David Hillman has spent almost 50 years in editorial design, working for titles including Nova and the Sunday Times. He has won 16 D&AD Yellow Pencils, and two Black Pencils. After working at Pentagram for years, he set up his own studio, Studio David Hillman.
When did you first become aware of the power of design?
When I redesigned The Guardian in 1988, and became aware of design’s power to shock people. I had the audacity to ignore the ‘rules’ about newspaper design – using two typefaces, reining the masthead over to the right-hand side, putting text above the masthead – and although for me it was just a job, the media attention was incredible. With papers, no matter what you change, you’ll upset people.
Who are you most proud of working with?
Man Ray. He photographed Catherine Deneuve for me for The Sunday Times’ Colour supplement (now titled Magazine). It was amazing just to walk into his studio and see all that art. He was a really nice man – and also one of the only photographers I’ve ever met who knew instinctively when he had the shot he was after.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Peter Knapp, the art director of Elle Paris, said, “Be yourself”, while Mark Boxer, founding editor of Colour, told me, “Stand up for what you believe in”. I’ve tried to really stick to both of those, even when it means I can seem like a cantankerous, grumpy old man. I’d rather lose a client than end up doing something I don’t believe in.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in graphic design? The first has got to be its growth. In the 1960s, the design community was very small, very friendly, and I think we were very generous to each other.
That’s completely disappeared – if you sit in the judging room at any awards, some of the younger designers can’t judge any work without knowing who did it. It’s got terribly bitchy.
Then, of course, there’s the introduction of the computer, but I’ve only ever seen computers as a tool – I still have to think with a pencil and paper.
Which design styles do you love or loathe?
I’ve always hated anything that’s totally style-driven, where there’s no idea behind it. I like concepts, rather than totally style-driven solutions. Coming from an editorial background, your job is to make content readable and enjoyable.
You can shape a magazine’s identity in many ways – even as simply as cropping pictures in a particular way or using certain typography. I really like MB Studios for this – its work is elegant and to the point.
What gets you up in the morning?
Insomnia. The older I get, the less sleep I get.
What design do you wish you’d done?
I do that all the time. There’s one designer in particular, Pierre Mendell. Every time he does a poster I think, Christ, I wish I’d done that. His work is simple, elegant and with no fuss – and it’s really very beautiful.
What’s the biggest challenge for your studio?
Trying to keep a sense of scale. I don’t want to get back into the situation we were in at Pentagram, where we had to keep working just to pay our overheads, and I hated it.
You get into a position where you have to do work you don’t believe in just to keep the office afloat – it got to the point where I didn’t want to come into the office, and that’s bad. Here, there’s only two of us, so the overheads aren’t such an issue: we’re smaller, leaner, and we can do the work we like.
Who is your mentor?
There are many. Mark Boxer, who founded The Sunday Times’ Colour magazine, Peter Knapp, who art directed at Elle Paris, Michael Rand at The Sunday Times. Between them, they showed me that the right picture in combination with the right words is one of the most powerful ways of conveying a message.
What advice would you give to a young hopeful?
Take up cooking. My son is 16 and desperate to take up graphic design, but it’s difficult to know if the industry will still be here in a recognizable form in the future. Creative studios are turning into multinationals. It’s just awful.
Studio David Hillman, which recently completed its first year, is a two-person design studio. Its first projects have included a redesign of THE, formerly the Times Higher Education Supplement; a set of stamps to mark the Diamond Wedding of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh; and the identity for eminent designer Michael Peters & Partners. The studio is also currently working on a book of Michael Peters’ work.
Other Studio David Hillman projects have included Web and identity design for the charity Buy Once, Give Twice and the identity design for star PR Mark Brokowski.
David Hillman www.studiodavidhillman.com