Hello and thanks for inviting me to answer your questions. My name is Rob Clarke, I’m a British designer based in and around London. I set up my own company around 10 years ago specialising in type design and lettering. It feels like I spend 99% of my life designing logos and typefaces …but I absolutely love it! I’ve been lucky enough to work on some of the world’s largest brands including AEG, Cadbury, Capitol Records, Dulux and Smirnoff.
How did you find yourself in the world of type specifically? Has it always been a subject/discipline that interested you?
I had a brief introduction to typography on my art foundation course, but I really got the bug during my final year at university. I didn’t do any formal training in type and class myself as a bit of a later starter. My first job was as an assistant to a calligrapher and my education only really started a few years later when I was thrown in at the deep end, working on real briefs.
Mr Cooper Ice-cream (Client: Johnson Banks)
Who were the biggest influence and teachers that helped shape the way you think/work now?
During university I had the pleasure of meeting Erik Spiekermann in his MetaDesign studio in Berlin and was lead through the process of designing fonts and bespoke type. But there are so many designers I admire and have studied over the years including: Neville Brody, David Carson, Jonathan Barnbrook, Hamish Muir, Herb Lubalin, Paul Rand, Milton Glazer, Lance Wyman, Alan Fletcher, Riccardo Rouselott, Louise Fili,… to name but a few.Today I’m inspired by the new generation of designers from all over the world, made easy to follow thanks to social media.
What is your working process like? I personally learn a lot just by looking at some of the WIP images that you share online.
Nothing too unusual but due to time restrictions I don’t tend to work up beautiful sketches. In fact, I own very few sketch books… I find them too restrictive. I’m quite a tidy person but my ideas and early sketches are rather messy and haphazard. Dependent on the project I tend to scribble away furiously and then knock something together quickly in Illustrator. Once a direction is chosen I often print it out and trace over before redrawing vectors from scratch.
You have a very impressive client list and I feel not a lot of people know the person behind the marks that they know so well. Do you prefer to keep a ‘low profile’ in such a niche part of the industry?
Not particularly – I’m constantly striving to get credit for the work I have played a large part in. This can prove a challenge and can be frustrating when I’m not allowed to talk about a job due to the nature of the client.
Additionally I can only imagine the number of people and changes you have to deal with when working with such big brands, how do you keep everyone happy and coming back?
First a foremost I stick to the deadline and I try never to become complacent. I see my work as part of a team effort… when an agency embraces me as part of their team rather than as a supplier the result is, most often, a better one. I like to be proactive and think outside the parameters of the brief, trying to look for a better solution that may not have been considered. Also being nice helps : )
How do you keep things fresh and inspired? A lot of people are usually asked to play out their greatest hits all the time yet your folio is so diverse.
I try not to let any pressure get me down. If my mind is free from worry then I can build confidence to experiment and try different things. My most important objective is to be creative.I find inspiration in all aspects of life… music, people, art, travel not just from existing type and logos. I often look to the past but I also keep myself aware of the industry today.
I personally believe in bouncing back when life brings you down. What is the best lesson you’ve learnt in the worst situation such as a difficult project or client that made you a better person/designer in the future?
My most unsuccessful relationships with clients were, more often than not, around the issue of money. If you get this sorted early on so everyone is clear then you can relax into the project. Having said that I don’t get pushed around… if my time starts to exceed what was agreed then I speak up.I can happily say that over 10 years, only a handful of projects have left a sour taste and I like to think that on these occasions it was because the brief was misguided or the client was inexperienced. Because of this I make sure the brief is fully thought through, even if it means I write part of it for them. I work with many different people and if there’s one thing I have learnt over the years it’s to be honest.
What are the biggest tips you have for letterers, calligraphers, and general typographers? (which is a the majority of our members)
There are an increasing number of designers emerging under the umbrella of ‘hand lettering’, but what is it that makes their work stand out from another? If you don’t have a particular style then you may fade into the background. You have to work hard on your business relationships… word of mouth is by far the best form of marketing. Do your homework, read the brief thoroughly, ask questions and research the client or company you’re working for.Challenge yourself, take risks and be proactive – sometimes work can appear from unexpected places. Don’t sell yourself cheap and don’t work for free unless there is something in it for you. But most of all have fun and follow your passions… love what you do. In the words of Steve Jobs…’The only way to do great work is to love what you do.’
Is there any parting advice you want to give to us concerning the work or the industry that you want to mention before we say our goodbyes?
Keep it real… being successful is not having thousands of followers or likes. I believe success can be measured by the impact you have on the industry; helping increase the sales of a product, improving the profile of a large global brand or helping a small start-up get their foot on the ladder.
It’s such a vibrant industry which has a wonderful community… and I think we should count ourselves lucky to be a part of it.
Dulux (Client: Design Bridge)