Ahead of OFFSET Dublin 2016 Unit Editions‘ Adrian Shaughnessy sat down with Pentagram partner, author and creative director Angus Hyland. Angus has led campaigns for international brands, published the much adored The Book of the Dog and The Book of the Bird and he has also collaborated with musician Nick Drake on his Sick Bag Song book.

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You were part of the team that staged the AGI Open conference in London in 2012. Was there anything about AGI Open that made it different from the normal conference format?

Other than the fact that all the speakers were members of AGI, I’m not sure. As the conference theme ‘dialogue’ was pretty straightforward, I’m tempted to say perhaps that because it was a one-off event in London there was a kind of – Oh God, forgive the dated analogy – a Woodstock quality about it. If you missed it, you wouldn’t be able to catch it again.

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Designers seem to have become better at speaking at conferences. They now see it as part of their job, rather than something painful to be endured. What do you look for in a good conference speech?

For me, a good talk is one when the speaker makes a memorable point or position which I can, in recollection, articulate in a single sentence.

Conferences usually have themes, but often speakers disregard them. How important is it for speakers to ‘follow the brief’?

I think it’s really important to follow the theme if the organisers have stressed it as a requirement and you are part of a tight format. However, often it’s a rather loose or abstract theme that is basically a framework and not an overarching construct. So breath between presentations is rather hardwired from the onset.

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Whose work is impressing you currently in the world of design?

Ah, that’s tricky to answer. I tend to be into a subject – like for instance, botanic art or anime, or folk-rock, or modernist abstract symbols – at any one time. My pursuit of the muse tends to drive me towards graphic or illustration/popular artwork related to the subject, usually either historic or vernacular. A friend once told me, quite plainly, that she didn’t think I was a fan of design – which, while being slightly disingenuous, was accurate up to a point; I tend to be interested in stuff that is tangential to design.

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Your wife, Marion Deuchers, is a prominent illustrator and artist, and you have two sons. Are they showing signs of following in their talented parents’ footsteps, or are they destined to be accountants?

Well, the poor things haven’t much of a hope of escaping – sometimes I feel the house is like an extension of art school. I have a vague, and perhaps twisted hope that they will rebel and then, who knows … an internship at Deliottes? My eldest son drew figurative representations of vacuum cleaners before he was two, which extended out into sculptures incorporating building bricks, coat hangers, pile of clothes, in fact anything to hand. For a short while we were amazed by this young Duchamp until he settled into more conventional creations.

I blame an early obsession with Naughty Noo Noo from the Tellytubbies rather than the Baby Mozart tapes we were playing in the nursery. Still you’ve got to follow the muse, to reference my previous answer.

Angus speaking at OFFSET 2016, photo by Bríd O'Donovan

Angus speaking at OFFSET 2016, photo by Bríd O’Donovan

Printed books or e-books?

Don’t do e-books, Adrian. Too intravenous – they by-pass the palette. As for books, I Just finished The Goldfinch by Donna Tart, and I’m now about to embark on the new Michael Faber, The Book of Strange New Things. Between times I sporadically read The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution by Frank Dikötter. It illustrates the horrors of when poets become dictators.

Last design book you bought?

Design Concept Realisation by Wolfgang Schmittel, published by ABC Verlag. Cost a prince’s ransom, but I needed it for a talk.

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Last non-design book you bought?

The Shape of Content by Ben Shahn – actually my wife bought it but she gets all her Amazon packages delivered to Pentagram, and what’s hers is mine and vice versa.

What is the secret of Pentagram’s longevity?

It’s impossible to either buy or sell it; so we have to keep the pyramid game going. And it is essential to be adding new, innovative partners. It’s like the quest for the holy grail.

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