March 11, 2016

Psychedelic dreamscapes and neon signage galore, we talk through typography trends and creative processes with Art Director, Designer and Typographer Samuel Burgess-Johnson. Having worked on the album artwork with The 1975 for their latest album ‘I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It’, Johnson tells us about his experiences jetting to remote locations to photograph dreamy neon-scapes.

UO: Can you tell us a little about your story so far?

I graduated from the Norwich School of Art. Whilst at university I started a clothing line called Fortyounce London; this was my outlet to experiment and discover an enjoyment in image making, which I wasn’t getting from my coursework. Through Fortyounce I made a lot of connections to the music industry and started taking on small commissions for record labels whilst at uni.

After graduating I moved to Melbourne, Australia to be completely alone and focus on my career. This is when I designed Ta-Ku’s ‘Songs To Break Up To’ and The 1975’s debut album. I think those covers got me some attention and it has snowballed from there. I was asked to do Usher’s new album that year, that was the hardest work schedule I have ever had, it was about 90% finished when the whole album got scrapped, so the artwork never saw the light of day.

I moved back to the UK a couple of years ago and it has been non-stop. I just finished The 1975 sophomore album which went no.1 in the UK & US so we are all very very happy, but now I’m pretty tired and taking my first ‘week off’ in about 5 years.

UO: What is it about typography that really captures your attention?

I don’t know, I think I have fallen out of love with typography a little in the last year or so. Nothing excites me in graphic design anymore, which is a little worrying I know.

The typography world in particular is a funny little scene, very similar to the fashion world. There are lots of trendy font foundries and buzz worthy typefaces and they go in and out of style so quickly. I like to try and stay ‘in the know’ with fonts.

UO: Are there any particular themes you find yourself drawn to in your work?

I’ll go through stages of liking a particular colour palette. I think the majority of it is quite dark tonally and inaccessible in content. But I like to think I produce a mixture of themes and moods.

UO: Can you tell us about the experience of working on the new album artwork for The 1975?

Amazing but stressful. Logistically it was very taxing; the neon signs themselves are extremely fragile and expensive and they were being shot in some very remote locations all around the world. But such an amazing project. I got to see parts of the world I probably wouldn’t have and I was given lots of creative freedom. Working with Matty (lead singer) and Jamie Oborne (manager) is an absolute pleasure. Me and Matty are actually housemates so we are always very creatively intertwined and on the same page. Jamie is uncompromising with the vision being achieved and ensures there are no barriers put up by the label which is unbelievably helpful in this industry.

UO: You work predominantly in music, was this always a long-term goal?

No, I thought I would pursue fashion or end up at some design studio. I like working in the music industry and I am very lucky but I don’t think I want to do it forever.

UO: Do you have a creative process when starting a new project? If yes, can you walk us through it?

Unfortunately my lead times are never very long, so I rarely get much time for researching and mood boards. For music, ideally I want to get to know who I am designing for, what they really want to convey aesthetically throughout their campaign and try and gently nudge them into the right direction. If that doesn’t work out, I just do what I think!

UO: How would you describe your artistic style in three words?

Distant, cold, organic

UO: What’s your working soundtrack right now?

Alex G, Lontalius, Molly Nilsson, Florist, Negative Gemini

UO: Where do you want to take your work next?

I wish I could delete a lot of my old work from the internet, I hate it and am embarrassed by it. I want to make sure all my work from now on has more time to be vetted before going out into the world, in what medium I don’t really mind. Me and matty are currently working on a clothing line which I am very excited about. I am also working on a couple of new campaigns for record labels. I will just be keeping busy and see where it goes.