He’s a digital prophet. A graphic designer. A type designer. A punk. An educator. A born raconteur. Here, Neville Brody discusses a lifetime of brilliant output. (Recorded live at Museum of Design Atlanta.)

Wheat Field

Design Matters Live: Neville Brody

GRAPHIC DESIGNER / EDUCATOR

2018

GRAPHIC DESIGN / DESIGN EDUCATION / COCA-COLA / JAMES SOMMERVILLE / TYPOGRAPHY / TCCC UNITY / GOTHAM / UX / BANKSY / THE FACE / FETISH RECORDS / ROYAL COLLEGE OF ART / ANTI DESIGN FESTIVAL

He’s a digital prophet. A graphic designer. A type designer. A punk. An educator. A born raconteur.

The legendary Neville Brody has long been many things at once. And now, following last week’s Paula Scher quote cache, we explore his words, which collectively form a mosaic of his brilliant mind.

Zachary Petit, Design Matters Media Editor-in-Chief

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I’ve always been trying to challenge, rethink, or disrupt through graphic design. I’ve never wanted to find a comfortable place in all of this. (source)

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I tend to be fairly opinionated. In England designers are supposed to be seen and not heard. (source)

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[I was] morally against the manipulativeness of advertising, so I went into design partly to understand how the form worked, and to use it against itself. I wanted to manipulate people too, but into querying, into questioning what they were being told. (source)

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Most of my college work was very intense. I was working 20-hour days, seven days a week, on the college work. I just figured if you want to challenge something, you have to do it better than the work that you’re challenging, otherwise people take it as a gesture. (source)

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That was the great liberation: that you didn’t have to accept things the way they were just because they were written down. (source)

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Design is more than just a few tricks to the eye. It’s a few tricks to the brain.

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There are two sides to Modernism, one of which I wholly support, which is that modern communications should be humanistic, expressive and benefit the people. The side I don’t adhere to is the fascistic one that dictates and expects everyone to conform. I will do anything to support individual means of expression. (source)

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I remember my father saying to me at one point that I should go and get a job in an ad agency, and I just thought, if you believe strongly enough in what you do, that will see you through. So I refused, absolutely refused to compromise, which is another message for students: They don’t need to compromise. They may experience a little hardship, but so fucking what? (source)

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There was a time when design courses were always geared towards creating precious end objects—like a book or a piece of packaging. But what we’ve managed to do now is shift the focus onto the process and thinking—to give the students valuable tools so that the end product is now their mind, their way of thinking. The outcome of what we do is to develop skilled, dangerous minds. I don’t see the point in teaching for any other reason. (source)

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I went [to the London College of Printing] to learn the basics and to understand exactly how typography is supposed to work, in terms of the rules. It happened at the same time as punk, which was probably the most influential thing to happen to me in London. The punk explosion pushed all of that out the window. (source)

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All language is personal and that, to me, justifies very personal typefaces. It’s a mistake to think that graphic design should be anonymous or impersonal. (source)

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The most important thing today for a brand is not the content that it talks about, but how it talks about it. The typeface becomes a critical part of that voice and DNA, with consistency, authenticity and believability becoming paramount requirements. (source)

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[On the “digital revolution”:] We don't think of the industrial revolution as the steam revolution. Steam enabled the industrial revolution. Digital is just steam for the 21st century. It allows you to drive engines and forge new models for design and distribution. Steam enabled transport. Digital does the same but in a knowledge space. It’s a creative and a knowledge revolution—almost like a renaissance. (source)

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I used to think computers were just tools. Because my initial response to the computer was that if a job can be done by hand, then you don’t need a machine to do it. Then I realized that it doesn’t affect the way you think about your work, just the way that you can do it. As a labor-saving device it doesn’t save any time at all. It means you’ve got more time to try out more options, more time to do things you wouldn’t have been able to do before. So you don’t work any less. You work just as much, if not more. (source)

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The computer is seen as a physical space, but it’s not. It’s a mental space. And when you’re going in there, you’re going inside your own head. (source)

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What was recognized 50 years ago as a radical craft, perfectly placed to engineer change in society through conscious intervention, is once again how we are beginning to see graphic design, as we did in the ’70s, ’80s and at some point in the ’90s. This speeding oscillation produces great individuals and ideas at the turning of the circle, and throws them off, often at wild tangents. (source)

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I realized very early on that you couldn’t just go and break a window. You maybe have to break every other window; you have to be systematic. Breaking one window is an empty gesture and is easily dismissible, but creating a system out of breaking windows becomes much more disturbing to the thing that you are challenging, to society. In the end, I realized that it has to be rebellion coupled with a highly systematic process, so that means that your thinking has to go very deep within whatever thing you’re working on. This means ultimately that you are creating a language all the way down to the core construction, the foundation. That kind of informed like the whole way I thought of college and everything I’ve done since. (source)

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The main thing is to have personal integrity. It’s what differentiates the good from the bad. (source)

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I have a child now, which was my second great transformation. It’s transformed my life in so many brilliant ways. Steve Jobs, the head of Apple, I met with him and we were talking about this and he said it brilliantly. He said, “Having a child was like discovering the color blue.” You are consciously aware, and then suddenly it’s like another reality.

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I’m realizing again how important it is to disobey. I sense the need for radical, unprecious and disruptive design again, and feel myself being drawn anew towards unstructured chance and structured mayhem. (source)

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Trust yourself. Learn as many skills as possible. Question everything. (source)
 

And remember, we can talk about making a difference, we can make a difference, or we can do both.  — Debbie Millman