Bob Gill: a life less ordinary

Bob Gill, co-founder of design studio Fletcher/Forbes/Gill, which later became Pentagram, introduces the audience at Offset in Dublin to his witty, and deceptively simple, design methods

At the beginning of what proved to be another highlight of the first day of Dublin’s Offset conference, Bob Gill explained to the assembled crowd that he wanted to talk about “design as an idea” before announcing that “every graphic design job is boring”.

“There’s nothing in my head that’s original,” he told the audience, “and I’ll wager that there’s nothing original in yours either. Why? Because our heads are full of junk that’s put there by the culture. The only way to clear out the junk is to have an opinion – and if it’s an interesting opinion, then the design [that it informs] will be interesting.”

The point of Gill’s opening gambit was to demonstrate that his process of working – which has remained unchanged in principle for the 55 years – is all about having an opinion about any given brief and then expressing the resulting idea in the clearest possible way, without having a colour, typeface or particular aesthetic in mind but to let the idea find its own visual execution.

The first example of how this process yields results for him was his response to a brief he had to create a logo for a tour company in New York. “The thing about tour guides, and I’m sure it’s the same in Dublin, is that they’re always out of work actors. Probably from out of town. So I wanted to disassociate this company from all the other hack companies. So how do you communicate that the company is full of real New Yorkers?” he asked. His solution is shown above.

Here’s Gill’s solution to a brief set by the United Nations to create an identity for a series of informal lunches.

When asked to produce the poster for the 65th Art Directors Annual, Gill thought long and hard about the event itself where art directors – who, he suggested, all really hated each other, would congregate to congratulate each other and dish out awards. His solution was this:

And when thinking about how to best represent Jazz, Gill produced this drawing:

Gill’s presentation wasn’t about showcasing a huge amount of different projects but about illustrating his deceptively simple approach to creative thinking. And it was hugely entertaining, not least because of his stand-up like confidence on stage.

But his message was simple. “If you want your lives and your work to be interesting, don’t just do layouts – but think about the brief and come up with an opinion that will inform your design approach. If you’re designing a logo for a dry cleaners, don’t sit at your computer, go to a dry cleaners!”

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JUNIOR GRAPHIC DESIGNER

Milton Keynes