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.

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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!’

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.

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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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Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.

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