Richard Hill defines himself as a down-to-earth Creative Director, and we can definitely see where that sentiment comes from.
As an extremely passionate creative professional, Richard can find inspiration wherever he goes, but makes it his own personal purpose to remember at all times that you should only make what makes you smile. Ideally, we would all be working with our dream clients right now; in a world of business deals and stolen time, perhaps Richard has found the perfect formula. To be happy with your work and projects, no matter what they are, so long as they make you feel well.
For this Member Spotlight we had a chat with Richard on how he managed to enter the industry, as well as on his personal advice to find a healthy work-life balance.
How did you get into the industry?
Well, honestly, actually, by accident. I thought that graphic design might be a good way to support me doing other stuff. I had the major luck to meet artists in about 1984/5, and they had all the cool haircuts and clothes. I was really late to that - and thought I wanted to be a sculptor - but was always terrified about ‘how’s that going to pay any bills?’ So I really just fell into graphic type things. There’s never been a plan (I didn’t go to
flea markets jumble sales to buy Barney Bubbles and Malcolm Garrett LP covers, collect Russian matchbooks, original screen-printed Beggarstaff Bothers posters) and I know that sounds shoddy and a bit pathetic but there we are. What I do know (klaxon old-git warning) is that having seen so many people be absolutely, positively certain about things - and then for them to be hugely disappointed when things just didn’t turn out - means I live in a world of ‘not-sure-maybe-give-it-a-goes’. I stumbled onto a graphics course (I was going to apply to do a Degree at Exeter, but the train I took to see the open day broke down and when I got there, it was all over) and in total ignorance applied and got a place on an HND instead. What I didn’t know (ha ha!) was the second year was led by a tutor with a ruthless reputation for ideas first, then execution, and that clicked for me. Graphics was about ideas. Well, with a bit of copying. Actually, a lot of copying. So if you didn’t have a good idea, you’d cop a style that could disguise it and remember this was way back when the references were hard to find. Your local library probably didn’t have the collected works of Wolfgang Weingart and the Basel School. But all of a sudden here was a thing I could do, and people would pay me for it. I could almost be an artist. Well, a commercial artist anyway.
Where are you based now and who do you work for?
At a small company where I’m the only graphic person. It’s a good job that I’m lucky to have, I think. Mostly I work hard and spend all day making other people (marginally) less unhappy for shorter and shorter periods of time. Sometimes amazing opportunities crop up and very rarely they actually see the light of day. It’s all a bit like lightening striking right at your desk, as rare (and scary) and if you’re lucky, about once a decade.
If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?
Well, now, there’s a question. Doing or like to be doing? If I hadn’t been found by art, I can’t even say. Working in an insurance office? Living in a van? I can’t even imagine. What I’d like to be doing is making a living doing art and refurbishing bicycles. I really am very fond of bicycles.
Can you explain your creative process?
Umm, well, it just comes out of the ends of my fingers, so I don’t know if I can explain it. Unless you mean actual ‘physical’ process? I make stuff all the time. It freaks some people out a bit (and clients too, but usually in a good way) that a. you can actually make a nearly real thing, like a sign or a pack, b. draw a picture of it (you should practice drawing, all the time, it’s great) or c. that why would you want to? But when you do, usually people are drawn to it and can completely understand why - and the ‘now I get what you mean’ happens much quicker. Even if it’s rubbish it doesn’t matter to me because an ‘actual thing’ is quite rare, so it’s often quite surprising. Showing and sharing the process is quite a buzz. I’m afraid I live in a making world so I’d always say ‘make more actual things more the time’. It also helps if you can string a sentence together, and I actually really like writing. To me it’s part of the process - to be able to say/write what your intentions are/were. I think words are important. I really like reading what people have spent time putting to paper - though most would probably say they didn’t like reading what I write very much. And I’d likely agree.
How would you describe your style?
Style is a fart, someone much more famous once said. Who cares. Style isn’t design and everything comes back around and around so make what makes you smile. I couldn’t give a shit about the rest, I’m too old to care about all that surface-chasing-sheen.
Which individuals do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?
*insert big long list here* Or, rather, not. I remember a skateboarder from Bristol said ‘if you see your hero in the street, knock ‘em over!’ so, no, actually, to the whole hero-worship thing. I’ve huge respect and the most time for anyone who loves what they do enough to make a go of it. but ‘hero’s’? - that’s a weird thing. But inspiration, that’s your’s, grab it from anywhere, any bit of rubbish or clip or sound or scrap, everything has the potential to be useful. I make bits of (f)art from shards of broken pottery I find on the allotment. Inspiration is everywhere if you’ve a mind to see it.
If you had to pick one ideal client/employer, who would that be and why?
I can’t say I’ve ever found a job (actually, project) that didn’t mean an opportunity which required some sort of sacrifice (a thorn that I didn’t recognise at the time that caught me and made me lose sight of more important things in life.)
But being employed is useful as you can save up for things like pensions (really, they are. You should save. You’ll not thank me now as in thirty years time this crappy advice will be lonnnnng gone, but get a pension going. No-one else has your back except you.) But work? Work is overrated. I just read Woodcock’s ‘Working the phones’ and I know this industry isn’t a call centre but it’s easy to forget your life belongs to you - not the timesheet or the sacrifice of a weekend ‘because the client is working, so you need to be.’ or chasing likes and follows to get likes and follows. There’s no ‘ideals’ in this industry, only deals, which you need to fully appreciate so you can balance the give with the take.
How has technology affected the way you work?
Oh heck. Anyone remember the PMT machine? Rubdowns? Photosetting? A type scale? French curves? The grant enlarger (not a thing for growing your grant. I mean student loan)? So many things have changed (even scalpel blades don’t stay sharp long, since they stopped selling the sterilised ones) The problem is knowing which ones are likely to stick I guess. I’ve a simple rule-of-thumb - ‘does (this new thing) make you happy?’ Does it make what you do better and more fun? If tech doesn’t do that, ignore it if you can. I started using Instagram a while back (after avoiding all those things) and now I’ve got a little gallery that I can add crap to. I like that and funnily enough, it did effect a change - I started making ‘one hour walk’ collages of whatever rubbish I could find on a short walk, which was a really nice thing to do. So tech can work, if you make it work for you. Sort of.
And tech also means you can work from anywhere, which seems like a ‘tech’ thing but I used to think I could work from a park bench - but it was a naive perspective, as I couldn’t have prepared an artwork file without shed-load of equipment then. But I can now but for some reason it feels less liberating if that makes sense?
And now it’s hard to get some space, or any space. I stop ‘work’ at 5pm. After that, time’s mine. It’s simpler to do when I was commuting - “I’m off now, etc.” but even when WFH I stop around five. I need time to think (or rather, not think), it’s unhealthy to be pressed at desk, it’ll shorten your life and steal your time from the things you could or should be doing.
What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?
I need the money, so that’s motivating. And I can find inspiration everywhere, so that’s never really a problem. Plus, without this sounding like a gratuitous plug, it never ceases to amaze me how much people put of themselves into the work they show on here. It’s actually sometimes pretty daunting.
What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?
Thirty-odd years of making a living from the ‘design thing’, that’s quite an achievement I’d reckon. Then on projects, probably things like the Oasis Resort wayfinding, Lexus’ signage, and the new Lotus signage project also (shh, more on that soon :) Signage is so close to sculpture and the chance to really nail something like those three, well, they’re the ‘once in a decade’ moments for an ordinary boy. Maybe I’ve one more shot at it, ha ha!
How do you recharge away from the office?
By charging to and away from the office. My commute is (well, was, before lock-downs) a 40-odd mile round trip on my bicycle. So that leaves plenty of time to think about things and also to decompress. I’m pretty much knackered afterwards, so unwinding isn’t really a problem. Cycling is the answer. To most questions, actually.
What is one tip for other aspiring creatives looking for work?
Hmm, I don’t know. Maybe to stop ‘aspiring’? If you want to be creative then just start creating. Doesn’t matter if (you think) what you do is rubbish, the work will show you how to do it. Just keep at it, opportunities will find you.
What is the one thing that you would change about the industry?
‘The industry’ is an interesting choice of words. Industry implies ‘factories’ and ‘manufacturing’ and making, while creative businesses are really mostly service providers, aren’t they, on the whole? Sure, there are ‘designer-makers’ but they’re pretty scarce now. Or perhaps they’re not scarce. Perhaps there’s so many ‘consultancies’ now they’ve eclipsed the old maker model of design companies?
When I started, design was more like a ‘trade’ (with artistic pretensions) so it felt like industry. We most always made physical things. The gap between making actual things and billing for screens has carved such a gap between design as verb and a noun that I’m not sure I could change anything really and anyway, the future is what everyone is focussed on so it doesn’t matter what I think. And now I’m in danger of veering into boring-old-fart territory - the future belongs to who creates it and I’m rapidly becoming part of the past. Clients of ‘the industry’ seem to want instant replies to emails, 24-7 attention, attendance at meetings, polite agreement to un-informed decisions. ‘Design’ is a bit froth on your coffee. It says ‘Mmm, artisanal brew’, but what the industry delivers is really just hydration and caffeine to help you through the next 10 hours of zoom meetings.
Oh, and if I employed designers I wouldn’t treat them like timesheets. And I would insist no-one worked weekends.
Any websites, books or resources you would recommend?
It’s a bit tricky, I soak up stuff from so many sources, so I thought a quick range of things that are to hand or we’ll be here all day (but you’d be welcome to stay.)
So.. Working the Phones, The Tiger That Isn’t, Economics for Dummies, How to run (and run) a design consultancy, every copy of Eye magazine, It’s Nice That, Elsie magazine, anything published by Jake Tilson, anything in a language you can’t understand, all the works of the Redstone Press and anything designed by Irma Boom; and come to that anything self-published. I went through a phase of reading about physics and maths. Was super interesting but I couldn’t retain any of it, especially the physics but it’s a great way to view what make the actual, invisible, world work. Then, Metaphors We Live By, Robert Macfarlane’s works, all of Charles Dickens, Herbert Read, Bruno Munari, Ambrose Bierce, John Berger, Lawrence King’s publications, Private Eye, David Graeber (in fact, read all his works, before you leave University if you can), a newspaper, James Geary, John Man (especially ‘Alpha Beta’ and ‘Gutenburg’, Kate Raworth, John Crace, Marina Hyde, The Economist, Delayed Gratification, Frame magazine, Richard Wiseman Oh, your local landscape, read that as well. And have a hobby. I know it’s a tall order, but it helps.