IAN IS THE DESIGNERS REPUBLIC
The Designers Republic is a graphic design studio based in Sheffield run under the ever-watchful eye of Ian Anderson. Now in its 30th year, their bold graphics and provocative concepts have reverberated around the world on everything from soft drinks and video games to record labels and night clubs.
ONCE UPON A TIME…
I had and still have a low boredom threshold so I’ve always looked for new things over and over. So I tend to get totally immersed in things for short intense periods, those that resonate the most over time get the heavier rotation. Like a lot of people my age, Punk was the first thing I could call my own. I was a politically motivated teenager, spellbound by Warhol and Robert Hughes’ Shock of The New book and TV series. I was never sporty, so fallback was pale and interesting… a pocketful of existentialist novels seemed to do the trick! I watched loads of TV, buried my head in books and spent long stretches immersed in sci-fi. Truth was born of arguments so I spent a significant amount of time in detention at school. I never wanted to be the same and even when I tried it never seemed to work out — working class kid at a grammar school.
My aunt gave me a book about Warhol for my 7th birthday. It was a book club book of the month she forgot to send back in time. She thought I’d like the brightly colored pictures, but it was actually the pop culturism, the people and ultimately the consumerism that I took from it. I liked designing football kits so my mum photostatted around 100 sheets of traced players from Shoot Annuals. That was a long term project. I had a lot of books about flags and a lot of atlases. I collected OS Maps. I was politically motivated and active as a teenager, my bedroom walls were plastered with David King’s Anti-Nazi League posters and various bauhaus and constructivist posters foretelling, in my mind, the revolution. In general I preferred to maintain a state of what if, whether sci-fi or idealist politics. I worked weekends at Sainsburys in Bracknell (then New Town) stacking shelves with the kind of FMCGs that I would later design — I was always in the shit as I took too long arrange the tins so they all faced front, perfectly.
I don’t know why but I was always into ‘pop’ music. I was in a band because I wanted to be in a band – I was never really arsed about being a musician. It’s the modern medium. It’s a personal soundtrack. It’s how you organise your life, who and what you identify with, and means to communicate that, by association, to others especially when you’re young and maybe lack the eloquence to voice it yourself. So, before I’d even thought about design, the best bits about being in a band were designing the posters, the cover, the promo, and in hindsight the messaging. I like booking the gigs and doing the interviews. I liked being on stage, performing, being the centre of attention but never aspired to play better.
When I just started secondary school, a family with two brothers (15 and 16) moved next door and they competed for my affections for their record collections. Soon I was being taken to Hawkwind and other space-rock gigs and being force-fed krautock and prog by one, and P-funk and reggae by the other… it was a great initiation. Music means so much more than simply what we hear.
ON LIVING & WORKING IN SHEFFIELD
I live 2 miles from the office. My day starts at 6.30 getting the kids up, fed, lunch-packed and off to school. We start at 10:00 but I try to get there earlier some days, others I don’t.
We’re busy so we have to hit the ground running if we can but most days can get derailed by phone calls and emails. I’ll try to leave around 7:00 to get back to put the kids to bed, help with homework etc. We’ll grab something to eat and maybe an hours TV chill-time, then I start again from around 10:00 ‘til 1:00.
People. Space. Time. Cost. We have the advantages of a city wrapped in a village mentality and, with the Peak District, we have the biggest back garden in England. We work globally so interaction is in the ether — physical proximity isn’t an issue
It’s the question of working to live not living to work isn’t it? So there was never a question of moving to London, which I guess is the real question here. I chose to come to Sheffield from Greater, or lesser, London in 1979 and I chose to stay in Sheffield in 1982. I met my first wife in Sheffield. I started TDRTM in Sheffield. When it comes to football, the Only Way is S6. I met Sian in Sheffield and we had, and have, our family here, and our friends, and their friends. I stayed. We made a difference. There was no need for Hoxton-fins, Chap- fella snowboarding, cheap material cut on the bias, The Shoreditch Twat, Shandy-lunches and keeping up with Moanses.
We stayed in Sheffield and worked globally so it never mattered about being in London, or elsewhere pre or post internet. Communication by any means necessary
We interact on a personal level with people around us at S1 and in the locale (friends/clients) but mainly we lock ourselves away and get on with it, unless someone comes to complain the music’s too loud!
The Designers RepublicTM was declared in 1986. I’d been working in the music industry as a manager since 1983. By the time Rob and Steve were looking to set up WARP in 1989 I had six valuable years of experience and contacts to share with friends. At that time, there didn’t seem an option but to work together. As the label developed so did our notoriety and experience so we grew together working with the artists they signed, with some artists signing to Warp to get a TDR cover.
It was great while it lasted in most ways — freedom and mutual encouragement, a synergy of ideas and aspiration etc. But often people change, and don’t want what they thought they wanted, or maybe just wanted something new. I think both parties needed something fresh at the time. But as the label grew, Warp wanted to grow up, leave the nest, seek fame and fortune in London knowing that the shock of the new and the novelty of being the Sheffield Bleep label is a temporary thing. After 10 years the label was no longer new, and most of its artists weren’t from Sheffield, so they decided to focus more on developing artists rather than the brand. Part of this was to give the artists freedom to commission or do their own artwork breeding an inherent diversity in Warp’s product. Some artists we had a relationship with stayed with us, most of the newer signings had their own contacts, or friends with laptops.
As a designer I need to UNDERSTAND the brand. There needs to be an empathy with the client, what they want to achieve and the target audience from whom they are looking for us to provoke a response, usually a specific response. In every brief there is an inherent problem the client needs solving. That may be a new brand or a brand re-rub, or a refresh of a product, and maybe its packaging. Maybe they’re looking to change perceptions about an existing product or look at market penetration for a new one.
Whatever the scenario, the first step is understanding the client and their problem — this is the science. How do we solve their problem. The creative comes when we look to message that solution, who to, and why? Depending on who, what language, what expectations, what visual switches will work to illicit the desired response from an audience usually more comfortable when they can own the idea for themselves. This applies to any and all projects — the same approach and the same filters simply with different source material and content feeding in and out. If its personal work, TDR becomes the client. We are slaves to the idea. That its perceived as good design, that it has to be good design is purely a matter of amplified communication.
Everything I do is multiplied by everything else I do. Nothing exists outside context. I put all of me into what I do, I don’t see the point of doing it otherwise — and all of me has to be All of me. We are all the sum total of everything we think and see and hear and experience and understand and do. So, what we do as creatives is unavoidably a product of where we do it, where we are when we’re thinking and doing. The person I’d be if I hadn’t come to and stayed in Sheffield in 1979 would be different to the person answering this question now, if I’d been asked, or if there’d been a reason to ask me in the first place. By the same token I’m the person who stayed in Sheffield because of the sum total of my experiences and choices made up to that point. At any point. So for me, for you to ask the question about the impact of external influences on my creative process, or anyone’s, is reyt skewed.