The Studio Manager, Louise Ramsay

As the head of Tate’s print and design studio, Louise Ramsay must keep curators, artists and designers happy. She talks to Patrick Burgoyne

Responsibility for producing all the printed promotional materials for Tate Britain and Tate Modern falls to Louise Ramsay, head of Tate’s in-house print and design studio. Ramsay runs a team of four, including herself, designer Michael Windsor-Ungunereau, print production co-ordinator Annabel Woodman, and print editor Mary Price.

The in-house studio finds itself in a dual role – as a service to Tate Britain and Tate Modern, whose various departments act as its client, and also as client to the external design studios who work for Tate. The choice to go with an external studio is usually a question of time and resources – the longer, more complex jobs therefore tend to go out of house.

Although Tate does not have a formal roster of studios, it does like to have a small group with whom it regularly works. Currently, these include Practise, Why Not Associates, the Farm, Rose, Europa, Studio of Fernando Gutiérrez, Micha Weidman and A Practice for Everyday Life. There are no retainers, each is paid per job. How do they organise who does what? “You get a gut feeling about who would be good for a job,” says Ramsay. “For example, we like to give Why Not the historical shows because they are very experienced and are great with type. All Tate work has to use the Tate font but they always seem to know which weight to use on a particular project.”

The restrictions of the Tate corporate identity are a perennial issue with designers working for the institution. “The worst thing is when a designer asks ‘Do I have to use the font?’,” says Ramsay. “It’s the designers who see an opportunity in it that work best, those who see it as a tool not a hindrance. We had a big review last year with all our designers,” she continues, “where we talked about being more flexible. Some designers felt that our font is not appropriate for some historical shows and thought we should introduce a serif typeface, but only one. The danger is it ends up looking like a National Gallery poster and not ours.”

Tate was the first major gallery to be ‘branded’ when the Wolff Olins identity was introduced in 2000. The move was not without controversy or resistance within the institution. “Some people were slightly resistant at first,” concedes Ramsay. “There were instances where people proposed not using the brand on posters but we were able to show them that the posters did not work so well without it. The brand is not just the logo, it’s the whole ethos of Tate, the brand identity just brings it through.”

From speaking to people involved in the Tate for this issue it became apparent that there is a concern that Tate Britain is suffering in comparison to its younger sibling down the river (Modern attracts three times as many visitors). Ramsay reveals that her department has “been making a conscious effort to really push Tate Britain in a contemporary way, to be respectful of the work but to give it a bit of a spin to draw in a different audience.” She is also involved in the early stages of a major review of the brand toolkit for Tate, working with Gompertz and designer James Goggin.

Meanwhile, there is the next season of shows to prepare for. When a new exhibition is being planned, the first stage is the images meeting, hosted by the curators. Ramsay, the press and marketing teams and Tate Publishing, who produce all accompanying books, will meet with the curators to “discuss what the key works by that artist are, which will work best for the cover of the book, which for the poster, for the press images,” explains Ramsay. “At that point, we try to link it all together so that one designer does the book, the exhibition graphics (which are managed by the curators) and the marketing material, but it doesn’t always happen. There can be three separate designers working on the same exhibition, which we try not to do.”

Then, if the job is going out of house, the choice of which designer to use will be made by Ramsay and Will Gompertz together. “We usually know who would be right for it instantly,” says Ramsay. “The designer comes in and is seen by the marketing department. They then take the designer to the curator and the director of the gallery.”

Later comes the tricky process of approval which, concedes Ramsay, “is the biggest challenge we have. There can be a real committee of people on internal jobs,” she reveals. “Obviously, it works best when just one acts as the client but sometimes there are four. In terms of sign-off, Will and the director of the gallery will make that call but it’s a very collaborative process. Not everyone agrees, often for different reasons. Some curators are more conservative than others: it’s really a process of negotiation.”

Finally, the artist is always sent the poster for approval or, if they are no longer living but their work is still in copyright, the proposed design goes to their estate. How much do artists get involved? “It really varies from artist to artist. Peter Doig, for example, was very flexible and easy to work with. Others don’t like certain things that we do with their work: we’re very big fans of overprinting…”


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The Storytelling issue, Oct/Nov 2017, is out now.
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