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Design with Hamish Muir

NAloCXi7     Photo: Ellie Muir

Hamish Muir co-founded the London-based graphic design studio 8vo (1985–2001), was co-editor of Octavo, International Journal of Typography (1986–92), and in 2009, with Paul McNeil, he co-founded MuirMcNeil. He was co-founder and art director of Outcast Editions (2011–14), an independent publisher of high quality digital books on contemporary architecture and design. 8vo worked on designs for legendary record label Factory Records; creating posters for bands such as The Durutti Column and print design for Manchester nightclub the Hacienda. MuirMcNeil’s focus is on exploring parametric design systems to generate appropriate solutions to visual communication problems. As well as this Hamish finds time to lecture on the BA Graphic and Media Design course at the London College of Communication and Thing are delighted to be able to catch up with Hamish to ask him several design related questions.

Five Things: Where did you learn your craft?
Hamish: I don’t consider myself a craftsperson. I learned a lot about drawing, colour and thinking at art school but didn’t really have any structured teaching in typographic design until I studied at the Basel School of Design with Weingart. It took another four or five years after leaving Basel to assimilate what had been taught there with the rest of it. You never stop learning (or realising how inadequate you are). It should get easier but it doesn’t – there’s no room for standing still, and anyway everything changes so quickly these days – instead of getting good at things (in the sense of mastering a set of skills) you get to be bad at new things.

Five Things: The finished product in the work you do for Outcast Editions is purely digital. Has the digital age ruined the enjoyment of buying a tangible ‘thing’?
Hamish: Not at all. Outcast was an interesting venture but the company is about to close – people don’t want to pay for digital content, pure and simple. As the ‘digital age’ progresses I think everyone’s beginning to realise it will never fulfil the threat (or promise) of killing print. In fact the longer this goes on the more disappointing the screen-based delivery of information becomes – the more sophisticated the means of delivery, the bigger the apparent credibility gap (between potential and actuality). Long live the book and other printed objects.

Five Things: When working with 8vo did you have any idea at the time the work would become so iconic and celebrated? Especially the Factory Records/Hacienda designs.
Hamish: Absolutely not! We had no real idea of what we were doing (in that sense) – we just got on with the work and tried to make each job good, and better than the one before. We were definitely not designing with anyone else in mind other than the client (usually second) and our own drive to develop work based on our interest in the use of type as the core ingredient of our approach to design.

Five Things: Could you pick your ‘five things’. Five products/places/old toys/books/records that mean something to you – like a ‘desert island discs’ of things. And tell us a little about what they mean to you.

1 and 2: Paul Klee Notebooks ‘The nature of nature’ and ‘The thinking eye’. I have english first editions published by Lund Humphries in 1973 (I bought them in ’75). They’re printed letterpress with all the colour plates tipped-in. I return to them time and again for the insights and the sheer enjoyment of ideas expressed in such beautiful means


3. Weingart’s 1976/77 Kunstkredit poster. I first saw this (together with the 1977/78 Kunstkredit poster), hanging in the hallway of Beechfield House at Bath Academy of Art (Corsham) at the start of my final year on the BA Visual Communication course there. It looked liked it had landed from another planet and immediately revealed secrets of typographic structure I could never have previously imagined. It was the reason I went to study in Basel. Weingart kindly gave me a set of posters many years later and I have them in rotation in a Weltformat perspex box frame in my work space.

Kunst Kredit4. Many Moleskine softback sketchbooks – whenever I feel the computer is just too shit to think with or at (several times a day), I enjoy the freedom of being able to work unencumbered by a mouse, keyboard and mostly, someone else’s idea of an interface (damn them all)

5. The (Pelikan) Pritt Roller – a natty device which applies a 6mm wide strip of adhesive. I’ve been using them for twenty-odd years now – couldn’t work without it as it’s perfect for tiling posters together from sets of A4 or A3 print-outs – I always need to work at full-size when designing for print, and this helps make that possible.

Five Things: What’s your favourite record sleeve design?
Hamish: Trout Mask Replica, Captain Beefheart. Terrible type, brilliant image; as mad as the music

Huge thank-you to Hamish for taking the time to answer our questions. For more information about Hamish check out Muir McNeil and follow Hamish on Twitter here.