I recently finished writing a book about my working life. Though I tried as hard as I could, I wasn’t able to persuade a publisher to take it on. So I had to publish it myself.
Having completed the text, I scoured the internet over a few months looking for someone to design the cover. I either ran into nameless, faceless dirt cheap designers from places like Mangalore or Manila, who would do me a dozen covers for £30. Or there were (allegedly) global outfits who had done everything from Shakespeare to Solzhenitsyn and would show me a good time for a five-digit fee.
In my brand development life we got little joy from large design outfits. The presentations were flash, the suits were impressive – but we never met the individuals who did the designing. We only met front men who were great at talking the talk. But in reality, all our successful designs came from small outfits where we met the people who did the drawing and were able to inspire them with our enthusiasm. This was my book, my project and I wanted a one-man band.
Then I came across Jamie Keenan. I saw his designs on the internet and I thought they were wonderfully imaginative. And he’d done everyone from Richard Dawkins to Kazuo Ishiguro so I figured he’d do for me. I called him up.
“How big is your company?” I asked. “I’m it.” He replied. He worked in a small studio in Dalston in North London. “What’s your book about?” he asked. “It’s about inventing new brands mainly in the drinks business,” I replied. He asked if he could read it. I asked, in exchange, if we could meet. (I don’t imagine he met Dawkins or Ishiguro.) He asked me to give him a couple of weeks to read the book and I did.
We met one lunch time. I wanted to chat and find out about him and his approach to design. We talked. He kept looking at his bag. He said he had been quite intimidated by the thesis in my book that I didn’t like designers who presented a raft of options in response to a brief. I liked people who came with a single idea, who really believed they had solved the problem. That’s how I had worked. No Plan B.
He said, gingerly “I have a design for you.” I hadn’t expected it. It was a single thought. Here it is. I thought it was inspired and I bought it on the spot. It made me think that if there was a lesson in my book, Jamie had applied it. He saw what I was getting at in asking for a single solution. It would have been easy for him to have done a dozen designs and left the decision to me. But he didn’t. He put his reputation on the line. And it worked.