• Transform magazine
  • June 21, 2024

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Michael Wolff – leap before you look. The Zen of Branding

Leap Before You Look Cover

Renowned British graphic designer and brand consultant Michael Wolff teamed up with NB Studio’s independent publishing house and writer Tom Lynham to create his biography. The book follows Wolff’s beautiful design work from over 60 years in the branding industry, including projects with Hadfields and the Royal Mail.

Hadfields – brushing aside the competition

The household paint market is ruthless. How could this small family business founded in 1840 survive being crushed by the industry giants?

As I watched Wally presenting a hard-edged design concept to Wilfred Cass - CEO of Hadfields - an image of a wily fox sauntered into my mind. I began to feel that this visual identity was not right for them, so I interrupted and asked Wilfred to come back in three weeks. He crept out of the room with a twinkle in his eye, but Wally was furious and we came close to splitting up over the incident.

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He said it was incredibly disrespectful to interfere with his flow, but I said the presentation would not achieve what they needed.

A few weeks later Wilfred returned and we introduced him to the fox. This clever and cunning creature transformed the fortunes of Hadfields because people loved it. It was a turning point for me because I realised that how people feel is often more important than how they think.

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The speed at which one recognises mistakes is invaluable. This was early on in my partnership with Wally and we were forging the dynamics between us. Creative relationships are all about symbiosis; how one thing feeds off another, and the stuff that stimulates, irritates and inspires. This disagreement was pivotal in establishing the way that we would work together. Wally was the business leader. I was the get-it-done genius.

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Royal Mail – with love from me to you

Royal Mail has an extraordinary approach to stamp design. The special editions were introduced by the Labour politician Tony Benn, partly to generate revenue from philatelists, but also as an expression of British idiosyncrasy.

I had been on the Royal Mail stamp design committee for 30 years, which in the great tradition of British fair play excluded me from designing stamps. That changed when I was fired for not turning up to enough meetings, so I took the opportunity to inject some humour by designing a set of greetings stamps based on cartoons.

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I had already worked with cartoonists at The New Yorker such as Charlie Barsotti and Jack Ziegler, and Mel Calman in London for 3i, so bringing them to Royal Mail was an extra pleasure. They were such a success with the general public, I was back on the committee.

It was a radical step for Royal Mail and thanks to their terrific Creative Director Barry Robinson they were thrilled with the result. Before privatisation, cultural stamps like
these helped Royal Mail to become a national treasure on a par with the NHS because they reflected the emotions that glue people together.

And I think The Queen enjoyed them because she had to approve every stamp.

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Michael Wolff – leap before you look will be available for purchase from www.library-street.com in early 2024.

 

This article was taken from Transform magazine Q4, 2023. You can subscribe to the print edition here.