We tend to think of the role of a graphic designer as someone providing branding or identities for organisations, or maybe creating record sleeves, a mag layout or posters. But watch any film where there’s a newspaper, a map, or even food packaging and it will have been created by a graphic designer. While this work has always existed, our interest in the creative possibilities of this niche area of design has piqued over the past few years because of one particular designer, Annie Atkins.
Dublin-based Atkins shot into the spotlight after her work on Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel in 2014, which saw her create a pastel-toned aesthetic that’s still imitated and lusted over today. Atkins went on to work on several other Anderson films, including Isle of Dogs in 2018 and soon-to-be-released (hopefully) The French Dispatch. Alongside Anderson, Atkins has also worked with Steven Spielberg multiple times, first on Bridge of Spies in 2015 and most recently on West Side Story, which is set to be released later this year.
In early 2020, Atkins released Fake Love Letters, Forged Telegrams, and Prison Escape Maps: Designing Graphic Props for Filmmaking, a behind-the-scenes book that delves into the extraordinary and meticulous arena of designing graphic objects for film.
As part of our 40th birthday issue, we spoke to Atkins about her career-defining moments from the past 40 years, and the timing couldn’t be more apt. “I’m 40 this year, like Creative Review. I remember the magazine from when I was a kid because my dad used to get it – he’s a graphic designer as well – so it’s always been a part of my life,” she says.
Atkins was a kid in the 80s and both her parents were designers and artists, which meant their house was full of design books and big books of artwork. “My dad at the time worked for a company called Hipgnosis, which designed record covers during the 70s. He was actually in one of the books we had, because they designed record covers for Pink Floyd,” explains Atkins. “I loved looking through all those books, but I especially loved the book with my dad in it, because the record covers from the 70s are so surreal.”
To Atkins, these were real works of art and she recalls her dad saying record design just isn’t what it used to be. “It does feel like record design is a bit of a lost art now,” she says. “I remember feeling like I really wanted to be able to create something like that too – I wanted to be a designer, but I also wanted to be an artist because I wanted to make peculiar things.”