As a founding member of Tomato, Graham Wood has been one of graphic design’s leading figures for more than a decade. Three months ago, however, he followed fellow Tomato member John Warwicker and Peter Saville as the latest big design name to begin working for an advertising agency.
Ostensibly, Wood has joined the design department at JWT New York as creative director, but his role has the potential to be far more wide-reaching. “We’re still discussing what my role is,” he says. “When [chief creative officer] Ty [Montague] asked me what I wanted to do, I said ‘just give me a desk and I’ll sit in a corner and make stuff’. I look at things and try to make them what I think is better, which could be just a matter of moving some type or could be about inverting the whole process – processes in large companies can become very prescribed and don’t have the chance to live. You can’t storyboard happy accidents.”
A refurb of the creative department at JWT so that everyone sits in one big open space is designed to encourage the kind of wide-ranging involvement that Wood hopes will allow him to help produce more interesting work across the whole agency. “We’re trying to avoid everything being so demarcated, to be open and have people talk to one another,” he says.
Unlike Warwicker, whose position at Grey London was always meant to be temporary, Wood has made a long-term commitment to JWT. He is no longer a part of Tomato. “I’d been with them since college – I hadn’t known anything else,” he says. Even though Wood moved to Sweden four years ago, he continued to work on Tomato projects, but no longer. “It just felt like time really,” he says of his decision to leave. “I had two options – either start my own studio or to go into something like this.”
Wood says he chose the latter because of the scale of the possibilities at such a large organisation. “Coming to NY is a big cultural leap but the job isn’t – I’ve been here before in various ways. The biggest leap is being in a different country with a different culture.”
One of his targets is to instill more self-confidence in the people at JWT – to encourage personal work which may then lead into client projects in the same way that Tomato works. “Agencies used to be about getting people in to do the work, there needs to be an inversion of that process,” he says. “There doesn’t seem to be any other plan than to make very interesting work both for oneself and for others.”