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Intervista: Darren Firth

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Dar­ren Firth, the orig­i­nal founder of WIWP (Wear­itwith­pride) has man­aged the brand since its launch in 2003 and now works as an Art Direc­tor for the UK based stu­dio Six. Over the years he has worked closely with brands such as Ben Sher­man, Puma, Nike, Boxfresh, Land Secu­ri­ties, Portsmouth FC, Loake, Lee Cooper and Clarks Orig­i­nals. Dar­ren was kind enough to take some time out of his busy day to answer a few ques­tions for AisleOne.

How long have you been design­ing?
Pro­fes­sion­ally around 9 / 10 years — Since I was 19 / 20

From school I did 2 years at Bat­ley School of Art & Design (ND in Graphic Design), then 4 Years at Hud­der­s­field Uni­ver­sity (Cre­ative Imag­ing). I was lucky enough to jump straight into a Mul­ti­me­dia job straight after that.

Who or what turned you on to graphic design?
To be hon­est, I wasn’t turned on by any Graphic Design. I started to draw things out of comics and mag­a­zines at a very early age; I was “turned on” by draw­ing and (recre­at­ing) atten­tion to detail, a pas­sion I took right through to High School. I wasn’t inter­ested in any of the other sub­jects at school to be hon­est, they all felt like a chore, so it was inevitable that I would con­tinue a cre­ative path through fur­ther edu­ca­tion, what­ever that may be. I was encour­aged towards an ND in Graphic Design, so that’s what I did, not really know­ing what to expect. It’s quite unset­tling to think what I would have done instead. I would have been pretty lost, how­ever I feel that I had the nec­es­sary sup­port in order to see it through and carve out my own oppor­tu­ni­ties from it. It was either that or be a fishmonger!

Who or what are your influ­ences?
I don’t really have any die hard graphic icons or heroes. I took a mixed path to where I am now, so I grab influ­ence from dif­fer­ent cre­ative cir­cles and other walks of life. As I’ve got older, I have grown to admire peo­ple for their per­sonal attrib­utes, rather than a nar­rowed focus towards the work they pro­duce. I admire peo­ple with deter­mi­na­tion, ded­i­ca­tion and a real pas­sion for what they do, what ever that maybe; These peo­ple I respect and I feel moti­vated to do the same in my Career/Work. I know that sounds a bit flouncy, but work­ing in a heav­ily mate­ri­al­is­tic indus­try, often makes me want to cling onto some­thing a bit more substantial.

The major­ity of my work is for the web, but I try and draw my influ­ence from print work, with the aim to bring sim­i­lar attrib­utes and fin­ishes to the screen. So I’m as likely to be influ­enced by a print sam­ple, as I am by an ele­ment in the lat­est micro-site for Sony or Nike.

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What is your favorite type­face?
I think it’s unhealthy to have one to be hon­est. I go through phases of pick­ing the same font as a start­ing point for every project, but I usu­ally devi­ate away from it as the cre­ative con­cepts progress. I’m work­ing increas­ingly on more cor­po­rate work, with per­sonal work tak­ing a bit of a back seat, so I’m pick­ing fonts that I think are right for the brand and not the cur­rent flavour of the month in Grafik and the like. But if you insist…

Fonts I have used recently or want to use soon:
 – Vari­able
 – Cooper Light
 – Apex
 – Cen­tury Gothic
 – Didot
 – Hoe­fler (Fam­ily)
 – Brauer

and, of course the unavoid­able
 – Hel­vetica

What is your favorite color palette to work with?
A muted pas­tel shade with a flu­o­res­cent or special.

Can you explain your cre­ative process from brief to com­ple­tion?
Read brief — Drink tea — Research com­peti­tors — Drink tea — Decide on “Look & Feel” — Drink tea — Have office debate — Sing dif­fer­ent lyrics to a per­fectly good song (Spoil that song for every­one, for­ever)— Play fris­bee — Browse some books on the shelf — Qui­etly put off all the tech­ni­cal require­ments it might involve — Drink tea — Work on con­cepts — Swear — Work on con­cepts — Drink tea — Dis­cuss ideas with the team — Upload for client approval — Drink tea — Pray to God the client likes it — Annoy every­one else in the office, in that wait­ing period.

Fin­ish Job — Go off it — Look at it in 3 months and think actu­ally it wasn’t that bad — Add to Portfolio.

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Do you use a grid sys­tem when design­ing and how do you feel about them?
This will prob­a­bly be my longest answer. I don’t use a grid in the tra­di­tional sense. My cre­ative edu­ca­tion con­sisted of tra­di­tional meth­ods of Illus­tra­tion, Pho­tog­ra­phy and Art His­tory (Yes one was a GD course, don’t ask!). My style thrived on chaos, dis­tor­tion and irreg­u­lar­ity, a cut and paste style that was influ­enced by peo­ple like David Car­son and in some ways ele­ments of Neville Brody’s early work. I didn’t know what a grid was, I wasn’t on the right course to be taught about print and all the rules and reg­u­la­tions that came with it (Kern­ing, Lead­ing, Track­ing, X-Height, eh, what? ); and to be hon­est I prob­a­bly wouldn’t have taken that well to it, it wasn’t what I was pas­sion­ate about at the time; Naively, I just wanted to cre­ate pretty pic­tures — A 6 year path that wasn’t your tra­di­tional route into Multimedia.

Over time I learnt the basics and set­tled into my own method of work­ing, devel­op­ing my own def­i­n­i­tion of work­ing with a grid. It’s not a grid in terms of Ratios and Fixed Col­umn widths — in its sim­plest form, it’s “lin­ing things up” from a given start point or area, which is then adopted through the whole site; A cho­sen key ele­ment within a site struc­ture that then deter­mines the first col­umn Width or Height. This could be seen as a crude and an unpro­fes­sional way of work­ing, but there is a sci­ence to it and the most impor­tant thing is that “It works for me”. I never start with a fixed grid, per­son­ally I find it extremely restric­tive (Most would oppose this obvi­ously, grids are there to help). Every site starts dif­fer­ently, some with a font, some with a colour, some with a par­tic­u­lar client require­ment in mind; From there each site will grow organ­i­cally, slowly form­ing its own indi­vid­ual grid sys­tem for me to adopt and fol­low through the rest of the visu­als. Some­times it takes hours, some­times it takes days. Once it’s in place though, I’m pretty dis­ci­plined in stick­ing to it.

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The exam­ple shows some of the pre­lim­i­nary steps I took in form­ing the grid for groove​ef​fect​.com. The Red Lines are the first and most impor­tant lines, which form the ini­tial col­umn widths. The Green Lines are the start of the rest of the Grid. The top ban­ner was the pri­mary dic­ta­tor of the over­all 2/3 col­umn width area; The image then dic­tated the width of col­umn 2, thus also col­umn 3, whilst set­ting the height for the left menu and right fea­ture box areas.

The web has its own “Cham­pi­oned” ratio and col­umn width stan­dards; As with every­one else in my field, I’ve read the var­i­ous books and arti­cles preach­ing about them. To be hon­est I’ve never been able to relate to most of it. I think like a Designer, not like a tra­di­tional Web Devel­oper. Nav­i­ga­tion and Usabil­ity are key, how­ever it doesn’t mean that every site has to look the same. Brands want dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion, not uniformity…and to be hon­est so do I. My job would be very dull oth­er­wise. Over the years I’ve worked around these reg­u­la­tions, bend­ing the rules to cre­ate bespoke brand sites that still deliver essen­tial usabil­ity but are tai­lored to a given audi­ence rather than a generic inter­net user and age catchall.

Obvi­ously there have been mis­takes along the way, but things need to be tried out in the pur­suit to stand out in an extremely sat­u­rated mar­ket, the major­ity I feel have been a suc­cess however.

Do I use a Grid…erm Yes and No.

Who do you feel is cur­rently doing inno­v­a­tive work?
That’s a tricky one, as I feel that a major­ity of the peo­ple who’s work I admire aren’t nec­es­sar­ily, hugely inno­v­a­tive (How I class inno­v­a­tive any­way), they just do very good and con­sis­tently solid work. ( I won’t men­tion any names, in fear of mass mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion and get­ting my bits cut off.

In terms of push­ing the bound­aries Design / Illus­tra­tive wise, I’m con­stantly amazed by the likes of Har­men Liem­burg, Non-Format, MM Paris, Antoine+Manuel, Grand­peo­ple, Fons Schiedon, Mi-zo and Kam Tang.

In terms of Art, I’m a big fan of Kin­sey, Paul Insect, Kate Gibb and Hellovon.

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What are you cur­rently work­ing on?
“Now Show­ing”, Barcelona” promo and press — WIWP Updates — 2 Ecom­merce sites, one for a tra­di­tional mens shoe brand, the other for a new global cos­met­ics brand — Iden­tity and Pack­ag­ing for the same cos­met­ics brand with the rest of team SIX — Plan­ning for 2 Illustrator’s port­fo­lio sites — Con­tin­ued work for Groove Effect — Var­i­ous amends — Var­i­ous bits of Flash — Think­ing about my own site — Try­ing to NOT think about another WIWP exhi­bi­tion — Assist­ing in other peo­ples exhibitions.

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What is your favorite album?
Fairly Recent:

TV on the Radio — Return to Cookie Moun­tain
The Black Keys — Attack & Release
Cold War Kids — Up In Rags
Burial — Untrue

Clas­sics (Mostly, Obvious):

The Prodigy — Music for the Jilted Gen­er­a­tion
Mas­sive Attack — Blue Lines
Pink Floyd — The Dark Side of the Moon
The Smiths — Strange­ways Here We Come

What is your favorite movie?
That’s the eas­i­est yet. “Preda­tor”. Per­haps nos­tal­gia helped put it there.

Inter­vista is a series of inter­views con­ducted for AisleOne with some of todays top tal­ents in graphic design.

       

4 Comments on "Intervista: Darren Firth"

  • What a guy!?!

  • Nice inter­view — Dar­ren is one of the nicest guys “in the indus­try” (what a term!).
    Love his ded­i­ca­tion to WIWP.

    (OK, I’ll stop now, or it’ll start sound­ing like a DVD featurette)

  • Keep up the good work friend :)

  • Joakim says

    Nice inter­view Dar­ren.
    Hard­est work­ing man in showbiz!