It was comforting to be back in my uni town.
Walking along the marina to the bar we were meeting at felt exciting; when I studied here back in the late nineties it was derelict corn-milling buildings with only one little vodka bar.
The new campus buildings are slick and impressive, and the quality of yachts has certainly kept pace with the new apartments that now peer into the sparkling water. A lot of money has poured into the marina and it seems even to have made the water clearer.
I arrived at the student bar to meet Russell, who was holding court with some of his students. They had just finished a presentation workshop. I was welcomed into the discussion and it felt good to be around such enthusiastic young designers.
Russell taught me on the Graphics BA here in the late nineties, and I loved every minute of it. Russell’s ethos was that ‘ideas sell’. Ideas-based design is king. If you want to learn how to use software, do that in your own time. He took us on a wonderful creative journey and I can see that same magical web being spun for this new class.
Russell Walker has just published a beautiful book on his creative career, so my interview is very well timed to pick his brains on a few subjects.
We spoke casually over a couple of beers, and after catching up on family matters we got onto the subject of graphic design. Russell is still extremely passionate about visual communication in all its guises. I am soon reminded of his wonderful ability to seduce his audience: his excitement and vast knowledge on the subject draw you in and become infectious.
Russell is still selling ideas. He is not interested in churning out Mac monkeys or technical graduates. From his discussions with business leaders, he hears again and again that ‘ideas will allow companies to win’. Most people can be trained to operate software, but ideas have real value.
Russell Walker seems to still love the journey he takes his students on, and from the enthusiasm I saw and creative discussions I had with some of the undergraduates, they love him right back. It was a joy to be hanging out in a student bar. ‘Man of the World’ was playing as I walked in, one of my favourite songs: Peter Green was solid gold on those albums.
We talk about his history, and how he was infected by design as a young boy, how once he got a pencil and a white sheet of paper he was hooked for life. Even now he gets a pang of excitement when he is presented with a crisp white sheet of paper.
Russell's early inspiration came from George Hardie, Bush Hollyhead and Ian Pollock. We discuss the ‘slow reveal’, the ‘second take’: giving the viewer a little mental leap, that once they make, the visual idea is revealed.
I am now half way through reading Russell Walker’s book Scribble, and I would recommend any person interested in a career in graphic design buy a copy.
Q : Tell me about your new book - it sounds like you want to give something back, to give a little encouragement to young creative people starting out.
A : I’d like to think that I never stopped giving back. I started to teach the same year I started my own creative practice. Every year since then - 1981 - I’ve been helping and stretching talent. This book reflects the creative journey of one person. It is a chronological account of how a young lad, compelled to make marks and communicate through image-making can take this talent and passion forward to ultimately cut out a career as an internationally respected designer. This narrative is not simply a self-indulgent or narcissistic exercise, nor is it the ‘holy grail’ for would-be designers. Rather, in systematically deconstructing that which, in real terms, occurs holistically and organically, we might reveal some of the possible determinants of creative success or failure in the world of design practice.
Q : Graphic design seems more popular than ever, do you see this? And if so, do you think this raises the bar or brings it down?
A : Graphic design and its popularity? Tricky question. I think it might be more popular in the near future. The Government doesn't think it’s very interesting or much of an economic driver. I massively disagree, as did Cameron’s predecessor Margaret Thatcher. English businesses have been sceptical about graphic design, reluctant to think that investment in it will give them a financial return. I know that good design makes money, bad design can close a business. There needs to be a high profile champion of design, that isn’t around at the moment. Someone like Brian Cox for science. It used to be Terence Conran, or Wayne Hemingway, or Katharine Hamnett… I can’t think that there is anyone who jumps up and down for graphic design at the moment.