I talk with designer and critic Richard Baird about social trends and what its like translating skills across platforms.
Wes Jones: Hey Richard, thanks for taking the time, I’ve been looking forward to talking with you as I think you have a unique position in the design/branding industry and I’d like to know more about it.
For those who don’t know though, let’s start with who you are and what you do?
Richard Baird: Hi Wes, my name is Richard Baird and I’m a British freelance designer and design writer – currently living in Prague – who specialises in the development of visual identities and packaging. I’ve written for Design Week, Brand New and Computer Arts, have an ongoing role as a critic for The Dieline, write daily reviews for my blog BP&O and curate articles for the student and young designer resource Design Survival.
WJ: Very cool. Now I know you began by studying furniture and product design, what led you there? Did you see it translating into what you are doing now? (If so) When did those links start forming?
RB: Design for me emerged as an interest in secondary school with what I perceived at the time as a 2d/3d conflict, enjoying both graphic design and design technology in equal measure. When it came to university I simply allowed the course, related opportunities and preferred location to settle the issue. This lead to four years of furniture and product design. There was a bit of a crossover in the branding of the final degree show – where I managed the visual identity and print work – but nothing formally educative, this did however reignite my interest in the discipline.
Following university I freelanced as a designer at a small furniture business. Its size and the entrepreneurial spirit of the owner provided me with furniture, brand identity and packaging design opportunities – all of which were self directed – from which I built a portfolio – again these weren’t educative with a fair amount of trial and error but did provide me with a period of paid, practical experience.
This commercial experience and the appreciation of materials, processes and cost I gained within a furniture design environment has certainly benefitted me now as my projects are a little broader, but to begin with I honestly felt I was learning to be a graphic designer from the ground up.
WJ: How do you feel about taking a direct, more formal, route to a creative career, or approaching it in a non-traditional way? I can see advantages to both, but from someone whose done it, what was your experience?
RB: Both routes are clearly viable. I’d say a formal education will get an aspiring designer up to speed a lot faster than learning on the fly and will certainly help to avoid making any costly mistakes. For me education is now more of commercial enterprise that overpromises and takes advantage of people with an interest but not the ability. If a designer chooses to go straight into freelancing and learn on the job they’ll find out pretty quickly whether or not he or she can make it work commercially. If I was to start again I’d be on the look out for internships rather than University courses or freelancing.
WJ: What is it about design that keeps you inspired and engaged with what you’re doing?
RB: Its very cyclical nature, the patterns and reoccurring tools of communication and the way these are adapted into new environments and their frequently compounded, distilled or reinterpreted nature. Writing about design on a daily basis really brings these to light and allows me to build a kit of communicable cues that cover both digital and physical brand interactions.
Richard writes for The Dieline, the leading packaging design website, where he separates the good from the bad, and breaks down the design and branding that went into each product.
WJ: You wrote a great article (Helvetica v. Lobster) about following trends vs. designing for longevity. What sort of things were you seeing that made you realize this was happening, and what do you think will be the result of it in the future?
RB: I now live in the Czech Republic, a country I’ve found isn’t really at the forefront of graphic design, seeing the obvious proliferation of one particular typeface in this part of the world across a broad variety of contexts really got me interested in what influences saturation, how this effects communicative value and how I should respond within my own work.
The black and white of it is either a world of pure information or one of communicative confusion, the reality is that we’ll continue to exist in the grey. A place of functionality and beauty – created by the educated and principled but also one of visual noise and incoherence – the result of a rise in the underpaid, and under-skilled, the perceived accessibility of design and the increasing price of education. The trend for more expansively ‘designed environments’ (large-scale identities that take advantage of a convergence of art, craft and architecture) will hopefully lead to less noise when journeying between ‘brand destinations’.
WJ: What really strikes me about you is that while you are a designer, you are also an editor and critic on The Dieline. I’d love to know more about what it’s like being both a designer and then also being on the other side of it as a critic?
RB: It’s perhaps been the smartest career choice I’ve made, without an educative background in packaging and identity design looking at every piece of work from an analytical stand point – attempting to understand exactly why each decision was made, much like reverse engineering – has really helped get me up to speed and foster an acute and enquiring mind.
This analytical process typically unearths key communicative tools that underpin most pieces of design. I believe that once you have and understand these tools and their origins you can remix and cross pollinate them while retaining communicative effectiveness. It’s this appropriation, compounding and reinterpretation that I believe leads to originality, if you don’t understand them they’ll be ineffective or abstract.
WJ: I know everyone says that they are their own worst critic, but how has writing for The Dieline and your blog BP&O affected and influenced they way you approach your work when you start a new project?
RB: Simply looking at the work of others isn’t enough, the search for inspiration tends to be an aesthetic exercise rather than the pursuit of understanding, interpretation and reinterpretation. I’ve consciously chosen to split my working week 50/50 between design and writing. Contemplation followed by written review has allowed me to absorb a lot more practical information than perhaps formal education may have done. It has also encouraged me to develop a clearer and tangible design process built around my own philosophies that aim to provide clear communicative rather than superfluous value to my projects.
WJ: You describe yourself as a minimalist when it comes to designing. What sort of process do you have that you use to keep the end product inline with your vision?
RB: I wouldn’t describe myself as a minimalist (my website simply outlines my interests) I am however very keen on developing my own philosophies. Presently I’d say I have a reductionist approach. This involves a strategy that aims to understand and draw together key values and communicative goals, that distills these down into simple and relatable ideas, assigning visual cues and executing these across a variety of assets. I’m always striving for a visual purity by stripping away any unnecessary embellishments, this doesn’t necessarily mean the solution will be minimal – it could very well be rich and diverse – but will ideally be cohesive and clear.
WJ: Do you have any personal projects that you’d like to tell about? Or what can we expect to see from you coming up and what kind of work would you like to be doing more of?
RB: My time, when not designing or writing for The Dieline, is largely spent on my blogs BP&O and Design Survival which I hope to continue to grow throughout 2013, I also hope to continue to work with small businesses and expand on my design philosophies through new articles and fostering relationships with designers and agencies.
WJ: Perfect! This was great, thanks Richard.
For more on Richard and what he does follow him through these channels: Facebook, Twitter, his blog BP&O, and his other blog Design Survival.