My version of “born with a silver spoon”
Being born to a sixth-generation printer with roots dating back as far as 1876 in Riga, Latvia and with the smell of ink in my nostrils, paper between his toes, type, shapes and colours all around him; becoming a designer was inevitable for me.
My father Leonard, set-up home above his east London printshop so, when growing up, I was surrounded by the processes and practices of the print industry that worked on all of my senses. The sight of letterforms, colours and graphics, all shapes and sizes; the red light in the darkroom and the brightness of daylight afterwards. The smell of ink and paper, oil lubricating a printing press, the aroma of slightly burnt paper as it passed through the heated elements of a thermographic machine that caramelised the wet ink onto shiny raised letterforms; the stench of printing solvents and photographic processing chemicals. The sound of the printing press, a guillotine blade slicing through paper, a stapling machine and the hum of the fan on a typesetting machine. The touch of uncoated and coated paper, strawboard, anti-set-off spray powder and the fragile matte emulsion side versus the strong gloss side of photographic film.The taste of currant buns from the bakers across the street (there were jobs to be printed and time was never on our side).
I wanted to be the first member of my family to go to University; having a curiosity for most things and the What, When, Why, Where and How of a story or event. After getting straight A’s, I was well on my way but right in the middle of my exams, my father passed away. The dilemma was stark — follow my intended career path or inherit the family business — one that I am not ashamed to admit was in dire financial straights.
I decided to continue with the print shop. The technologies available for producing designs for were changing from the much-revered method of rub-down lettering on plastic sheets called Letraset, to machines like the quirky and slightly ridiculous Strip Printer (allowed headlines to be made on photographic paper exposed via a strip of negative film) and the Kroy typesetter
(much like an oversized Dymo machine). Following hot on the heels of these interim typesetting methods was the real game-changer: desktop publishing. For the first time, entire pages of text, graphics and images could be visualised on-screen and output without using expensive photographic methods. The means of producing print design was becoming affordable and it was a leveller in the industry.
The web came along by the late 90s and I started to embrace this new technology with straplines like: “Get a website for your business large or small”, “Print is dead!”, and “The web is the road ahead”. Websites started out with HTML text links in underlined blue and animated GIFs. However, the design side of the web quickly took hold when CSS came along with rapid progress towards mobile-friendly layouts. Functionality and ease of use became important as technology made it possible to delight users rather than requiring them to have special powers to use a website — I practised user experience by default, not as a job title but because everything including websites should be designed and built around making it easier and more pleasurable for people to use and engage with products, services and information.
It all felt like rapid progress at the time where better, faster, cheaper, more versatile processes were embraced all the time. In retrospect, some of the technology left a lot to be desired and you could laugh at how idiosyncratic and limiting most of it was compared to what can be achieved today with cross-platform compatibility and open source technology. But those tools and methods made it possible for the technology we have now to exist. And so the story continues.
A quarter of a century on, I bring my unique blend of digital and analogue design experience and skill to every project; achieving financial success and clients on four continents since taking on my father's print shop. More importantly, though, I am motivated by a love of online and offline design, the processes involved in making it happen, the tactile nature of printed work, the convenience and experience of end-users, and the appreciation I get from clients on a job well done.
I have over 50,000 followers on Instagram (they chose me as a suggested user
twice), have had my work featured by the National Heritage Lottery Fund and according to this newspaper
report, I've sold a photo of a broken-down beach hut for £50,000.
When I'm not working I'm with my family – there isn't a lot of time for anything else. But when I do get spare time I enjoy tinkering with my little printing press, setting lead or wood type and in the corner of my little design studio, with the imprints and relics of my father's print shop foremost in my mind.