A new book traces Michael Wolff’s pioneering career in branding

Part biography, part retrospective, Leap Before You Look will celebrate the witty simplicity of Wolff’s creative work

Michael Wolff, co-founder of renowned brand consultancy Wolff Olins, is releasing his first biography, titled Leap Before You Look – the Zen of Branding. In the book, writer Tom Lynham recounts more than 50 years of creative thinking and prolific work by the seminal British designer.

It will be published by Library Street, a new imprint at NB Studio – who Wolff has regularly worked with – and is being funded by a Kickstarter campaign.

Born in London in 1933, Wolff set up his now-famous consultancy alongside Wally Olins in 1965, going on to collaborate with brands such as Apple Records, VW, Audi, the Post Office, and the University of Oxford, among many others. Over the years, he became known for his signature approach to branding and strategy, which embraces instinct over logic, hence the title of the book.

Inside, readers are walked through a selection of his many projects (both at Wolff Olins and Michael Wolff and Company, which he set up in the 1980s after leaving WO), as Wolff explains the context for each, the challenge, and the solution he came up with. Always one to surprise, readers learn how he convinced Tate & Lyle to leave its age-old but equally iconic branding alone after being asked for a redesign, as well as his push to create a fox mascot for paint company Hadfields that was based on the founder’s ‘wily fox’ personality.

“I saw how Michael fired everyone’s imagination. How his ideas were years ahead of their time,” writes designer and friend John Sorrell in the book. “How his way of thinking led not just to brilliant solutions for his clients but also inspired people to see how design could change everything.”

As the book attests, Wolff’s successful approach through the years stems not just from a strong understanding of the visual principles of design, but also from an awareness of when and where these can be stretched. He trusts his gut as much as he does his head, and he knows when to let the former lead. There is a simplicity in Wolff’s work that belies the talent needed to come to that seemingly straightforward solution in the first place.

Speaking on his time spent at Wolf Ollins, former company chairman Brian Boylan writes: “Wolff Olins was not short on ambition. I couldn’t believe the incredulity of it nor the wholesale belief in it. A belief led and shaped by Michael who had surrounded himself with like-minded folk who saw the world through fresh eyes and ideas, and had fresh ways of giving form to those ideas.”

Michael Wolff: Leap Before You Look is published by Library Street and is available to support on Kickstarter here