A Design for Life 02

< Continued from A Design for Life 01


When my schooldays were over for good (I had had thoughts of studying Car Design but that would've meant years of college and university perhaps), I spent a long while just painting, scribbling and drawing cartoons to please myself and I loved it—this was no waste of time as events would turn out.


"The way can't be taught. The way must be found." — Anon


One day my father (an industrial modeller/draughtsman) brought home something as seemingly bland as a Letraset catalogue. But hang on, now this looked interesting to me… typestyles, symbols, Pantone markers and colour charts… what rich portal to a fascinating new world was this! Beyond the directory of typefaces with exotic names like 'Pump Triline' and 'Magnificat' were photos of efficient-looking white-shirted designers with immaculate fingernails and minty breath, 'burnishing' transfers or laying down a 'marker wash' in a pristine studio in some European capital. Hey, I could do that!

Suddenly I became aware that everything all around had been designed by someone—books, crisp packets, magazines, boxes of Maltesers—but of course they were. This was Graphic Design! Commercial Art! Oh the glamour!

I gradually built up a portfolio of my artwork, not so much the workings of a diseased mind but rather a show of raw enthusiasm. It was time to present myself to whoever might show an interest, so into the Yellow Pages I went and, picking the design companies in the city whose ads I liked the look of best, I wrote letters.

The first to respond, the very highly respected design house known then as Design Group, requested my presence for a chat over a Maxpax coffee—oh and don't forget to bring the portfolio. I was terrified. But I came out of that meeting with my first full-time occupation—they gave me a job right there on the spot, right where I wanted to be—I had found the way.

An important point to make here is that I was to be guided by professionals in an 'in-at-the-deep-end' situation, learning fast through constant work to tight deadlines; not having weeks or months to complete a college design project. This, along with much self-imposed practice and 'homework', smoothed out most of the rough edges. I made plenty mistakes, and I had to learn to work more quickly, etc. But what an intense environment in which to learn.

The Managing Director at that time (who was also present at that initial meeting) was a brilliant man, Sandy Weir, who told me to "never lower your standards", the single best bit of work advice I have ever received.


Coming soon: A Design for Life 03—what Wilson did next.

Footnote: Of course the picture painted above of a staged, clean, spotless Eurostudio, all indoor plants, shiny white Boby trolleys and the aroma of fresh coffee is not quite how it was in the 1980s.

Ask any graphic artist who—in the days before the Apple Mac—experienced forearms a-tingle with spray mount, the airbrush artist in the corner who made sure that each night after work when you blew your nose it was all the colours of the rainbow, those that would sit at their desk first thing in the morning breakfasting on hot bacon-and-egg sandwiches (myself included), and slicing off the tips of your fingers with a sharp blade while trimming out heavy artboard.

Nowadays the Mac is the tool-of-choice for most intents and purposes, making the workplace safer, cleaner and infinitely more efficient, the above in-studio hazards long gone (apart from the bacon sandwiches).