Julian Roberts

Graduated – 1990


Julian is the founder and hands-on designer of the independent design firm Irving & Co which he co-founded in 2006 (named after his hero the photographer Irving Penn). Since 2001 Julian has worked with the founders of Carluccio’s to help build the Italian restaurant brand into a benchmark high street restaurant.

Other clients include John Lewis, Waitrose, and Rapha Cycling. Prior to Irving & Co between 1992-95 Julian worked as a Senior Designer for the in-house design team at The Body Shop. In 1995 he joined Fitch before moving onto 20|20, both industry leaders in retail design, Julian worked extensively in the UK and Europe for variety of clients including the re-brand of Sainsbury’s.

The Disciples of Design Q&A

How and where did you secure your first job?
When I graduated in 1990 it was recession Britain, there were about two jobs for all design graduates across the UK, so I ended up enrolling in the ‘School of Life’ and taking a gap year of sorts. I started a six month stint for a book publisher in New Delhi which comprised mainly of brandy, G&T’s and late night debates with the great and good in seedy Old Delhi drinking clubs.

After the delights of India, a subsequent three months in Australia failed to ignite the creative spark so it was back to the big smoke and there in the summer of ’91 I landed my first proper job working for a small agency called The Loft, set up by ex Small Back Room designers. Pay was negligible, but surviving on a Preston style diet of cheese on toast, bitter and Camel lights, we designed (with pen, paper, cow gum and scalpel) a multitude of theatre posters for the likes of The Royal Court and the Bristol Old Vic, budgets were limited, but we had plenty of creative freedom.

Do you think being a Preston student has benefited you in any way?
Without a doubt, when I enrolled on the course in 1986, Preston was considered far and away the best Graphic Design Degree course in the country – with a strong ideas and craft based ethic plus the benefit of the six month work placement. I also think that being based in a smallish city helped build a strong communal spirit – mainly concentrated in The Adelphi – which encouraged plenty of bonding and the sharing of ideas.

How has the industry changed over the years in your experience?
From a ‘making things happen’ perspective there’s been a profound change of biblical proportions courtesy of Steve Jobs. But it’s a double edged sword – while it’s never been faster or easier to create, it’s also become easier to produce lazy and banal design (especially when you throw Google in the mix).

But one fact that will never change – is that you cannot simply press a button and ‘manufacture’ original ideas, they only materialise from a curious mind mapped out on a sheet of A4 and honed by a beautiful and learned eye.

Where do you get your ideas from? Do you prefer collaboration or thinking alone?
There is no rhyme or reason – ideas can emerge when under pressure from tight deadlines or when mulling over a coffee with note book and pencil in hand. When I'm alone – feeding the mind by reading books, listening to music, cooking or just looking at things will trigger thoughts (I find Macs tend to drain and restrict the thinking process).

Personally I find running is the best method – it frees the mind from the distractions of the studio and encourages the subconscious side of the brain. Yes a multitude of ideas will often emerge from collaborative studio brainstorm, but it requires thinking alone to spot or hone a great one – therein lies the challenge.

What would you have done differently at University knowing what you know now?
I’d be telling a half-truth if I said “nothing”. I might have perhaps experimented more with my work. Yes, on the one hand solving a brief in a professional business like approach may stand you in good stead, but surely striving to create the extra-
ordinary should be the objective of every student, graduate and yes, even designers in their mid-forties.

What’s the best thing about your job?
Mug of tea, blank sheet of A4 and 2B pencil and exciting brief in hand. Being inspired and meeting talented, brilliant people.

What would you say has been the key to your success so far?
Keeping my eyes peeled, attention to detail, sheer hard graft. Latterly I’ve learnt that the best work happens only from working for and with people you like and respect. Another more ‘tongue in cheek’ mantra (but partly rings true) is to judge a potential project by the three F’s criteria – Fame, Fun and Fortune, if it ticks two out of the three boxes then go for it.

What is the most unusual thing you have done in your career?
I’d say a design meeting with the Beatle, Paul McCartney, in which we discussed how cool the hearing aids I was wearing were – pretty surreal when you think about it. Closely followed by bouncing a bagful of red rubber balls into an audience of 200 middle managers from a supermarket chain in Finland. It was an attempt to metaphorically explain a new identity we had designed.

What do you look for in graduates and their portfolios?
Magic, point of difference, craft, knowledge, attention to the smallest of details, honesty, modesty (you never stop learning) and optimism.

Any advice for students entering the industry?
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. There is no such thing as a wrong answer. Go out there, open your eyes and remember that creativity is more than just the process of graphic design – it’s the way you live your life.


Branding - Bumpkin Restaurant


Packaging - The Fine Cheese Co. 

Advert - Carluccio's