Seven ages of a creative: Michael Wolff

Designer Michael Wolff has played a considerable role in shaping our understanding of modern branding. Here, he reflects on why good relationships and trust are crucial in design

For this special project, we talk to 12 creatives and designers aged 19 to 87 about their experiences in the creative industry, their hopes and dreams, the changes they have witnessed during their career so far, and what further developments they hope may come in the future. Our final interview is with design legend Michael Wolff, aged 87

Michael Wolff is reminiscing about working with Marks & Spencer in the 1970s, when he suddenly reveals that he may have prompted the use of best-before dates on food in the UK. “I was a little bit in awe of them,” he says of working with the company. “Because they were really impressive compared to other clients. And I remember one of them saying, ‘If we were Fine Fare, we wouldn’t be able to sleep at night … because we keep cream on the shelf for 36 hours. And they keep it on show for 50.’ I said, ‘Well, you should print that on the packaging. You should have use-by dates on your packaging. And that’s how it all started. I didn’t realise it was me that started it.”

He admits he is unsure whether M&S were the first supermarket in the UK to introduce use-by dates but comments, “I kind of claim it. But that’s because I still have a childish tendency to exaggerate.”

Best-before dates aside, there is plenty of evidence of Wolff’s influence on UK brands and culture all around us still, particularly in a series of much-loved logos that have come to form a backdrop to our lives. These include symbols for Audi, Volkswagen and P&O Ferries, as well as Bovis’ distinctive hummingbird and the Labour Party rose, which may have evolved over time but still remain central to their identities.

Top: ANNA money app identity design by Michael Wolff, NB Studio, and illustrator Alice Bowsher, 2018; Above: Portrait of Michael Wolff