Graduated – 1980
After graduating, Alan worked at Allied International Designers in London moving on to Lloyd Northover, The Michael Peters Group and then David Davies Associates. He was instrumental in setting up Giant which worked on the philosophy of ‘Have a laugh, do great work, make some money’. After 23 years in London Alan moved back North to join The Chase Creative Consultants as Creative Director, working on the identity for Manx Telecom, the graphics at the National Football Museum Preston and The Faith Zone at the ill-fated Dome (nothing to do with Alan).
He was at The Chase for five years and then was offered the opportunity of joining True North as joint Creative Director. Alan has now set up his own consultancy – Alan Herron Stuff, ‘producing great work for people who want me to produce it for them.'
The Disciples of Design Q&A
How and where did you secure your first job?
I had no job when I left college but decided that the only place for me was London. I was extremely persistent and annoying and bothered just about every design company in the south of England. Eventually I was offered a job at Allied International Designers. Sadly they are gone now but they were a great company.
Do you think being a Preston student has benefited you in any way?
Of course. Bearing in mind that when I was there the facilities, accommodation and social side of things were Dickensian to say the least. I was also less than impressed with the town (as it was then) as it seemed very wet and dreary. However these shortcomings meant I had few distractions and worked my bollocks off.
The standard of teaching and ideas-led thinking was years ahead of its time. I also won a D&AD Student Award in the first ever D&AD student competition – I was really chuffed. The sandwich element of the course was a protected opportunity to sample work and London at first hand and set me up for my future career in that city.
How has the industry changed over the years in your experience?
When I started there were no computers. When they arrived it meant to some extent that I had to relearn the means of production. Mind you I believe that the computer is only that, the means of production. First you have to have an idea. Which keyboard command do I press for that?
Where do you get your ideas from? Do you prefer collaboration or thinking alone?
It’s a cliché of course but they come from anywhere and everywhere, at any time, and of course in places where you least expect to find them. Mind you, computers are great for helping you to nick ideas. I get far more of a kick out of working in collaboration with people.
I particularly loved my time at Giant when we were four like-minded designers all striving for the same thing. I like to work with people – not always designers, but always people with enthusiasm and energy.
What would you have done differently at university knowing what you know now?
I would have been more collaborative, however I’m not sure it is that easy at uni – it’s quite difficult to mark. I would have set fire to less things. We spent hours setting fire to things with lighter fuel. I shouldn’t really have got married in the second year. Whoops. I would have experimented more – when you are working it’s much more difficult to do this.
What’s the best thing about your job?
You get to work in a warm studio and you don’t have to wear a suit. But seriously...in the past, it has always been the variety. Big jobs, small jobs. From packaging perfumes to identities for oil exploration companies. From designing exhibitions to TV ads – always loved doing different things.
Also I like working for clients who really respect what you do. These people are very rare and like gold dust and need to be loved and nurtured. I also like working with brilliant designers/people with intelligence. But most of all, the best part of my job is that it allows me to catch a glimpse into other worlds or places that if I was doing any other job, I’d never see.
What would you say has been the key to your success so far?
I love design, but I am not obsessed by it, it is not my life. I am interested in many things and I think being interested in loads of different stuff makes you a better designer. Having a broad outlook has to be better than having a narrow one that only focuses on design.
I meet loads of people who are design junkies – what happens when they get a job designing something that isn’t about design – they need to get interested in everything. Be interested in people, that might be a good start.
What is the most unusual thing you have done in your career?
I had to go to Kazakhstan to present some work to a one-armed oil baron. It was all done through an interpreter and was over in 35 minutes. They could have been telling him anything of course ‘...the effeminate boy from London with the funny haircut says you have very pretty eyes...’
Anyway it all went swimmingly but I had to stay there for a week because there were no frequent flights from Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan made Preston look like Vegas.”
What do you look for in graduates and their portfolios?
People who are different and who show evidence of experimentation. People who have a personality. People who make me laugh. People who don’t take life too seriously. People with intelligence. People who have energy. People who can have a conversation. People who design for people and not just their mates/other designers. People who are not obsessed with design. Simplicity.
Any advice for students entering the industry?
You need, of course, to be an excellent designer. You need to be willing to work your bollocks off for little reward, you also need to be extremely lucky. Also, to expand on my answer to the last question, please try and avoid being what I call ‘a smart-arsed designer’, it’s not all in-jokes about typefaces and ideas that need a 45 minute explanation for the viewer to get it. Keep it simple.
Oh, one last thing, if the only thing you can come up with for an idea is a cliché, don’t worry, don’t despair – just make absolutely sure that it’s the best produced, crafted, thought through cliché in the world. Nothing wrong with a cliché.
Branding - Bristol Museum & Art Gallery
Branding - M Shed
Exhibition Branding - Tate Liverpool