencer Buck and Richard Seymour share what inspired them to pursue a career in design.

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