Q & A with Phil Campbell
Phil Campbell has been designing books, amongst other things, for 20 years. He worked previously as a designer for Text Media and EmeryStudio and spent time as a sessional lecturer in Communications design at RMIT. He works out of a shared studio space in Cremorne.
Did you mean to end up as a book designer? What was your trajectory?
I had an unorthodox trajectory. I had always been creative, playing drums in bands and designing gig posters, but a lack of career guidance saw me take on business studies at uni. I ended up in a marketing department where I eventually snuck my way into the designer’s chair. The organisation was the Port of Melbourne Authority, and my last project there was to design the redundancy package documents offered to staff when they wound up the place and privatised the port. That’s when my design education started. I got a job with Text Media working for W.H. Chong on magazines where I learnt my way around the grid and was introduced to deadlines. I then moved on to Emery Vincent, working for Garry Emery on mostly corporate projects. It was an amazing experience and again I learnt an enormous amount, particularly about type, but after a few years I decided to go freelance for a change of pace. I started sharing a studio with Mary Callahan, a friend from early Text days and reconnected with publishing. I enjoyed the relatively relaxed pace of publishing and the sense of books being a ‘force for good’. The clients were generally easy going and collaborative and I was hooked.
Does art — gallery, museum art — inspire you? Or film, tv etc? If so, what do you like?
I find galleries inspiring but working on mostly non fiction titles, my influences are broader. I have a collection of 1960s Polish posters which I love that I occasionally dip into for inspiration. Day to day I am inspired by books and magazines, occasionally ads and increasingly online design resources.
What do you listen to when you work?
I work in a shared studio with other designers and photographers. The stereo is usually on and it could be anything from First Aid Kit to The Clash. At the moment I’m loving Nick Cave’s last two albums.
What question do you least enjoy from people when they discover you design books?
Why do you need to design books? Is it the cover or something?
Some people assume there is no design required, that somehow the books mysteriously arrive at the printers looking the way they do.
What is your favourite tool on the computer? (Not just a program but within a program or OS)
The clone tool to get rid of the stock photo watermarks for cover roughs. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve done this!
Best or favourite situation for getting creative.
Strangely I am often more productive and creative when I’m too busy. If things are quiet and I create the right situation, get the coffee, put on the music then I often get designer’s block.
Which creative person/identity/professional would you most want to impress?
Paul Weller, one of my musical heroes. He is a visually literate guy too.
Which book would you like to design the cover for?
A biography of Paul Keating. I went through a period of designing biographies of former Prime Ministers and he’s the one that’s missing.
Who is one of your favourite book designers and why?
I’ve liked a lot of Chip Kidd’s work over the years. Great concept driven covers and he gives a very entertaining talk if you get the chance to see him.
Your favourite place (store, library, blog etc) to look at books?
Bookstores, and thankfully The Avenue have just opened up near the studio in Richmond. You can see the best of local and international designs and get a little buzz seeing books you’ve designed in the window. I also like checking out old stuff at op shops and Sunday markets.