Adam Charlton on branding, award nominations and more

As we had recently informed you, Adam Charlton, a graduate of our MA in Design: Critical Practice, is on the shortlist for Design Week’s Rising Star award, so this is a good opportunity for all of us to find out more about him and his work! Shortly after graduation, Adam began a career abroad in branding, and he has been travelling back and forth between Hong Kong and the UK ever since. Here he is talking to us about his time at Goldsmiths, his current job, and much more.

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Chôm Chôm – Vietnamese Restaurant in Soho Hong Kong- Brand Identity

How did you end up studying at Goldsmiths?

After my Undergraduate degree [product design at Portsmouth], I wanted deeper thought and a larger awareness of design. I had a very broad education of design, but I definitely wanted to learn more theory and put it into practice. I just wanted more, and it was quite a natural step.

Did you enjoy it?

It was great. Coming out of college, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I knew it was within the design industry, and I also always enjoyed working hands on crafting in workshops. The Portsmouth course was a great foundation in industrial design, but I kind of fell into it. To find Goldsmiths was great, to get introduced to design theory- which really first conceived the installation art and has since bled into my branding work. It’s never felt like swimming against tides.

So now you work in branding and brand identity. What’s your design process on that, from when you first get the brief?

I like branding because it’s a fundamental and stripped down process. Working with a client is very satisfying from a designer’s point of view; the process is organic where the idea grows, you investigate to extremes what the product or service is, and then you show your investigation, dream up some strong concepts, see what they connect with and what they don’t, it’s process-based. What’s good about branding is that you can be very creative; it’s not refined or stuck in any particular style. Because of the way industry is moving quickly through technology, it’s very new and current, it keeps reinventing itself. Now is an exciting time to be working in identity design. However, I never thought of it as a career until I went to Hong Kong in 2013 post MA.

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Jungle Jane – Moët Ice Impérial Yacht- Spatial Design

How do the design industries in Britain and Hong Kong compare?

I don’t have a huge amount of experience in the UK. However, I quickly realized things happen a lot quicker in HK, they expect you to produce a lot more in a shorter time, to work 70 hour weeks is normal, the studio was manic in its scales of production which is because you are paid more for projects in the UK and Europe – in HK the design profession is really recently establishing its place and value in industry compared to other parts of the developed world.

What kind of self-initiated work do you do?

Stemming from Goldsmiths, really- getting to do these open projects, not client briefs, is something I came to cherish while I was in the education bubble. I wanted to keep that side of practice going, because it allows you to explore. I’ve made a film, a series of woodblock prints, and a few installations. With self-initiated projects it is good to play and not think too much about what you are doing. Work like this, because you’re doing it for yourself, is very freeing; it never feels like a waste of time, it’s a luxury and an enjoyable thing to do. The self-initiated work compliments and informs my client projects even if it is not so obvious. Often they are simply an excuse to do something tacit with my hands and to get away from the computer screen.

What do you think is your design aesthetic? Do you think you have one yet?

I don’t think I have one at all. Everyone tells me that my work is very weird!

Weird in what sense?

My peers have told me that my work is not expected, which is good, I guess, because it makes you stand out, it makes the work speak for itself. I don’t stick to a structured or particular style consciously; the process takes care of that.

Why do you think they chose you for the Design Week Rising Star shortlist?

I don’t know. I wouldn’t want to think too much about how I come across, it’s easy to take yourself too seriously!

Do you know anything about the other designers that are nominated?

I had a look. They’re really good! I don’t think I’ll win it.

So you’re not nervous, since you’ve already decided you’re not going to win.

No, but it’s great to be nominated.

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Square Poems – Self initiated series

What do you think design is?

I think design is a way to translate, convey ideas and messages; it’s a stage to work from, but it’s not rigid, it can be played with a lot, it should be played with a lot to see its boundaries. In branding, it’s translation of context and narrative, whether that’s an emotion or a specific pre-context of authenticity, users are going to see it in their own way, with their own unique preconceptions and you want to connect with each of them, on a very personal and singular level, and ultimately try and create something that is peerless and visually memorable.

If you were to work on branding Goldsmiths, from your perspective as a former student, what it would turn out like?

I think Goldsmiths is a very interesting institute, up with the best, but also a bit of an underdog- that’s why I liked it. And it’s produced some amazing graduates- didn’t Goldsmiths alumni win recently the Turner prize, the Mercury and the Oscar in the same year? You’d talk to students and you’d want to get a nice balance and/or contradiction between what students feel and what the staff feel, and see if there are any similarities, and tensions to play upon. Perhaps obvious, but Goldsmiths always struck me as a university where, as much as you’re taught, it’s also a place where you can explore. I’d play with that freedom in the identity. Obviously, it would have to be a dynamic identity!

What kind of dream projects do you have?

I really want to do something within my hometown (Brighton). We have a very “1990’s” Leisure centre, I’d love to have a go at branding that. It’s always more fun working on projects with smaller budgets, because the client is more flexible, open and risk-taking. I’d love to work on brand direction for a womenswear or menswear startup, a new SE Asian brand, maybe Japanese- I admire companies which hold minimal aesthetics and humble messages.

What else would you want to tell the readers of the Design blog and I haven’t asked?

Something I’d always try and put across is that age is not a marker of experience. In this industry you’re often being told, “Oh, you’re only this old, you don’t know anything”, there’s a lot of that. You have to remember that every person will take an experience differently, and an experience is only valuable if you learn from it… and not everybody learns! So always put your thoughts forward, and don’t be scared to stand up for them no matter how extreme or crazy, every opinion has value in design.

(Interview by Nadia Barbu. Images courtesy of Adam Charlton)