'Could we just, perhaps, try it this way…' - In memory of designer Mick Dean

Mick Dean, 1998's Scottish designer of the Year winner - picture by Reuben Paris

“Could we just, perhaps, try it this way…” For anyone who worked with Mick Dean, who has died at the age of 58 after a short illness, those were words you got very used to hearing.

His commitment to craft, his absolute attention to detail were legendary. He could take issue with the kerning on a piece of type from the other side of the room and put the fear of god into printers on a press pass. But this fastidiousness was always in the service of creativity.

A Scottish Designer of the Year and head of Pure Design, winner of Agency of the Year in 1998, Mick’s inherent artistry was poured into every project he worked on. Over a 35 year career, his clients included some of the country’s leading companies, brands, arts organisations and anyone who believed in the ability of design to transform their public image.

Graduating in 1985 from Newcastle Polytechnic (now Northumbria University) with a BA (Hons) in Graphic Design, Mick’s first design job was in-house at British Gas. He soon headed north and settled in Edinburgh, becoming a designer at Tayburn (despite turning up very, very late for his interview). It was here that Mick formed a close working relationship - and personal friendship - with a new wave of design talent, many of whom would go on to form their own agencies and being a fresh vitality to the industry in Scotland.

Mick co-founded Pure in 1992 and the agency quickly became one of the most influential of its time, with a collaborative approach to design, photography and typography that was instantly recognisable.

Those who worked for Pure, and the freelance creatives he commissioned, reveled in Mick’s belief in the creative process and the freedom to explore that he gave them. He wanted the best work, but it was always encouraged rather than demanded. Working on a project for Mick was never an easy ride. “Do you like it?” he would ask. And the designer, the photographer, the writer in question knew exactly what that meant. But, always, the end result justified the hard work and long hours.

Mick would leave Pure in 2004, frustrated that the day-to-day running of a business gave him less time to create. He set-up under the name Various, operating from a large but always cluttered studio near his home in Carrington, Midlothian. This time his professional partner was also his romantic one, Annie Binks. Mick had met Annie through her role as a print rep for Nimmos [he proposed in typical Mick style via a series of seven little boxes, each one containing a gemstone and labeled with faux Latin text such as requests gargantum]. Together, they wanted to get back to the purity of design, creating beautiful work for like-minded clients.

He was intrigued by the point at which design becomes art and he was excited about exploring this further. He collaborated on an exhibition at the Edinburgh Fringe and was as much at home in the Edinburgh Printmakers Workshop as he was in the studio. Although the work he and Annie produced for the clients at Various (later rebranded Wordpicturestory) encompassed the digital media essential to modern marketing, it’s fair to say that Mick never truly embraced the online world. He was always at his happiest getting inky, cutting and pasting and experimenting with texture.

Mick’s enthusiasm for his craft, and his natural affability made him the perfect teacher. As a mentor and visiting lecturer at the School of Arts & Creative Industries at Napier University, Mick passed on his years of experience to the next generation of designers. Myrna MacLeod, programme leader at Napier, remarked “Mick loved his work with the students and he was loved in return. He helped create some very fine designers.”

Mick took his work very seriously, though never himself. His down-to-earth nature and dry sense of humour endeared him to everyone he met. In a hugely competitive industry, he applauded the success of others and took delight in seeing friends and colleagues doing well.

Born in Darlington on 4 June 1960, Mick moved to Derby at the age of four where, like his dad, he first found work as an apprentice fitter with the railway. Only later did he sign up for an artfoundation course at the local college. He was a passionate fan of Derby County and maintained a season ticket despite the hundreds of miles he had to put in to watch them. With his close-cropped silver hair and broad shoulders, he bore a striking physical resemblance to the feted Italian player (and sometime Derby County start turn) Fabrizio Ravanelli. Walking back from the local shop one evening, he responded to a call of “Hey Ravanelli,” by raising the tin he was carrying and shouting back “…no, it’s ravioli.”

Mick leaves Annie and two daughters, Hannah and Rose. He thought the world of his girls and both daughters seem to have inherited Mick’s keenest passions: Hannah is a goalkeeper with Hibs Girls Academy while Rose is a naturally gifted artist.

Michael (Mick) Dean, designer, artist, lecturer, born 4 June 1960 Greenbank Hospital, Darlington, died 19 January 2019 St Columba’s Hospice, Edinburgh.

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