A long time ago in a design studio far, far away… well, 1994 in Sheffield to be exact… a young designer was on his final year studying Design Communication and needed to find a 2 week work placement. That designer was Mark Leary, our Creative Director and the studio he approached was the world famous The Designers Republic (tDR).
Here he explains how influential they were on his formative years in the design industry.
When I made the call to enquire if they would be interested in taking me for 2 weeks, I didn’t think for one minute that they would entertain the idea, but on speaking to Ian Anderson he seemed quite interested and asked me to come in for an interview. To anybody studying design in the early ’90s The Designers Republic were one of the main inspirations along with other northern studios such as Attik, they were at the cutting edge of graphic design, so I was well chuffed.
I went down to the studio with my A2 leather portfolio (they were all the rage back then) and to my surprise, he was up for letting me come in. Fast forward to now, 22 years later, I’m sure nobody from The Designers Republic would even remember me being there, it was only two weeks after all, but it gave me a great insight into the ‘real’ world of graphic design as opposed to the cocoon we were in at college.
It was after watching some videos on the Computer Arts YouTube channel that featured a reunion of the tDR team that memories started flooding back from that time and what influence it had on me during and after college.
The one thing that stuck with me was working in a studio where music was a big deal, I’d always thought I would never feel right working in a stuffy office where you have to be quiet and keep your head down, at tDR, the music was LOUD and they never bothered to turn it down when clients called either, I specifically remember them playing (and me loving) Buhloone Mind State by De La Soul, Jazzmatazz by Guru and His ‘n’ Hers by Pulp which were all new releases at the time.
My design style in those days was heavily influenced by what they and Attik were doing so I was a bit in awe of them, but they were all really chilled out and easy to get on with. They let me shadow them and pick up some tips.
This was back in the days of Macs running with just 4mb of ram and Photoshop where you had just one layer and one undo. InDesign was just a twinkle in someones eye, the only DTP programme we had then was Pagemaker. Even the idea of websites and email were in their infancy back then.
Because of a lack of MAC access, a lot of what we did at college was hand rendered using Rotring pens and Gouache paints, hand kerning using pasted up typography and a PMT machine which could effectively photograph your pasted up artwork to give it a more polished look, so I bought a Mac LC II to use at home. We used Aldus Freehand, way before Macromedia bought it and even longer before Adobe blew them out of the water with Illustrator. So to be so close to what the tDR guys were creating in Freehand was amazing. I found it quite funny that one of the guys, Michael Place, mentioned on the video below that he only recently stopped working with Freehand. It was a great programme in its day.
I personally loved all their icons, the Japanese inspired graphics, the original fonts they designed, particularly the work on the Wipeout game for the Playstation and I spent hours looking through the special edition of Emigre magazine that they were featured in (hmmm… might be worth some money now?).
When I look back at the final portfolio from when I finished my course, the influences were clear to see. Even though it was only 2 weeks, it stayed in the ‘experience’ column on my CV for a few years as it went down so well in interviews because in our industry they were so revered and that reflected well on me.
Not everyone loved that style though… I specifically remember after graduating, I went for a job interview at Purple Circle in Nottingham where I ended up working for nearly 4 years, but at first, the senior designer there didn’t rate my work, he felt it shouted of someone who wanted to design album covers, flyers for clubs and logos for bands. He said to the other directors “what would he do if he had to design header cards for pet products”… looking back I can see where he was coming from but I saw design as an art form and wanted to be experimental.
I developed my own style over the years and it does now lean to a more ‘business-like’ style… but those 2 weeks at tDR stayed with me. They were so influential and inspired a whole generation of designers who graduated in the early-mid nineties.
The Designers Republic today
They say nothing lasts forever, and Ian Anderson called time on the ‘original’ version of tDR after 23 years in business in 2009. At the time he had this to say:
We had lost a couple of clients, didn’t win a couple of pitches and got a tax bill which should have been sorted out and wasn’t and a major client who didn’t pay the money they owed us – in themselves any of those things would have been fine but when they come all at once there’s not much you can do.
Here is how Creative Review looked back on tDR a week after they went into liquidation.
Anderson has since bought back the company name and assets and relaunched in a more ‘slimline’ form. Check out their Facebook page here for some great new work and below you’ll find a recent video uploaded to the Computer Arts YouTube page with the team reminiscing as well as looking to the future of design.