Ten questions for...Craig Oldham

We welcome Craig Oldham to Bristol later this month. Grab your ticket here and read on for a sneak preview of what’s shaping up to be a great night.

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

I’m not sure there was a single moment, but more an accumulation of moments. I didn’t know what design was or that you could be a designer, but I was interested in certain things and liked certain things (film posters, VHS and game covers, book jackets, posters etc) and it wasn’t until a teacher gave me the thread that stitched them altogether, telling me a designer works on them. That’s when I started on the trajectory.

2. What was the first thing you ever designed?

I won a drawing competition when I was about 7 or so. At school I designed different point-of-sale stuff for games I liked. But as a pro’ it was a wine label when I was on placement. All of the aforementioned were shit too, by the way.

3. Where did you study and who taught you?

With hindsight, I can see that being taught went well beyond school, and the formative aspects of learning about creativity and design (though without those two terms) were all around me in my community. But formally, I was lucky to have an ex-engineer teach me Graphic Products at GCSE, and he put me on the tracks into a career by informing me about not only what to do to be a Graphic Designer (study this at A‑level etc) but also what Graphic Design was. 

I remember him teaching us about typography when I was around 13 — ascenders, descenders, x‑heights and the likes — and that was incredible. My A‑Level tutor, Mary, was an enormous influence and furthered that teaching and guidance. I think today more than ever I still hear Mary’s words ringing in my ear from those years ago (and even today, as we keep in touch). Jon at Falmouth was also influential to me. It’s not an unfamiliar story for people to have had these great teachers help them achieve their ambitions and work towards what they want to do. I wasn’t (and am not) special, for me my background just underlines the importance that teachers have in people’s lives and how vital their roles are. They should be respected and revered in society a lot more than they are.

As long as you can think we can teach you everything else.

— Ben Casey

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

I don’t like the idea of heroes, per se. I think first and foremost you’re attracted by good work, then you try to find out who did it. But there are people whom naturally influence me in all areas of my life I guess — my mum, my Grandad, the teachers I’ve mentioned — were all incredible influences. I was also obsessed with horror films and though I only know now who was responsible, the craft and ideas in them sticks with me.

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

I worked at The Partners and The Chase essentially. They were my first gigs and kinda blended into one. In terms of learnings, well, so much. At the point of entry you learn so much so fast it’s hard to isolate certain things, but I remember Ben Casey’s words: As long as you can think we can teach you everything else”. I still perpetuate that to others now. 

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

Again, favouritism is a strange concept, and I don’t really do it with work. I try to find at least one thing I love about any project I do, and not compare and discriminate the work because each has completely different parameters and contexts. Favourite work of others… erm, I love the work of my friends, Sarah Boris (her political work especially), Rejane dal Bello, Naresh Ramchandani. I was recently introduced to the work of sound designer Yoko Sen, which blew my mind. 

From Studio Rejane Dal Bello

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

Work. Just keep grafting. Not necessarily on the same project, but always keeping moving. That could be through play, mistakes, going for a walk, thinking, restarting, or just crafting, but always thinking about something. You often find the solution to one problem somewhere else entirely, but you have to have a prepared mind (to paraphrase Pasteur).

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

I remember a talk at Norwich once where the screen just failed so I just talked about nonsense for a bit whilst it was fixed. Part of me thought about singing a song, which I’m glad I didn’t. but to be honest I’m fairly relaxed about shit’ when shit happens’.

9. The best book you’ve read lately?

They Live by Craig… haha. OK. I recently re-read Neuromancer by William Gibson. If you liked the Matrix, it’s all there.

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

I’d probably go with shapeshifting or something!

You often find the solution to one problem somewhere else entirely, but you have to have a prepared mind.

— Louis Pasteur

Craig’s talk is on Wednesday 27 November 2019 at Arnolfini.

The Office of Craig // @OfficeofCraig // Rough Trade Books