Nathan has been a senior designer at Toward for the past seven years. Throughout that time Nathan has helped deliver some of our highest-profile projects including brands, websites and campaigns utilising his amazing motion, illustration and design skills. We asked him about his influences, the projects he’s enjoyed the most and his view on the impact of good design.
What are your influences?
In today's world, influence is all around us. It's difficult to avoid because it's constantly being beamed into our eye sockets.
Back in the 80s and 90s, when there weren't many TV shows for kids and no internet (eek!), I used to spend a lot of time drawing. This eventually turned into a love of art and later a passion for design. During the early years of my creative journey, there were a few key influences that have pretty much stuck with me throughout.
Firstly, let's talk about Ralph Steadman. When I discovered one of his books, I was completely captivated. I love getting lost in detail, but also love letting loose and being expressive. Steadman ticked all the boxes for me. The way he captured energy, details, and surrealism was unlike anything I had ever seen before. His art is both controlled, frantic and brilliant.
During university, I came across two influential figures: Neville Brody and Why Not Associates. Brody, known as the leader of New Wave design, was rebellious and pushed boundaries. Not just the boundaries of design, but the whole idea that designers should be seen more as graphical artists. His designs were visually striking and they made me realise how typography alone could convey powerful expressions. On the other hand, Why Not Associates also embraced experimentation, but what I loved (and still love) about their work is how they managed to create clarity amidst their chaotic creations.
I have to talk about music in this list, even if it may sound cliche for a designer. But it's true, music has always fitted hand in hand with drawing and design. It keeps me company while I work, it motivates me, and it inspires me. Coming from a pre-digital era (eek again!), there was nothing better than flicking through music in Spiller Records, discovering new music and getting my hands on great design whilst salivating over indulgent print finishes and lavish packaging.
Above - Autechre's Incunabula album cover designed by The Designers Republic / Lemon Jelly's Lemonjelly.ky album cover designed by Airside
What have been your favourite projects and why?
Transformation is the best bit of what we do. It’s great working with businesses and organisations who have a vision, but need help making it a reality.
For me, there’s been three projects over the past few years each with great challenges and transformative outcomes.
Sometimes it’s good to embrace the obvious and not using a circle would have been a crime. It created a fun platform to develop a more lateral approach to their visual language. Especially as it avoided the horrible IT visual cliches. Bringing them to life with animation was the icing on the cake. Taking simple illustrations and using motion to add an extra layer of storytelling.
It transformed the business from a run-of-the-mill IT company to something desirable which helped them achieve their goal of acquisition within their 5-year target. Design does make a difference.
I love working with product brands. It’s something tangible and adds another dimension to the creative output—ha yes, an actual dimension.
Vortex is a global game changer using its products to help decarbonise our planet. It was a completely new subject matter, but an exciting one.
Learning about the technology behind their products was really mind-blowing and so too was the design challenge to actually make the invisible (carbon), visible. I enjoy breaking things down to their simplest form and then creating something interesting from it. For Vortex, it was using the form of carbon to create intricate patterns that echoed the product's function. Something unique to them that added impact and narrative to what they do.
Comparing the before and after, the rebrand left the company unrecognisable, but for all the right reasons. It was great helping Vortex shift its position and champion the positive environmental impact they’re striving for.
JayJays was one of those unexpected gems. A small business with great people, a great story, great products and a problem they needed to solve.
Being small doesn’t mean you can’t be big. It’s all about perception. For JayJays, it was its brand and a lack of direction that was holding it back from reaching its potential.
A brilliant design challenge. Bringing authority and confidence to its brand created a real impact. It stands out and stands proud, a homage to the innovation and robustness of its products. It was especially interesting crafting a logo that adapted to fit comfortably across its products without sacrificing any of its elements.
It was massively rewarding to deliver a brand vision that gave its team a real drive and created excitement for the company's future.
What do you love about design the most?
The possibilities. Design isn’t restricted to just one thing or one output. It’s what drew me to it in the first place. Type, illustration, photography, motion, 3D, sculpture—the list goes on. It can be comprised of anything that helps tell the story or grab attention. And with technology developing at crazy rates, there’s always something new to explore.
I love the craft of it too. It’s taking an idea, a vision and creating a visual language that can be used in lots of interesting ways. The little details that are not always seen at first, but make it unique and special.
What’s your favourite software/app/tool?
First off, it has to be a pencil. For some reason, I still find it the most natural way to rough things out - even though I do love my Apple Pencil.
Adobe Illustrator is pretty much a staple. The scalability that you don’t get with pixel-based programs is liberating. Whether you're creating an identity or an illustration, it has precision and flexibility and so much potential, even if it can’t always handle it! Thank god for file recovery!
Procreate is a new entry for me. After using Photoshop and Illustrator for illustrating, Procreate on the iPad has been a game changer. Easy to use and the output is so realistic. Its capability to save layered Photoshop files also gives it a good amount of flexibility.
I started out wanting to be an animator. That was until I realised how many drawings you had to do and how long it takes to do. Enter Adobe After Effects. It’s one of those programs that aren’t too difficult to get to grips with and can create some incredible results. It also is a massive help in how we tell stories.
I’m going to give Sketch a quick shout-out (and any other apps in the same sector). The main reason for this—and programs like it—is symbols. OMG, if you have ever had the misfortune of designing websites in Photoshop, you know what I mean!
How can design affect the success of a business?
Another way to look at it is, how can a lack of design affect the success of a business. As I mentioned before, perception is a powerful thing. Bad design can make great companies appear untrustworthy and great design can make bad companies look like the best in the business.
When there’s a sea of companies all selling the same products or services, people tend to steer towards those that look the part or that they connect with. If you don’t look believable or trustworthy, it doesn’t matter how hard you try, business success will be that much harder.
Take Lidel and Aldi for example. From a cheap alternative to the big supermarkets, they’re now taking on the likes of Tesco and M&S through the power of design and smart advertising.
Good design has the power to reassure and build trust. This plays a massive role in the success of a business. It's the power to stand out from competitors and engage with your audiences.
It’s also a powerful tool to build internal engagement. A business is only as strong as its workforce and design can help create a positive environment that helps motivate and make staff feel part of the family. It unites people under one banner and empowers them.