They say that if you get a job doing something that you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life. When I’ve mentioned that adage to people recently, the majority have scoffed, as if satisfaction in a job is something distant or idyllic.
But when Sean Rees tells me about what he does from an echoey studio in London, I get the feeling, he doesn’t feel like he’s doing many days of work. When I ask what Sean does day to day he replies, “In between drinking copious amounts of coffee, playing darts and colouring in, we mostly work on branding and identity projects.”
As well as being a writer for the popular graphic blog FormFiftyFive, Rees is a designer at Purpose, a brand communications consultancy that specialises in brand identity. Sean has been at Purpose for just over a year, where most recently he’s been spending his time working on a brand identity refresh for the Design Council, between work with Orange, Epson and WorldSkills. Asked about Purpose, he said, “In my opinion, they are one of the rare studios who strike a balance between great ideas, and beautiful craft. It’s a rare combination of the two.”
When talking to a designer who works on branding, it’s often quite hard to get a feel for their work. If they’re good at what they do, design becomes seamless with their client’s brand. However, fortunately, Rees’ personal portfolio gives a peak into the work that he was producing several years ago.
Design Council brand refresh
The Design Council needed a much more commercially agile identity to help them market their products and services – following a move from public to private sector.
Positioning the Design Council as the ‘Design Navigator’ – leading people to real and tangible benefits through the use of design.
“My latest work is not online yet I’m afraid, the work on my website is from 2008,” reads an e-mail that he sent me while we are arranging our interview. Still, the work that he was producing in 2008 is incredibly good.
For example, the identity that Rees completed for the British Ceramics Biennial is a vibrant mark of curls and waves which is consistent with the idea of ceramics – almost molten. The mark and brand that Sean produced under direction at BB/Saunders in 2008 remains.
“It was the summer of 2005 and I was in my second year of University, I was fortunate enough to be offered a bursary placement at The Brand Union (formally called Enterprise IG),” he says of his route into the industry. “It was a fantastic experience, I got the chance to work on some great projects with international brands, alongside some incredibly talented people. I soaked it all up like a sponge. I must have made some good tea or something because shortly after that, I was offered a role as a Junior Designer, which I accepted and joined right after finishing University.”
Sean worked at The Brand Union for two and a half years, where he worked with clients such as Vodafone and Mercedes McLaren.
“I learnt a great deal,” he says, “but it being my only experience in the industry, I felt ready to take on a fresh challenge, and moved to a small independent studio called BB/Saunders.”
Rees explains that working at BB/Saunders was a great experience for him, “There was a great emphasis on craft, typography and clever design solutions. The team was small, so it was very hands on, you got to experience every stage of the job, I was learning a great deal incredibly quickly.”
However, Sean was made redundant in 2008,
“It was right in the middle of the recession, and unfortunately we were hit hard. Eventually the studio closed it’s doors, which was heartbreaking because I had a lot of admiration and respect for them,” he explains.
Then, there was a period where Rees worked freelance – as a way to continue earning while he found another studio job. Sean then accepted a position at The Partners, where he worked for just over two years winning awards along the way – most notably his work for Richard House, which won Gold at Cannes Lions 2011, and received the Chairman’s Award at Cream 2011. Asked about his experience there Sean says, “It was a great experience. They really do aim high with everything that they do, and their reputation in the industry is testament to that.”
In search of progression and personal development, Sean joined his current studio, Purpose in 2011.
I asked him if he has a personal brand, a style that he puts into his work or an approach that he takes,
“I don’t think I have a style, in fact I’d say that I’m absolutely against having any kind of personal style – I’m not an artist, I’m a designer. As a designer, it’s not about me. It’s about giving the client an appropriate and a distinctive solution. It’s not about me imposing my style or aesthetic onto them,” he replies.
Sean is clearly very focused on what he’s working on and his separation of design and art interests me. Many designers seem to have to fight very hard against the temptation to express themselves at the cost of their client’s brand. But does an attitude like Rees’ stifle creativity?
“Ideas should always be born out of the clients brief, and the solution should be in response to that and be wholly original and tailored to their needs. I won’t impose ideas that aren’t appropriate. At the end of the day, I’m providing a service,” he continues. “I’m a hired gun and I’m there to deliver something original and appropriate. I don’t have an approach that I will use for all clients. I think actually it’s almost a bit egotistical to impose your ideas on your client.”
Outside of work, Rees, who recently became engaged to fellow designer and Cardiff graduate, Emma Laura Jones, says he is a typical Welsh man from the Rhondda Valley,
“I enjoy long walks on the beach and holding hands…” he laughs. “Actually, I’m pretty much a total cliché of a Welsh man. I’m love rugby. I enjoy going the pub. Recently, I’ve been getting into cycling, the alternative in London is the tube, which I hate, it’s always hot, busy and sweaty, starting your day with aggravation and an armpit in your face is not ideal, I find that on a cycling to work, I feel more awake, energised and alert. I’m getting quite addicted to it.”
Rees is certainly full of sensible ideas. As we’re finishing our interview, he says that his philosophy is the same as graphic designer Anthony Burrill, “‘Work hard and be nice to people.’ I think it’s important to be nice. It’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice.”13 June 2012