Summer 2021

Ten projects by Jim Sutherland

A graphic designer downsizes to spend more time thinking, studying and designing without commercial studio pressures. What could possibly go right? By Simon Esterson. Portrait by Philip Sayer [EXTRACT]

For Jim Sutherland, design projects are all about ideas. There is no signature style applied across his work; no obsession with a group of typefaces. Instead, each project has at its core an idea that determines its visual direction. The identity for the Kings Place music centre is based on the sound waves generated by different pieces of music; the stamps celebrating crime writer Agatha Christie are full of clues to be discovered; in his marque for Start-rite the ‘R’ letters sport pairs of shoes …

What fuels the ideas engine? Sutherland surrounds himself with books, goes to exhibitions and talks, captures images and thoughts. …
‘I feel that since I left Hat-trick I’m almost doing my own design MA. It’s been a revelation to me of all the things that are out there to imbibe. … ‘Notebooks to me are key. The ones from Hat-trick days were lists of things to do. Since I’ve left, they’ve got far more drawings and thoughts and bits out of books in them. They’ve become much richer. When I do student talks I use them to show the process … they’re a working tool. And they get me away from the computer. …
‘I design everything, including personal things. If you have kids, you design their birth announcements. It’s a mental exercise. It’s like a gym. You keep designing stuff and you get better at it.’

1. Start-rite shoes, 2017. Designers: Alice Tosey, Rosey Trickett. Strategy: Jo Graham Consulting. Lettering: Roger Taylor, Jeremy Tankard. Photography: Fiona Burrage. Illustration: Rebecca Sutherland.
Top. Portrait by Philip Sayer.

SR_press_high res3 CROP

Start-rite is a children’s shoe company, with its famous poster of a young boy and girl, ‘the twins’, starting out down a long and metaphorical straight road. ‘They approached me through a strategy company that was looking at the brand’s future,’ says Sutherland. ‘It was probably the first really big project I got on my own. We looked at the typography and realised early on there’s two “R”s and just by adding serifs you get the twins’ feet.

2. Agatha Christie stamps, 2016. Client: Royal Mail. Illustrator: Neil Webb. Designer: Alice Tosey.

StudioSutherl&_AgathaChristie CROP

Studio Sutherl& designed a set of stamps for the Royal Mail that
celebrated crime writer Agatha Christie through six of her books, with illustrations by Neil Webb. ‘Because it’s a set of six stamps we hid the word AGATHA, one letter in each stamp. ‘T’ is on the tea cup … with some projects I don’t know when to stop!’

5. The Human Atlas projects. Artist / Photographer: Marcus Lyon, Photography / Sound: Joe Briggs-Price, Producer: Camila Pastorelli, Maps: Laurent Brindeau, Sound: Rethink Audio, App creation: Calvium, DNA analysis: Family Tree DNA.
Right. Cover of i.Detroit, 2020. Designer Rosey Tricket.

Marcus Lyon, the British artist and photographer, has so far made three books under the series title ‘The Human Atlas’. The first was about the people of Brazil, followed by books about Germany and the city of Detroit. Lyon takes portraits, records interviews and commissions an ancestral DNA analysis of his subjects to tell the complex stories of people’s identity.

Lyon says that the project ‘endeavours to hold a mirror up to society and encourage audiences to question their own roles and responsibilities to their communities, cities and fellow human beings.’

Sutherland travels to the locations to get a sense of place, which then influences each book’s design. In addition, there are exhibitions of the photographs and an app that plays the sound recordings. ‘You can scan the portraits with the app and they literally speak to you as you look into their eyes - it’s completely magical,’ says Sutherland.

The first Human Atlas book, Somos Brasil, was published in 2017, followed by We.Deutschland in 2019. i.Detroit, delayed by the pandemic, was just binding when Sutherland spoke to Eye in August 2020, and was launched in October. Lyon secures money to shoot, design and print the books from local organisations. For i.Detroit the Kresge Foundation have funded a large-format book printed in London by Boss with 100 vivid six-colour portraits and pages of infographics immaculately printed in tints of silver and black.

‘When we started talking about Somos, I said to Marcus “I’ll do it for nothing if you take me to Brazil.” He said “I’ll take you to Brazil and I’ll pay you.”

Spread from Somos Brasil, 2017. Designer. Alice Tosey.

‘I found this note recently that said: “I wonder if this is the future of the studio?” I like the fact of having an excuse to go somewhere because you’re working on a project.

‘I thought Detroit was a fascinating place. Because of urban decline, it’s suffered from “ruin porn”, with photographers making lurid pictures of its decaying buildings. Everybody there hates that attitude, and this book is a positive view of the city. It’s about people that stayed and people that returned and built something up.
i.Detroit has been two and a half years of the studio’s life – 500 pages of maps, photographs of individuals in Detroit and DNA results. I think The Human Atlas is the most nourishing project we’ve done in the studio.

‘Book projects become so personal because you invest so much into them. They’re so multilayered. We did Somos not knowing there was going to be another atlas. These books shouldn’t be uniform, there should be something about the place in each one. Even just in terms of format and colour, using black and silver felt appropriate for Detroit. I liked the Henry Ford quote, “any colour as long as it’s black”, and the silver is quite automotive and industrial.

‘Mapping is key to this edition, Detroit is a gridded city. Music is key, too: we’ve had a seven-inch single pressed to tip in on the inside back cover. Techno music pioneer Derrick May is in the book, and he’s used sounds recorded by Marcus to create one side of the single; Brian Eno did the other. The next atlas is De.Coded, about Silicon Valley, which we’re hoping to shoot in 2021.’

6. Kings Place, 2019. Designer: Rosey Trickett. Strategy: Jo Marsh, Winster Marsh. Software engineer / Digital media artist. Joe Pochciol.

That Studio Sutherl&’s 2019 identity system for London arts venue Kings Place takes influence from music is no accident, writes Mark Sinclair. It is generated by sound itself. Referencing both the curving shape of the Dixon Jones-designed building and the variety of performances, festivals and events it hosts, the venue’s visual identity comes from a strategy conceived by Winster Marsh that positions the space as ‘the cultural pulse of King’s Cross’ …

8. Perspectiva, 2021. Designer: Rosey Trickett.

Perspectiva press images1

Any project that involves the game of chess gets Jim Sutherland’s attention. ‘I was recommended to [philosopher] Jonathan Rowson, who is a former chess Grandmaster. He and another philosopher are setting up a global think tank, Perspectiva, to look at the world’s problems in a different way.’ Perspectiva says it aims to ‘cultivate the imaginative and emotional capacity required to usher in a world that is technologically wise and ecologically sound.’

‘There’s a website and they’re going to publish pamphlets and books,’ says Sutherland. ‘Jonathan wrote a book The Moves That Matter about things he learnt from playing chess applied to life: it’s written in 64 sections. I tried to explain I’m not very good at chess, but I like the graphic language of it. I love playing chess. I love the focus. We’ve done an identity for Perspectiva which uses a grid of multiple perspectives: it’s a very rational interpretation of the name. It’s based on a series of invisible cubes. This is about working with someone who is doing something really interesting.’

Simon Esterson, art director of Eye, London

Read the full version and see all ten projects in Eye no. 101 vol. 26, 2021

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