Martin Roach, group creative director

 12 July 2013

Martin started out in information design, but soon broadened his offering to other areas of communication design. After working both in-house and for agencies, he founded Epitype.

epitype are involved in all sorts of design – so much so that it can be hard to narrow it down to just one area.
epitype are involved in all sorts of design – so much so that it can be hard to narrow it down to just one area.

Hometown?

I'm from Shepherd's Bush in London. I now live in Hanwell, but the studio is based in the Bush.

What job do you do?

I'm the group creative director for epitype, a branding design company which is underpinned by ethical principles.

I'm also a guest lecturer on ethical design at Goldsmiths University

How did you get started in design?

My route into design was the traditional academic route: foundation course, A levels then university.

I studied Information Design, which is concerned with how information is understood, presented and then disseminated. If you came out of university with that degree now, people would understand how you could apply that knowledge – the vocabulary is there. 

"The design world increasingly needs people with all sorts of abilities and backgrounds."

In the 1990s, it wasn't the case. There were only a few information design agencies, and they had very little online presence, so I had to sell the idea of what an information designer could offer each time I went for an interview.

My job hunt consisted of calling companies to find vacancies, and joining recruitment agencies.

I didn't do any unpaid work experience because it wasn't financially possible. I think this had the effect of making me quite sharp. But it might have held me back from pursuing the more creative agencies that would have expected work experience on my CV.

My first job was for an agency which did things like mapping and diagrams. This was followed by a brand-orientated job with another agency.

Eventually, I worked in-house as a designer at Goldsmiths, University of London, where I won quite a few awards for designing their promotional material.

Finally, I founded epitype.

What qualifications do you have?

There was no Graphic Design GCSE when I was at school. So I did Design & Technology, which didn't have much of a focus on communication design – my area of interest.

I did A levels in Art, Design & Technology, and Philosophy. I got my degree in Information Design from the University of Westminster.

What do you do at work?

My job is a bit strange because I'm the creative director, which means I can go for a long time without actually doing any 'formal' design.

But if we look at design in a broader sense my day is full of it – from designing systems to information sequences.

A lot of what I do involves making sure the output from epitype is at the quality level it should be.

"Design is something you will have to keep learning about forever if you want a job in it."

Like many design agencies these days, at epitype we're involved in a wide range of design disciplines. It's hard to narrow it down to just one area, so we don't.

One day we could be designing a website, the next a business model and the next a shop fit out.

The design world increasingly needs people with all sorts of abilities and backgrounds. There are lots of important skills that are not explicitly design-focused, such as writing. Every designer should be a good writer as it's a key part of communication.

When a client comes to epitype and outlines their needs, the first thing I do is ask them why they need it. It's my responsibility to decide whether it's something we want to work on, and if we are right for them.

When we're thinking about whether to take on a design project, we always consider the emotional attachment involved. It's very important to care about something and not just measure it in terms of time or money.

What's the best thing about your job?

Having a blank sheet of paper and a 0.38mm pen is the best aspect of my job. Anything is possible at that point. 

And the worst thing about your job?

Missing something if you've cut corners in a design process. 

Every piece of design should be tested in some way. If there are constraints on the design process, such as money or time, then you are removing failsafes. 

Without a testing system, you are doing art and not design.

How do I get into design?

1. See it as a constant journey

Design is something you will have to keep learning about forever if you want a job in it. 

"Having a blank sheet of paper and a 0.38mm pen is the best aspect of my job. Anything is possible at that point."

This doesn't mean ongoing academic learning. But you'll need to learn about your strengths and how you behave and react in certain situations. Most importantly, look at how you react to different visual stimuli, such as colour; you might be surprised.

In that sense of constant observation, design mirrors science.

2. Look beyond design

There's design and then there's the world of design. You don't necessarily need to study design itself to be in that world and contribute to it well.

For example, at Epitype we have a brand strategist whose degree is in sociology. His understanding of humans and society has helped him do his job well.

A good branding agency should look for diverse skills.

3. Understand humans to understand design

Strip it back down to the question of how you feel about, for example, a flash of colour. What reaction does it give you? You need to have a sense of empathy and a degree of observation to then understand what feelings that colour will inspire in others.

This is also why diversity is important to design. Different kinds of characters create rounded design environments, which are more likely to be able to step into the shoes of the people who will be using the end product.


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