Graduated – 1992
Mark’s career has crossed both Graphic Design and Advertising. After cutting his teeth in the Manchester Graphic Design scene of the early 90’s he moved to London and into the world of Advertising. Becoming a well known face on the London advertising scene Mark has worked at several agencies including Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Ogilvey & Mather and McCann Erickson to name but a few.
He joined Albion as a Group Head in 2007 to add an integrated aspect to their digital offering with European campaigns for Betfair, BlackBerry and eBay. He is now currently Creative Director at MWO in London. Mark is also the recipient of numerous awards including: A Golden Rose of Montreux, The Art Directors Club of New York, Cannes Lions and D&AD.
The Disciples of Design Q&A
How and where did you secure your first job?
I left school in ’88 and went to Preston in ’89 at the height of the Thatcher years. By the time I left in ’92 the chill winds of recession were blowing and jobs were scarce. It was odd leaving such an intense and successful placement course and
actually having to worry about a job. We’d been used to the structure of the course almost guaranteeing a job within industry. The first years would help the fourth years with their shows and the second years would help the third years to get the work done for a placement – those students would often have a job confirmed from the placement and it all flowed from there. It seemed like a secure pipeline to a job as a designer in the best design groups in the UK.
By the time we graduated in 1992 things were tight and we thought – with nothing to lose – let’s try to create a job. So myself, Mike Wallis and Guy Marshall negotiated a deal with Ben Casey at The Chase in Manchester to set up a design group within his company. It would be small partnership capable of approaching any kind of work that The Chase was geared too highly to execute profitably.
Ben had Chase London, Chase Manchester, and he wrote the Preston course, so he loved the idea of C3 being a new way into work. We were given a room and we supplied the equivalent of one designer to The Chase all the time to pay our way.
We would approach smaller projects with gusto and push the art of the possible.
Without any overheads we’d pay ourselves whatever we had at the end of the month. We stole £200 for a ghetto blaster and a coffee machine, got a grant for a brand new Mac system from Manchester Council, on the condition that we’d employ men fresh out of prison from time to time to help rehabilitate them. Within a year we’d won the gold at the Typographers International Awards. After two years we had three silver nominations at D&AD, golds at the Roses and the New York Festivals but we were still living together in a tiny flat and getting on each others nerves and we realised that as we grew financially we’d simply become part of The Chase, so with London calling the Londoners – Mike and Guy – we closed it.
Did you do a placement year? If so how was it?
I was at The Chase with the great Ben Casey (as was Mike). It was funny and fantastic. Ben has a generous mind and doesn’t mind if he finds you asleep under your desk with the mother of all hangovers.
Who or what inspires you?
If you ever wonder about inspiration, just spend an hour with Ben. He once said “I don’t know why you would look at design magazines – look at all the other stuff, gardening magazines!” So I get inspired by anything and everything. All the stuff that surrounds us. A lot of designers try to be purists and invent from scratch, but you can’t design in a vacuum, and everything’s been done in one way or another so you may as well as look at everything around you.
And nothing is really ‘original’; in music and the arts you have to source from what’s gone before. And that isn’t a problem. Originality comes from taking what’s out there and making it resonate with people right here, right now. That resonance creates originality, in that time and place – and from there it becomes memorable.
Do you think being a Preston student has benefited you in any way?
It helped me understand the potency of ideas as well as style – which is where it was very different from other Graphics courses. There weren’t really many advertising courses at the time and there wasn’t really a breed of pony-tailed ad student either. But Preston turned out some great advertising people from an ideas based graphics course.
You started out in graphic design, then successfully crossed over into advertising. Was it an easy transition? How did your role change?
I never thought of myself as Advertising. I went for a job at Pentagram after The Chase and John Rushworth suggested I should work in advertising. He recommended me to John Hegarty, and I started as an Art Director specialising in the design and conception of what was then called Interactive. Along the way I did a bit of TV and print.
I was very lucky to have gone to college when I did. I started at Preston Polytechnic and learned Wood, Metal and Phototypesetting – learned to draw, measure and select type. In my third year we got Macs and we all learned those too. In the early days of The Chase we were working with clients writing HTML. By the time I was at BBH, Flash had just been invented and media was exploding from four channels into hundreds, then millions of Internet channels. So it was a natural progression following what was going on in the world rather than a clean jump from Design to Advertising.
Where do you get your ideas from? Do you prefer collaboration or thinking alone?
You always generate ideas on your own. But when two people come together with a set of ideas on the same brief you create a ‘third person’ and the journey goes on a roller coaster ride.
How many of those ideas actually see the light of day? Does most of your work get produced or do you have a heap of rejected ideas?
A small percentage of the ideas you have make it out there. Everybody has ideas everyday – whether they see it or not, but those ideas need to be weighed and sifted, pushed and developed and that’s the creative job. The actual ideas are easy.
The great thing about working in a business that sells ideas, whether in the craft of advertising or design, is that if you can’t get them out there they collect, and as time goes on you end up with a ‘bottom drawer’ you can mine. This is true of all creative industries and creative entrepreneurs.
What would you say has been the key to your success so far?
The art of the possible.
You are currently the Creative Director at MWO in London. How’s it going?
It’s going very well as I speak today. These are difficult times but we’ve put on a lot more business and we’re doing some very nice work. But that’s only my opinion. We have put together a really good crew, and it’s a great little place to work – which is the main concern – it reflects in the work.
What’s the best and worst thing about your job?
There’s nothing bad about my job. Jerry Della Femina (the writer of ‘from those wonderful folks who gave you Pearl Harbor’) once said that it’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on.
What time do you start and finish on an average day? Do you switch off easily?
I start at 8.15. I rarely get lunch. Evenings are often working with the agency or with clients and I’m writing this early on a Saturday morning before I cover off the week’s work. Sunday will be a case of planning Monday. By the way, Financial Directors love Design and Advertising people because they only have to pay them 40 hours a week and they know that for them it’s a 24 hour job!
What do you look for in graduates and their books?
This may seem glib, but if you knew that it wouldn’t be a surprise. Anyone who has studied for three or four years will be good at what they do. So you hope that a surprising personality will cross your path and you’ll try to hold on to them for a bit before they leave.
Finally, any advice for students entering the industry during the recession?
Nose to the grindstone, shoulder to the wheel, pull your socks up, keep your nose clean and you’ll be alright! Or to be more helpful, be an opportunist. When you buy a Herbie you’ll suddenly see them everywhere, so get an idea of who and what you want to be and you’ll start to see more and more of what you want to make and all sorts of ways of doing it.
Fine Art Poster - Manchester Metropolitan University
Christmas Card - The Chase
Advert - Bacardi Breezer