The Attik

By Kerry M.

It’s almost been a year since I contacted Attik in hopes of writing this article.  At the time they had just released Noise (3), the third release of their world famous self-promotional experimental design book and there seemed to be a myriad of articles in glossy magazines revealing their rags to riches story and the party ‘til dawn at the NYC Noise (3) release party.  At the time, I felt compelled to add to the glut.

From the beginning I was convinced that an article about Attik wouldn’t be entirely out of place in a magazine like SAB.  I’d always felt that Design and Music shared a similar bond.  Then, much to my delight the punk music bible PUNK PLANET released “The Art and Design Issue.”  Finally someone other than Émigré was addressing Design and Music, if even only for one issue.  Moreover, Designer Matt Owens of VolumeOne wrote a revealing and inspirational piece about the connection of music and design and the influence it had upon him from an early age. Something I’m sure the majority of readers of SAB can relate to.  Who hasn’t drooled over gorgeous gatefolds and intricate packaging?  I’ll readily admit to fawning over cover art and packaging.  In fact there’s even a book dedicated to this intersection of design and music called SIGHT FOR SOUND, (edited by Roger Walton) which does nothing but present design that was done for music related projects.  (Walton also edited TYPOGRAPHICS and TYPOGRAPHICS 2, both of which feature The Attik.)

Having decided to forgo the obvious route of fawning over Noise (3) ad infinitum, and having been beat to the punch by Punk Planet to analyze the gray area where design and music converge, I decided to attempt a Question and Answer type interview with the 3 principles that are responsible for Attik and it’s highly sought after output.  Thankfully all three were willing to answer some questions. To be honest, I didn’t really know what I was expecting to gleam from their responses to my silly questions, but an interview with the men responsible for the steel cased book designers around the world lust for seemed like an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

In the Beginning…( in 50 words or less)

Attik was start by Yorkshire Art College graduates Simon Needham, and James Sommerville in 1986 in the attic of Sommerville’s grandmother’s house in England.  William Travis joined the company in 1990. Today they have offices in Huddersfield, London, NYC and a recently opened office in San Francisco.  Additionally, they are looking to open offices in Japan and Australia.  They are clearly in high demand around the world.  What’s even more interesting is that Noise (3) has sold over 10,000 copies worldwide (at $100 US a pop no less).

Innovative. Confident. International. Cool.

With a client list that explains their global expansion and a portfolio worthy of their tag line “Innovative. Confident. International. Cool,” the guys at Attik seem remarkably down to earth (at least on paper) for the leaders of a company nearing the top of the proverbial design ladder.  When I sent these questions to Attik’s PR Dept. I was intending to do a proper article, but the responses seemed to say so much more than I could ever hope to present through journalistic regurgitation of press releases and other articles. I just couldn’t resist the temptation to simply transcribe the responses. Had I the time, I would have loved to have a handwriting analysis done as well, as I think that would have truly revealed something about these 3.

The Players:
William Travis – President and Executive Producer
James Sommerville- Group Creative Director
Simon Dixon – Creative Director.

The Questions:

1. What role does music play in Attik’s design? (conceptual influences, inspiration, etc.)  What types of music?

Simon: Music tends to be pivotal – the studio ebbs and flows with the intensity of the music – ambient grooves in the morning – building to a barrage of techno/drum and bass into the night.

James: Massive…writing this at 10pm with the studio full, the beers open and “freak out” blasting out of the system.  Above that, music is the icing on the cake. It provides us with the opportunity to add a new dimension to our work by creating not just a visual but audio environment.

William: Communication, whatever the medium, is a crucial part of The Attik’s lifeblood – it influences our mood and application to the creative process. Each designer has their own diverse taste in music echoed in the creative they produce – this enhances the diversity of flavor in our designs.

2. Who are some of your influences? (Design and beyond)

Simon: Professionally, I am influenced more by my general life experiences.  Living in New York, the city is always on full volume – it’s hard not to be inspired.

James: Henry Moore and my two children.

William: Those people that challenge the daily obstacles that exist in life, producing the best in whatever they do. Them, my mother and my child to be.

3. What was the last book you read?

Simon: A factual explanation of the universe’s origins and its development.  It was a mind expander.  It’s view of the bigger picture and its sense of scale was an eye opener – if a bit high brow.

James: Richard Bronson’s autobiography – It was okay, slightly bias.  What it says to me though is that the new century is coming and with it will follow a new ‘virgin.’

William: “Into Thin Air ” -a spell binding vision of many individuals determined to survive and accomplish personal goals on the side of Everest. Superb read.

4. Do you read magazines?  What sorts?

Simon: Everything from Lifestyle, Sports, Design or any trashy pulp I pick up at the airport.

James: 4-4-2 / Dazed / Women’s own… Basically everything you need to know in life is within those three magazines.  Generally the newstands are very repetitive, very safe and quite uninspiring – soon a new look magazine concept will emerge.

William: Anything with quick exciting and up to date information – like Razzle.

5. There seems to be quite a design movement in the 20th century that has it’s epicenter in England.  Can you explain this or offer a hypothesis as to why the British seem to have cornered the market? (I am referring here to Attik, V23, Tomato, etc.)

Simon: England has a heritage of developing and progressing.

James: I can’t speak for the other guys but we all grew up surrounded by an immensely strong heritage, working class culture with real people and no bullshit.  Particularly in the North of England you’ll find some of the best creative in the world which is comforting to know considering it’s best known for sheep and coal mines!

William: The close competition of the British creative market seems to challenge all its participants to the highest of levels. This heavily infringes upon the public audience who follow the creative for the pleasure and humor it brings to their daily life. All these interactions have caused standards to be propelled forwards and the British pride in being the best leads the global standard.

6. What do you think of the state of design today?  Are you partial to decontexualization and the use of vernacular or do you think that is just a passing fad?  Where do you think design is headed in the near future?

Simon: Deconstruction and the degrading of information and the reconstitution into a new form of communication are important to my work.  It is intuitive, spontaneous, and draws on many available media.  It is a specific approach – and is neither a fad or a permanent proposition

James: Today’s design is moving fast. People need to grow up quicker. The life of a concept is not as long as it was a few years ago so individual and collective styles must change and we must challenge ourselves with the new mediums and cultures to aid this self-development.

William: I think design has to live through all phases of approach and style to generate new and innovative approaches. I’d love to see superb creativity being more accepted in the market place and extinguishing the excuse “because it’s being targeted at Middle America”.

7. What are your thoughts on the role technology plays in design today?

Simon: Technology is pivotal to our work. It allows us to express and develop ideas into areas we would not otherwise be able to do. However, the work is based on thoughts and principals that use the computer rather than the other way around. It is easy to find a quick solution on the Mac – to fuck it up and push the envelope is a lot harder.

James: The computer is a dangerous tool in the wrong hands. We shouldn’t hold anyone back but at the same time we should make sure people understand how potentially creatively damaging it can be to our industry.  I’d also like to see experimental work with more organic real images, textures and tones coupled with the computer’s capability but not drowned in techno.

8. What is the most important lesson you’ve learned since starting Attik?

Simon: Anything is possible if you have enough passion and interact with people with a similar passion.

James: Finding the very best people for no matter what job they do, wherever they come from in the world. This makes everyone’s life easier and cool.

William: A levelheaded persistence and soul deep belief in your product will win through to success.

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