The separation is an amicable one, with both designers ready to pursue personal projects under their own names. It comes after three decades of collaboration, which has seen Why Not Associates do everything from TV idents and motion graphics, to campaigns for the likes of Royal Mail, Nike, First Direct and the BBC.
CR readers might recall Why Not’s neon typography, its typographic artwork for Salford Lads’ Club, or its deSingel rebrand, but if not, they will almost certainly remember the Comedy Carpet collab with Gordon Young, which saw them make 160,000 letters out of solid granite.
The duo met while studying at the Royal College of Art and, according to Altmann, had never intended to set up a studio together. “One job led to another, and suddenly it was like ‘We better give ourselves a name and find a studio space’,” Altmann told CR.
Their first workspace was in Archer Street, in London’s Soho, and set up during a time when designers still relied on photocopiers and darkrooms. As CR wrote in a piece about the pair’s 30th birthday exhibition: “This was a practice built on experimentation and collaboration – with light and shadow, with technology, with materials, and often with photographer Rocco Redondo. A place where there was still room for the ‘happy accident’.”
Although Altmann says the pair never set out with grand ambitions – he describes their collaboration as “32 years of getting way with murder” – they’ve become a much-respected name in the design world, known for their irreverent, down-to-earth approach. The Why Not name will certainly be missed, however there’s still plenty to come.
Ellis will continue to work with Why Not clients, and Altmann has a book on the go – entitled Tat, and based on his collection of graphic ephemera.
“It’s something we’ve spoken about for the last few years,” he says, of Why Not’s closure. “There has to be an end point at some point for anything in life. We’re both 58 this year, and it sounds doom and gloom but, relatively speaking, you’ve not got that much time. It felt like a chance to do something different and something personal.
“It’s the end of an era in terms of Why Not and we’ve had so many amazing people who have worked here that have gone on to do amazing things. It’s mind blowing. We feel we’ve given people confidence to go and do it their own way and that’s probably going to be our biggest legacy.”