Focal Point: How to keep busy with Andy Cooke

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Andy Cooke has one hectic schedule – not only has he worked with clients as far ranging as Google, Ace Hotel and Ikea, but he also runs a streetwear shop, is an artist’s agent and (probably most importantly) is about to open a pizza place. With so many fingers in so many pizza pies, it’s a wonder he had time to answer these questions for us. But we’re glad he did, so you can have a little gander into the mind of potentially the hardest working man in graphic design.

Could you give us a little insight into who you are and what you do?
I do 5 things currently — first and foremost I’m an independent graphic designer, that’s what brings in the bacon and takes up a good 75% of my working day. Afterwards, I’m a co-director of retail outfit Entrepreneurs (selling streetwear, sneakers and graffiti supplies) where we also have a gallery space and screen printing workshop. In between those bits, I do a spot of teaching on the Advertising & Brand Management award at Staffordshire University. On top of that, I’m an artist agent for the RareKind Illustration Agency. Finally, I’m opening a pizza place with a couple of great people. I’m kept pretty busy.

How did you get started in the industry?
The obvious route of university, then London, then my own set up, then freelance. What got me that first job was a 6 page ‘Talent’ feature in the now deceased Grafik magazine — I got a call from an agent in London the day it was published and two weeks later I was moving down and setting up at East London based boutique advertising agency ‘Erasmus Partners’ (now also deceased). From there I moved to Manchester and set up two man graphic designer studio with Alex Farrall, which lasted a few years, until the shop opportunity came up and I ultimately went freelance alongside it.

How do you set about designing an identity for a brand?
Research. For me it’s the most important part of the branding process — it’s imperative to know what the client wants out of any identity design. Without that you’re just stabbing in the dark. Ideas will come from research. Aesthetics will come from ideas.

Your work with Bottlcraft seemed like a really hands on project - do you value the physicality of design in your work?
Absolutely. I’ve always been hands on — back in my university days I was always in the print rooms or investigating local letterpress houses, producing prints and researching into processes. For Bottlecraft there was a big sign painting element for their main sign and in-store bits and bobs. It’s something that has always appealed to me and more recently I’ve been getting into — much like screen printing and letterpress — sign painting seems to be enjoying a bit of a renaissance and people crave it over the regular vinyl printing you see everywhere.

How did the Ace Hotel project come about? Do you think design helps to builds their lifestyle brand?
An ex-colleague of mine told me about their imminent arrival in London, and mentioned they were after some graffiti type stuff here and there. I worked with David Samuel and our RareKind artists on transforming the entire hotel — we managed all the sign painting in the building, the collages that adorn the hallways and the majority of artist that appear in every room in the place. I did a room, based on the idea of combining travelling and bedtime stories. Ace is the designers’ hotel — working with designers and artists that are authentic is in their DNA. The whole roster of talent that exists in the hotel is incredible and only enforces their lifestyle ethos.

How do you keep your ideas fresh?
It goes back to research for me again. Research really helps to inform any idea as part of my process — and research never stops. Whether I’m having a rare day off or out for a meal with friends, everything is research and most of the time I don’t even know it. Those moments of down time have sparked some of the best ideas I’ve had because my mind is at ease and open to new things without having to think too hard. If I’m ever at a stumbling block with an idea, I take myself out of the situation until inspiration strikes. Not exactly foolproof, but that approach has worked out well so far.

Your work with People of Print feels like a real collaboration – do you like working collectively? Do you have to think more consciously when designing work for designers/other creatives?
I do — I really believe that things are done better when people are involved. Too many though, and the system starts to break down. The work with PoP and Marcroy Smith, the founder, stretches way back to primary school, as that’s when we first met and became friends. Marc set up PoP in 2009 and I’ve been involved in exhibitions, events and the website since then, so working together to co-author a book (and the first Print Isn’t Dead magazine) was a natural progression. Working for designers or creatives as the client changes things massively — even just having design savvy clients. They understand when something is a little abstract, they can appreciate that sometimes you have to live with a design before it feels right and they don’t need as much preaching to. They get it. On the flipside though, that can be a negative — opinions and ideas creep in where they shouldn’t (i.e. if you’re employing me to do a job — let me do the job) and it can harm the process. This actually ties in well to a publication I’m working on titled ‘Sans Client’ — what happens when you take the client out of the working triangle of Designer-Client-Audience and the designer / design / creative community becomes the client AND audience — or all three?

You're currently based in Stoke-on-Trent’, how would you describe the creative scene? Growing. Exciting. Optimistic. Stoke-on-Trent has a rich creative past based in the once-thriving pottery industry, located right in the heart of the creative county of Staffordshire. Through the gallery and screen printing workshop, I’m constantly meeting new, local artists and designers who are eager to make their mark and be part of the change. It really feels like right now is the start of something special.

What's your all-time favourite piece of creative work?
That’s a tough one. I’m interested in so many different realms of work — being a graffiti artist turned graphic designer covered in tattoos with hobbies based in photography, illustration, fashion, music, printing, design and art. Sorry, it’s too difficult a question to answer!

If you could hang out with any creative (living or dead) who would it be and why?
I’ve met some of my heroes. They were… disappointing. I’d rather just admire their works from afar without having the illusion destroyed.

And finally, what’s your perfect working environment?
Right here, at my desk, with a bottle of water on hand. Hip Hop on in the background. Everything neat and tidy. With a to-do list as long as my arm.


People of Print


Ace Hotel


Pelé Sports






Cultural Quarter


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