Q & A with David Campbell
As Senior Designer at the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) David Campbell is surrounded by inspiration. Before landing this coveted role he was a freelance designer for twelve years, working with numerous galleries and arts organisations including ACMI, Melbourne Fringe and Voiceworks magazine.
Did you mean to end up as a book designer? What was your trajectory?
I’ve always been really interested in art. I did a degree in fine art and studied art history and theory, but I quickly found the challenges of design much more satisfying. I started out working a lot with artists, and, as happens, art jobs lead to more art jobs. Designing for student media led to designing for artists and small galleries in the Citylights/Until Never studio, which led to ACMI, then Melbourne Fringe, then MONA.
I’ve always worked across all areas – web, video, app, print etc. I enjoy the challenge of finding a visual language that works across the entire breadth of an exhibition identity, from digital to print, from app to the staff t-shirt, in a fashion that makes the most of the particulars of each medium. What I’m finding increasingly interesting is how the how the design work dovetails with media, marketing and the culture at large. That said, I do maintain a genuine love for designing books. Websites are fun to make, but they do become kitsch really quickly. Pretty soon we’ll look back at all current websites with the appalled, amused, and slightly nostalgic feeling we currently reserve for ’50s wallpaper and ’70s cooking. This is not a bad thing, but the knowledge that most of the technology that runs today’s websites will become obsolete before we have the chance to fall in love with their stupidities once again does limit some of the enjoyment. The books end up standing as the record, or the residue, of a project, and as such, they have the potential to age gracefully. Even if they look bad in fifteen years time, they’ll probably look awesome in thirty.
Does art — gallery, museum art — inspire you? Or film, TV etc? If so, what do you like?
Almost of my book design work is for catalogues or art books, so there’s no need to look elsewhere for inspiration. The projects come with an artist’s visual language or set of concepts, or a strong curatorial premise, all of which serve as the guiding principle and main inspiration for the book. Otherwise I spend a lot of time looking at art, but possibly even more time reading novels and nerd blogs.
What do you listen to when you work?
Coil, Bodycount, Philip Glass…You know, the classics.
What question do you least enjoy from people when they discover you design books?
‘Aren’t books/isn’t print dead?’ I’m pretty happy to see how well the web and print are co-existing.
What is your favourite tool on the computer?
Best or favourite situation for getting creative.
Chuck Close once said ‘Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work’. I’ve never been much of a believer in finding the right situations for creative work. Obviously you need a fast computer, and good coffee, and giant monitors, and some quiet, and just the right amount of stress, but otherwise, the situation is pretty irrelevant. Work leads to new solutions and new problems, and more solutions and more problems, and extra solutions and extra problems etc. Even if you’re completely uninspired, you can still make stuff that will lead somewhere, eventually. I like to just show up and get to work.
Which creative person/identity/professional would you most want to impress?
I love design that can speak to people who don’t know and don’t care about design, and to people who know a bit, and to people who know a lot. So the answer is everyone. I’d like to make design that impresses everyone. And Coil, Bodycount, and Philip Glass.
Which book would you like to design the cover for?
As a personal project, I’ve tried, numerous times, and failed, numerous times, to design a cover for J.G. Ballard’s Crash. The book centres around a fictional group of people who get sexually aroused by car crashes. Like much of his work, it takes the logic behind the driving forces of people and their technologies, and a monstrous perversion of lust, and follows it through to a logical endpoint. I strongly suspect, in order to do it justice, any cover I could come up with would be banned in every country in the world.
Who is one of your favourite book designers and why?
One? I can’t list just one. Jonathon Barnbrook for saying lots but mostly talking about himself, Peter Mendelsun for being too clever by half, and David Pearson for being too smart to be clever. John Warwicker for just waffling stupid shit, and somehow managing to pull it off, like he’s jumping a design-motorbike through a design-ring of fire and somehow just managing to design-land it. Irma Boom for her sense of scale. Toko for being just the right amount of too quiet. W. H. Chong for almost getting it right, often enough to be really good. Jenny Grigg’s magnificently simple covers, Mark Gowing’s craftsmanship, Mark Farrow’s colour-driven brutalism, Paula Scher’s balance, Fabio Ongarato’s font choices, Marc Martin’s colours, Quentin Fiore’s lasciviousness, Jan Tschichold for not letting anything get in the way, and Chris Ware for letting everything get in the way. Patrick Slack for being just the right amount of low-fi. Raf Rennie for knowing how to use black. Frame Creative’s work on Krass magazine for punching up.
Your favourite place (store, library, blog etc) to look at books?
Books are a place.