Life Begins at 40 (Last Night a Grid Saved My Life)



A student once asked me how I learnt about the design process. After a few second pause I had to reply “Probably playing with Lego as a child”. That may have been the start of understanding physical and spatial issues but the development of my visual language really started at art college.

At college I became interested in the work of abstract and colourist painters. I was interested in the line that I could trace from Manet to Abstraction. I needed to add my interests and then I felt I’d have the basis for a developing practice.

I felt that computers were going to be important and wondered if I could use them to produce work. I’d so far, grown up in an analogue world. College had a basic Mac computer that sat in a room gathering dust but the Animation Department had a few Amiga computers that I experimented with. After college I bought an Amiga 1200 and started to produce short animated loops on it. A few years later I bought a second-hand PC and have never looked back.

I was also interested in Science Fiction and narratives. Needless to say, the next 20 years were tricky. My time has been spent balancing, pondering, adjusting, re-starting work with disparate elements that were never really supposed to work together.

I found that I had to learn about typography and graphic design to structure much of my work especially with a real, new interest in design for the web.

Recently I’d been working too slowly. My process was becoming unproductive. This was largely a result of producing work that was too complicated, that had too many elements and so required too many decent decisions to produce a reasonable piece of work.

After Christmas this year I decided to produce the simplest work possible. I set a limit of about 5 key decision per piece. The last few years it has occurred to me that it’s all about decisions. A piece of work can be assessed on the quality of the decisions made during the process. Are those decision dynamic, creative, informed and relevant?

I found that an understanding of painting wasn’t helping me. I didn’t need to think pictorially I needed to think graphically. I didn’t want to spend time with nuance but instead make simple, graphic statements. I looked at grids and early Modernist typography. I started to produce a piece of work a day. I can now productively deal with the work that i’m interested in and haven’t enjoyed producing my work this much for years.

I’ve never known how to categorise myself and often default to ‘Designer’. Soon it may be ‘Graphic Designer’.