Ten questions for... Algy Batten

Ahead of them taking to the WEDF stage, we ask each of our speakers ten questions. From our upcoming talk, Doing Good Design // Design Doing Good, we have Algy (of Art of Ping Pong fame, amongst other things) stepping up to bat.

1. What was the Eureka moment that made you become a designer?

It’s funny, I never wanted to become a graphic designer as a kid. I would pick the logos off everything I owned. I always felt that logos distracted from the intentional look of something and I never wanted to advertise’ a make (if you remember things were makes’ back then – who makes your telly?”, what make is that stereo?”)

I went to art college as I wanted to study silversmithing. But I discovered I really enjoyed words and I felt I had lots to say, so by the time I finished Art Foundation I wanted to be a graphic designer. It was the first time I felt really passionate about it, even though I had done work experience at design agencies during school.

2. What was the first thing you ever designed?

If we’re not restricting this chat to graphics, then it all started with making fantasy figure chess sets as a 12 year old kid. I would sell them in local bric a brac shops. But if we’re talking graphics the first paid gig I ever did was at University. I designed the identity for a local restaurant. So I guess I had the entrepreneurial thing going on from a young age.

3. Where did you study and who taught you?

Art Foundation at Loughborough. 

Graphic Design Degree at Northumbria – if I’m being honest there wasn’t one tutor that lit my fire, but the course as a whole was good. We had Terry Dowling, George someone, Steve Burdett, Sue and Steve (I’m sure they did have surnames, but they came as a double act, so I can’t remember…)

Like most creatives I don’t want to think I’ve created my best work yet.

— Algy Batten

4. Design heroes? Who influenced you in those early days? And who influences you now?

I don’t think I had a single graphic design hero whilst on Art Foundation. I just didn’t feel exposed to that world. And once I got to University to specialise in graphics I felt a bit of a phoney as a result. I couldn’t really name any of the top designers or studios. I mean I grew up in a village near Leicester! Nobody chatted about graphic design, we chatted about BMX bikes and CB radios.

And I don’t think I have a key influence nowadays either. But I feel inspired by certain people. I find Eike König’s approach to his studio and his own practice inspiring. And, as Art of Ping Pong is part of the UsTwo Adventures gang I’m enjoying getting to know Mills from UsTwo.

5. Where was your first creative job? What did you learn?

Apart from internships and a bit of freelance in the early days, my first real job was at Browns in 1998, a few months after they formed.

What did I learn? I learnt how to cope, how to push myself, how to take responsibility, how to work crazy hours, how to set type, how to layout information, how to run projects, how deal with clients, fuck I learnt almost everything possible in two and half years before I had to leave due to being totally and utterly burnt out.

6. What’s your favourite piece of work you’ve created? And what’s your favourite piece of work someone else created?

Like most creatives I don’t want to think I’ve created my best work yet. Over my career so far I have different favourites that relate to different eras of my career. 

In my Browns days I loved Art Directing, designing and writing the headlines for a magazine client that I got to run on my own. I won a Design Week award and a Total Publishing award in the first year of my career which I was super chuffed about.

During my Fivefootsix days I think I’m most proud of the company itself more than any one specific output. A business involves it’s culture, it’s people and it’s work. It’s much more than just graphic design and for me so much more rewarding.

Images courtesy of Browns 

7. When you’re stuck in a rut, how to you get creative ideas flowing?

Surround myself with as much information on the project, the brief, the background, the context etc as possible. And then go for a run. See what that throws up and then talk to people, people from all sorts of industries and backgrounds. The broader the context and the space for our ideas the better they can be.

8. The worst thing that ever happened to you during one of your talks?

I’ve done my best at avoiding the talk game for as long as possible. I count this as my first proper talk. Ask me this after the talk and I’m sure there’ll be something! ;-)

9. The best book you’ve read lately?

I have an awful memory for things like this. But the one that has stuck in my mind from a few years back is The Refusal of Work by David Frayne.

10. If you could have a super power what would it be?

I reckon any of the super powers would do me just fine. I mean swinging from tall buildings on your own web is probably every bit as good as flying. Although I might pass up the turning green and splitting my clothes when I’m angry thing…

Images courtesy of the Art of Ping Pong

11. (cheeky 11th question just for you) How did The Art of Ping Pong project come about and what’s next?

If I say too much here I’ll be giving away most of the content of my talk! But the creation of Art of Ping Pong was the result of lots of independent stars aligning at once. I think that’s called serendipity.

And what’s next? I want to get back to the actual game of ping pong again, by putting on a few tournament nights, bringing music, ping pong, art and people together.

But the priority for Art of Ping Pong, in order for it to continue, is for me to look at ways it can support itself by generating it’s own income. The charity campaigns have grown so much that they are no longer sustainable on free time, pocket money and continuously pulling in favours.

We sell a few artist’s prints which you can buy directly from our website, but doing this alone didn’t match my ambitions for Art of Ping Pong. 

So I’m now setting out to create the world’s coolest ping pong brand, you know nothing too ambitious. The (potential) freedom of generating our own money means I can also be more ambitious with the charity campaigns that I want to pursue. So it’s a for profit, for purpose’ ping pong lifestyle brand, I think that’s the term.

At the moment this involves product design, our own tables and our own bats. Like I said earlier graphic design is only one creative outlet that I enjoy exploring and I’m really excited about the product design side of things at the minute too.