“Nowadays, designers have to be so multi-disciplinary,” says Rick Banks. If you look at the fields Banks covers – five months into a solo career as Face37 Ltd – you’ll see he speaks from experience: “My work ranges from branding and identity to art direction, typography, type design, web design, branded environments, packaging, annual reports, way finding and signage, publications and digital media.”
From Manchester, UK, Banks grew up in Bolton and was offered a job with London studio SEA Design before he even graduated from Cumbria University. “It was a fantastic opportunity, and very lucky,” Banks reflects. “I was at SEA for two and a half years, so I really learnt the craft of print and made some great friends. In the height of the recession I took a bit of a gamble and left SEA to join This is Real Art [TiRA] for a fresh challenge.”
One project there was The Copy Book, which Banks designed with TiRA creative director Paul Belford. “This was a book design for D&AD and Taschen about how the best advertising writers in the world write their advertising,” explains Banks. “The book is all about copywriting, and legibility is key when reading copy, so the new cover explores this idea by using eye tracking software.” To help with this, Belford and Banks visited the Interaction Lab at City University, London, and had their eyes track the mock cover. “It was great fun seeing your eyes like beach balls on the screen,” says Banks, but adds that he faced major challenges with the book.
“I’d never experienced anything like it before,” he says. “Because we had this concept of legibility, it didn’t make sense if you couldn’t read the body copy in the adverts. But the quality of some of the imagery from the 70s and 80s was so poor that I had to re-set about 60 per cent of the ads. I like that sort of thing, though. Paul had to spend a copious number of hours retouching the poor imagery too.”
About five months ago Banks left TiRA, became a freelancer and set up Face37. “After working under some great creative directors – John Simpson at SEA and Paul Belford at TiRA – I wanted a new challenge,” he explains. “I wanted to be my own boss and take on some responsibility in terms of work and account handling.” He also now has the time to push his own self-initiated work via Face37, and in July launched his new typeface F37 Bella through the HypeForType foundry.
Business as a freelance designer in London is booming, which Banks attributes to the “aftermath of the recession.” His commissions come from his agent – Represent’s Mike Radcliffe – and word of mouth. His recently revamped website also plays a huge part, he says. “Employers can quickly view a mass array of work and send the URL around, instead of emailing 8MB PDF portfolio files. My website took around five months to design and build. Photographing all my work took the longest.”
Despite the breadth of his design skills, Banks finds most of his work in branding and identity. He describes his style as clean, thought out, rational and uncomplicated. “My design always has one big important factor – an idea,” he adds. “Most good things have a timeless quality and I try to base my design on this principle. I hate design that dates quickly. I try to be a no-nonsense designer, clean and straightforward; no fancy illustrations, no trendy visual devices and readable, structured typography.”
He admits that the concept is strange, but says he always tries to design with his mum in mind. “Nothing Freudian, I should add,” he laughs. “But unless the layman understands what you’re trying to say, what’s the point? Designers shouldn’t design for themselves, or for their ego. As much as we might like to think we are, we’re not artists. I have a client, who has a problem that needs solving.
“I don’t think that there are any stubborn design briefs,” he explains. “There should always be a problem to solve. Every client is different, but I’ve learnt that it’s best to guide them through the design process right from the beginning.” Banks doesn’t feel that design trends or other designers should provide the spark. “I see inspiration in anything from songs, art, old whiskey barrels, films, even old card games,” he explains. “I’m a big believer in all good ideas coming when away from the Mac. I think it’s important to switch off. If you try to force creativity and ideas, you often get brain freeze.”
For example, the Journey song ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ was the inspiration behind his T-shirt design for 2K Gingham. “The original meaning of the song was that people’s dreams can’t necessarily be brought into fruition in the place where they might have grown up,” he explains. “In other words, people’s destinies may lie elsewhere. I had just moved to London from the north of England and sadly I think my destiny lies down south.”
As for card games, Banks has created Type Trumps – which is a play on the old Top Trumps sets – a game in which different typefaces are attributed numerical values. A whiskey barrel theme, meanwhile, was explored in a self-initiated ‘annual report’ for Jack Daniel’s. “Their current ones are very, very dull,” says Banks, who presented his version as a sympathetically designed presentation bound in wood from a whisky barrel.
“I like to be inspired by things that aren’t necessarily designed and already beautiful,” he says. “This way I feel design isn’t monotonous – you can push things forward and you’re not already forced to the end of the design process.
“Having said all that, my work has a modernist Swiss feel to it,” Banks admits. “Wim Crouwel and Herb Lubalin are two designers in particular who have had a big impact on my work. So all in all, I like to see my work as a bizarre Swiss- American mix with my own English twist.”
As for the future, Banks believes that there will always be branding and identity work for him. “However, I think there’s less and less print around, and more focus on digital,” he says. “For me, embracing new technologies is as exciting as smelling the ink on a new screenprint.
“As much as every designer loves the look and feel of print, I find that taking a design thought process and applying it to new technologies is really satisfying. New technologies are just another way of communicating and problem-solving. The skills I’ve learnt over the years shouldn’t just be limited to graphic design – I’m planning on setting up my own T-shirt company in the next year.”