interview with designer brett wickens of ammunition interview with designer brett wickens of ammunition
jun 18, 2015

interview with designer brett wickens of ammunition

interview with designer brett wickens, partner at ammunition

 

 

together with robert brunner and matt rolandson brett wickens leads the design studio ammunition, based in san francisco. ammunition’s work combines expertise in physical and digital product design, service design, brand identity, user experience, graphic design and packaging. brett told designboom more about his early influences and the multidisciplinary approach of ammunition…

 

 

designboom: what originally made you want to become a graphic designer?

 

brett wickens: it was definitely the music industry of the late 1970s. once a week I would take a trip from my home town in canada to the city – toronto. there was a great import record store there called the record peddler. every tuesday they would get the new albums in and I would browse through them. some of the best designers of the day were working for bands, like malcolm garrett and neville brody. around 1979 though, a new style of album cover came along which attracted me. it was minimal, resonant—very anti-establishment to what was going on at the time. I soon saw a pattern—all of them were designed by peter saville, for my favorite bands of the time such as joy division, durutti column, and orchestral maneuvers in the dark. I knew I had to meet him.

 

 

02_BrettWickens_Ammunition_Work_BeatsPill2_Packaging02
beats pill packaging by ammunition
client: beats by dre

 

03_BrettWickens_Ammunition_Work_BeatsPill2_Packaging04
beats pill packaging by ammunition
client: beats by dre

 

 

DB: …how did you meet and work with peter saville?

 

BW: in the summer of 1981 I visited him in london (he was gracious enough to meet with me), and I showed him what little work I had from my time at the ontario college of art. he hired me on as an intern. 5 years later I was his partner. we worked together in london for 12 years.

 

 

DB: how did you come to work at ammunition?

 

BW: I then spent a few years working at pentagram in london as an associate partner, with peter. before moving to LA in 1994 to become the creative director at frankfurt balkind.

 

I spent nearly 5 years there designing print and multimedia campaigns for most of the major hollywood studios. it was the most risk-averse environment I’ve ever been in—nothing like the ‘anything goes’ days of working in london.

 

fortunately, I was introduced to clement mok in san francisco, who offered me a creative director role at studio archetype. shortly after I moved on to erik spiekermann’s company, metadesign where I became the creative director/principal. I stayed at meta until 2008 – when I joined robert brunner at ammunition.

 

over the course of 6 years at metadesign I’d increasingly felt that the future of creating value through design was going to be about the combination of physical products, strategy and digital/print graphic design, and ammunition embodied the same spirit.

 

robert has been a friend since the late 90s and we’d often thought about working together – when he started ammunition it was the right moment for us both. my meta partner matt rolandson also joined us at the same time.

 

04_BrettWickens_Ammuntion_Work_PiecexPiece_BrandID04
piece x piece brand identity by ammunition
client: piece x piece

 

05_BrettWickens_Ammuntion_Work_PiecexPiece_BrandID02
piece x piece brand identity by ammunition
client: piece x piece

 

 

DB: how would you describe your approach to design?

 

BW: design gives form to strategy. so, the first thing is to figure out what’s worth designing, what it means, how it stacks up on the world stage, and what strategy we are going to use to get it there. then my team and I start formulating ideas about what would be interesting to do given those inputs. the main thing I always press everyone on is to turn that thinking into new ideas, things that other designers aren’t doing, but that still makes sense. I get very bored by the mostly lazy landscape of current ‘graphic design’.

 

06_BrettWickens_Ammunition_Work_Mesosphere_BrandID01
mesosphere brand identity by ammunition
client: mesosphere

 

07_BrettWickens_Ammunition_Work_Mesosphere_BrandID02
mesosphere brand identity by ammunition
client: mesosphere

 

 

DB: who or what has been the biggest single influence on your way of thinking?

 

BW: I’d say there are three main influencers. peter saville has always been a huge influence for me. he is expert at predicting where things are going, then deciding how to express it in the most efficient and effective was possible. he once told me: ‘the solution to a problem might be as simple as choosing the right typeface, putting in the right place, at the right size, and in the right color. nothing more, nothing less.’

 

in recent years, my partners robert and matt have been very influential. robert is a master of intuition and forecasting when it comes to design. he quickly knows what is right, and how to guide talent towards designing new and successful products. matt is a brilliant design, business and UX strategist. his command of the way design and business intersect in the world is both unique and inspiring.

 

views on design are always evolving. in looking around the design world, I’ve come to the realization that graphic design unto itself is relatively unimportant. there are lots of competent designers out there, but unless you can connect design to something of meaning (like interesting products and services), then it sits in a vacuum.

 

08_BrettWickens_Ammuntion_Work_Leeo_Brand01
leeo brand identity by ammunition
client: leeo

 

09_BrettWickens_Ammunition_Work_Leeo_Interface_05
leeo brand identity by ammunition
client: leeo

 

 

DB: what would you say is your strongest skill and how have you honed that skill over the years?

 

BW: editing. in the same way that a great movie is not really great until it’s been edited to create a compelling and emotional storytelling arc, I feel that my role is to absorb a lot of inputs, both strategic and cultural, and work with my team to turn that into something important, something that helps amplify the product or service we are working alongside. I can usually look at a number of options and quickly edit them down to things that show clear strategy, balance between familiar and novel, and the capacity to be the right ‘empty vessel’ that can acquire its meaning over time.

 

 11_BrettWickens_Ammunition_Work_Polaroid_Cube_Packaging_03
polaroid cube packaging by ammunition
client: polaroid

 

 

10_BrettWickens_Ammunition_Work_Polaroid_Cube_Packaging_04
polaroid cube accessories packaging by ammunition
client: polaroid

 

 

DB: what type of brief or project do you enjoy working on the most and why?

 

BW: anything that makes a difference. at ammunition, most of our partnerships stem all the way from helping our partners and clients determine what to make, how to position it, how to message it, how to visually brand it, how to package it, and how to communicate it, all driven by a profound desire to make it real, and get it to market. I don’t like design assignments that stay theoretical, or that don’t lead to anything tangible.

 

12_BrettWickens_Adobe-Creative-Suite-2
adobe design strategy, packaging, branding and corporate communications
studio: metadesign
client: adobe

 

13_BrettWickens_Adobe-Creative-Suite-poster
adobe design strategy, packaging, branding and corporate communications
studio: metadesign
client: adobe

 

 

DB: what are your thoughts on specialisation vs generalisation?

 

BW: the best designers today are the ones who are generalized specialists or specialized generalists. the boundaries of doing your bit then kicking it over the wall to someone else are gone. designers need to be fluent (or at least conversational) in user experience, static and dynamic graphic design, strategy and language – overtop the customary bedrocks of color, typography, form, etc.

 

14_BrettWickens_San-Francisco-Ballet-logotype
san francisco conservatory of music brand identity
studio: metadesign
client: san francisco conservatory of music

 

15_BrettWickens_SFCM_Street_Banner_FIN
san francisco conservatory of music brand identity
studio: metadesign
client: san francisco conservatory of music

 

 

DB: how do you think online design resources (blogs, tutorials, forums etc.) have influenced the graphic design being produced today?

 

BW: to some extent, they have commoditized graphic design. in the same way as everything online, it’s interesting for a minute then it gets pushed out of sight when something else interesting comes along (unless you can be bothered to pin it to your pinterest boards for safekeeping.) you can spend all day looking at great, influential design, only to realize that there is a lot of it, and it’s not really that special anymore.

 

youtube is the new master, and designers are the apprentices. you can learn how to do many things in five minutes or less.

 

…but that doesn’t mean that technology doesn’t have a role in furthering the design agenda in the world, if used properly.

 

16_BrettWickens_Sopranos_Logo
the sopranos logotype
studio: franfurt balkind partners
client: HBO

 

 

DB: what are you currently fascinated by and how is it feeding into your work?

 

BW: ideas distinguish designers, technology distinguishes eras. I’m very excited about the ways that technology can challenge our expectations about what graphic design is. often it’s about hijacking technologies that are readily available (after effects, cinema 4D, processing) and then stretching them in ways they weren’t designed to go. it’s experiment and discovery. you don’t always end up with something useful, but when you do, it’s spectacular.

 

17_BrettWickens_Substance_Front
joy division substance album cover
studio: peter saville associates
client: factory records

 

 

DB: what are you passionate about besides your work?

 

BW: hah! first, my family. second, photography. third, music. I follow the work of many photographers, more fine art than commercial. if I wasn’t doing what I do now, i’d be a fine art photographer, or an experimental electronic musician holed up in a sound lab somewhere making music that 10 people would buy.

 

 

DB: do you have any superstitious beliefs or rules that you live by?

 

BW: I really don’t. I’m quite pragmatic in that I believe we make our own destiny based on the things we’re most passionate about.

 

18_BrettWickens_JoyDivision_SubstancePoster
joy division atmosphere single poster
studio: peter saville associates
client: factory records

 

 

DB: what’s the best piece of advice you have heard and repeat to others?

 

BW: I have two: one statement, and one question:

 

‘good design is not about what you put in, it’s about what you leave out.’

 

‘what kind of culture is produced by a society that lives and governs itself by opinion polls?’

 

19_BrettWickens_JoyDivision_AtmospherePoster
joy division atmosphere single poster
studio: peter saville associates
client: factory records

 

 

DB: what’s your personal motto?

 

BW: less costs more… hah! I have to credit leo marmol of the great architectural firm marmol radziner with that one. he used it in reference to the way they design and build their modernist, minimalist buildings. everything’s exposed, so it’s all in the detailing. you can’t disguise something shitty behind anything else, so the way it goes together has to be precise and exquisite. that takes talent, time and money.

  • Leeo logo is a rotated TDK logo…

    Filip says:

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