There’s always room at the top: Dave Clark on 40 years of Design
Written by Lana Lopesi
2017 marks 40 years of Aotearoa-based graphic design practice for renowned designer Dave Clark. Clark, of brand and experience agency Dave Clark Design, is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, an Honored Associate of Auckland University of Technology, and a several-times-President of The Designers Institute of New Zealand. Perhaps best known for the iconic 1986 branding of the All Blacks Silver Fern and the 1990’s Air New Zealand rebrand, we ask Clark about good design, blunders and technology.
Dave, can you tell us about where you come from?
I was born in the UK, and then as a baby, I followed my dad around the world. He was a sea captain and we lived on his ship, and in parts of India and Burma, then in Cyprus, and finally when I was 10, we settled in England.
How did you get into graphic design? What or who were your influences and mentors? Where did you train? And did you always want to be a graphic designer?
I was taught to draw by my father, who liked to draw old sailing ships with pen and ink. I went to art school where I fell in love with graphics and trained as a graphic designer in several art schools in the UK, eventually coming over to New Zealand in the mid 1970s. I started to practice here in 1977 which makes it 40 years practicing as a Designer here in New Zealand!
And so how have you seen the graphic design industry change in Aotearoa within those past 40 years?
When I came to NZ, I was surprised how good the design was. Graphic Design here in NZ has always been very open to international influences, and I’d say that this process has accelerated recently as visual information has been so much easier to get hold of. Like other developed markets, there’s way too many designers around for too little work, but to balance that, Kiwi clients seem to value good design and are willing to pay for it. So that’s not changed.
What were you doing before the founding of Dave Clark Design?
From the time, I graduated my main job was always as a designer, operating in the UK initially, then in NZ as a small operator, all the time trying to build up the business and learning about how business and commerce works.
Dave Clark Design founded in 2001 is quite an empire now spread across the Asia-Pacific region with offices in Aotearoa, Australia and Singapore. What did you envisage for Dave Clark Design when it was first established and where do you see it going in the future? And what distinguishes the studio from other studios out there?
Within our company, the main idea has always been to produce great design in whatever format was required by the client. We started with just four shareholders, Andy, Andrew, Jonathan and myself. We grew the business year by year by concentrating on the quality of the service and work, and eventually ended up becoming a lot bigger than we first envisaged. We’re still together after many years. I firmly believe that our area of design is all set to grow rapidly, with new opportunities appearing for companies like us with a clear vision of where we want to go.
In your career, you have worked on some very iconic branding, the kind of imagery which is familiar to the average Kiwi. But you must have also had some blunders, is there any piece of design you look back on and wish your name wasn’t attributed to, or maybe even design which never made it into the public realm?
Ha, ha. The blunders disappeared pretty quickly fortunately. Great design shines through and survives whilst bad stuff disappears quickly. Seriously though, my blunders have nearly always been to do with misinterpreting the brief rather than bad work. That’s why it’s so important to work out what a client wants.
I’m interested in both the challenges and the opportunities that innovations in technology such as the internet and the smartphone have had on design, how have you noticed design adapt?
I’d argue that designers have always been very fast in making technological transitions because of the fragile and temporary nature of our industry. Art and Design have always changed as a result of technology, although the changes have happened a lot quicker in the last 10 years than in any period before that.
What you think makes good design?
That’s a really hard question, because the answer is so illusory and dependent on what the design is needed for, who’s looking at it, and how many resources are needed to bring a design to life. But put simply, I’m always interested in designs that communicate an idea really strongly, using contemporary styles and imagery.
What are you working on now?
My work now is a bit different from when I started out. We have this ethos within our company of ‘great work, great service’, and I, together with my fellow three shareholders, focus on making sure that our work reflects this philosophy.
Any pearls of wisdom to designers and creatives out there?
I suppose it sounds a bit cliché, but it’s a maxim I believe in, which is, ‘there’s always room at the top’. By this I mean whenever I’ve succeeded in any area of life, I’ve always been surprised at how few people are there with me, sitting at the top table of life.
And the way it works with design is that if the designer is always aiming to make their work be at the very best standard possible, a premium product, there’ll always be work waiting for them.