Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Can you all hear me at the back?

03.12.09 / Michael Wolff & the Typographic Circle, JWT London.

Michael Wolff overcame a spattering of technical issues (malfunctioning radio microphone) last night to deliver a wonderfully compelling insight into his world of design and inspiration. And, in true Michael Wolff style, opened by saying ‘what a strange name “Typographic Circle” is, but there you go’.

During the talk, he shared some of the work from his illustrious career; most of which predated computer retouching and ‘ghastly computerised typefaces’ and most of which featured rich, hand drawn illustrations. The use of a Fox for Hadfield Paints and a Humming Bird for Bovis were inspired and created brand stories in their own right.

His relentless questioning was illustrated by an early story: ‘I once met the Chairman of Shell when I was a fairly junior designer’ he recalls. ‘I told him he should take the word Shell off the logo, because we all know what it is’. And, they did some five years later.

And it’s this infectious, inquisitive approach to design which he felt needed to become a ‘muscle’ for every designer. Aside from inquisitiveness and curiosity, there were two other ‘muscles’ he shared: appreciation and imagination. ‘You have to appreciate and understand your client, you have to be them. Take your shoes off and step into those of your clients’.

This appreciation for his clients and their every detail was wonderfully illustrated by his work for a Russian bank, where his naming and identity had no Western bias and was wholly appropriate for the Russian environment. ‘It would have been absolutely wrong for a Western design company to have come over [to Russia] and given them a Western brand’ he commented.

But, I mustn’t be bias towards design as his love of words is also apparent, having transformed confusing, and at times garbled, brand names into memorable and more inviting ones. Notably ‘3i’ and international hotel group ‘One & Only’. And the same goes for copy, where he champions writing which is understandable and clear, not long and drawn out. Why write twenty words when you only need four? ‘Write to be heard, not read’ is one if his mantras.

Having seen a few of his talks before, and having had the privilege of sipping tea with him at his home, I can say that he’s the most eloquent designer I’ve come across and his ability to share his knowledge, or to tell the story of an idea, is what makes you want to keep on listening.


  1. Down here in Hastings (1066 and all that) we have a guy that delivers wet concrete in one of those spinning trucks. The name on the truck- 'William the Concreter'

  2. Hmm, meant to put that on the next post.