A Few Minutes with David Airey

Graphic Designer David Airey at Work

David Airey needs no introduction in graphic design circles. But, in case you haven’t yet come across David’s work, he describes himself as “a graphic designer and occasional author [of the books Logo Design Love and Work for Money, Design for Love] who specialises in designing brand identities.” He lives in Northern Ireland, but his clients are scattered across the far reaches of the planet. David was kind enough to answer a few questions for today’s blog post.

You’re a well-known graphic designer & blogger [Logo Design Love, David Airey.com & Identity Designed], how is it that you’re able to take time to answer questions from somebody you’ve never met?

If someone takes the time to contact me, I do all I can to help with whatever he or she asks. It’s not always possible, unfortunately — I receive a ton of email as a result of my websites — but much of my time is spent replying to messages.

How did you get into logo design?

After my GCSEs I went to a local college to study art and design. From there, it was obvious I enjoyed design more than art, and my focus shifted to graphic design. Creating logos was a favourite part of my course, then after further studies and some time in general design employment, I made the switch to self-employment where I could focus solely on brand identity work.

Should every business have a logo?

From a designer’s viewpoint I’d say it depends on your definition of logo. For me (my definitions have changed during my learning, and perhaps will again), a logo is the combination of a wordmark and a symbol. A business doesn’t need both. Often, a wordmark is enough, particularly when the brand name is distinctive, such as Google or Sony or Honda.

Who and what inspires your design work?

Nature, architecture, engineering, my parents, my peers… I think you can find inspiration in almost anything if you’re curious enough.

Many of your logos are very clean and contemporary. What do you think of the trend towards ornate and embellished logos in recent years?

I often see various styles classified as recent trends, but if you look to the past, the styles have been done already. It’s just that people don’t immediately remember, so they think it’s new. The more simplistic the appearance, the easier it is to remember at a quick glance, and the more enduring the design becomes, hence my favoured style.

Do you always start design projects with a pencil sketch?

I start by asking questions. Lots of them. But a pencil is always used when it comes to recording preliminary ideas.

What was your favorite project?

I really don’t know. I’ve had a lot of fun working with most of my clients. I couldn’t pick one over the rest.

You grew up in Bangor, Northern Ireland, do you think there’s anything “Irish” about your designs? For that matter, is there any “regional flavour” in contemporary design at all?

I hope there’s nothing more Irish about my work than the fact that it’s the designer’s nationality. Most of my clients are overseas, and none have an Irish product. But the “regional flavour” you mention could be important depending on the project. If a product or service was (and always would be) distinct to a geographic location, then it lends itself well to a design style that locals are familiar with. The Peru identity comes to mind.

To quote sign-painter Ira Coyne:  “If the guy who’s been working at some job that he hates moves on and opens that coffee shop or store he has always wanted to own, that will change the landscape of America.”  What advice would you have for someone starting a small business (Clearly yours has been a success)?

In the words of Nicholas Bate, “Be brilliant at the basics”. Here’s a short excerpt from his free PDF:

What’s the best logo ever?

Tough one. A few of my favourites are listed on this Creative Review piece, but there are many more I could reel off.

Thanks a lot for your time, David.

Now, for some of David’s work:

Feru Wordmark Logo

Tudor Bourn Logo

Giacom Logo

Henri Ehrhart Logo

Campus IT Logo Canvases

Work for Money Design for Love

David’s newest book, Work for Money, Design for Love, published last year.

From Pencil Sketch to Pristine Logo

"Stu" from Pristine Video Productions

Event photography is always difficult – trying to capture every special moment at a wedding or graduation without ruining it – any photographer will attest to that. There is a skill in capturing the image before it passes. But if snapping beautiful pictures is an art, creating nice video footage is pure genius (I know this from the many hours it took me to create a very short and rough YouTube clip). But that’s the daily grind for the crew at Pristine Video Productions, in Narooma.

Unlike their stunning flicks, however, their corporate logo left a little to be desired. In May, Lorraine Boggs contacted us about creating a new brand mark that was a “fresh, light and breezy”. She had seen our logo and signage for the Amooran Hotel and wanted us to try our hand at a new logo for Pristine Video.

Amooran Oceanside Logo

The logo we created for Amooran Oceanside

At first, we juggled a few different concepts around – the Glasshouse Rocks (a landmark of Narooma), a purely typographic wordmark, a “play” button – I filled several pages with quick-and-dirty pencil sketches before developing a few concepts.

Pencil Sketches for Logo Design

Pencil Sketches


A Jon-Contino-Style hand-drawn logo concept



A concept based on the Glasshouse Rocks


After plenty of discussion, we decided to pursue a “tree of life” concept, rather than the Glasshouse Rocks, which – although locally relevant – may not be familiar to clients further afield. Lorraine sent a few images that inspired her and her husband Stuart:

Tree of Life 1

Tree of Life 2

Original Artwork by Artist Chris Chun


Tree of Life 3

Tree of Life 4

Here’s the first tree design we came up with:

Pristine Logo Concept

Pristine Logo Concept

Although nice and clean, this concept looked a little too “dead”. Lorraine wanted something more leafy and alive. This time we started with a painting:

Tree Painting

and developed it into a logo:


Yes, this is a vector (if any graphic designers are wondering)

Lorraine and Stuart were happy with this final version. For the lettering, we used the typeface Carolyna Pro. It has a certain “wedding” look to it, which was just right for Pristine.

Carolyna Pro

Just as I was working on this project, the liquid amber (sweet gum) tree out front began to look a lot like the symbol on the Pristine logo. Unfortunately, I didn’t capture the moment, but here’s what it looked like after a rain in the night:

Liquid Amber Leaves, Oswald Street, Inverell

Street Art & Sign Art

John Claridge Photographer

John Claridge

“I’m for Street Art but not the defiling of beautiful things”

Said London photographer John Claridge. I have to say that I agree with this sentiment, as many of us would. A creative wall mural – whether commissioned or not – can brighten a derelict warehouse or a forgotten concrete wall. But when a beautiful building or sign is used as a substrate for a hastily scrawled tag, something is amiss. Since ancient times, sign-makers have had little tolerance for graffiti, especially when it adorned their own work.

Today, however, the line between sign art and street art seems to be quickly blurring. I first noticed it a few years ago, walking down King Street in Sydney’s bohemian Newtown district. A colourful tag caught my eye. When I looked closer, I noticed that this was not a artist’s tag at all, but the name of the cafe “Istanbul on King“. The lettering has all the hallmarks of graffiti, but technically speaking, this is hand-painted signage as much as anything else is. Although I’m a traditionalist when it comes to letterforms, I must admit, there’s skill and artistry in this highly embellished type style.

[John Claridge] does not see any absolute distinction between graffiti and graphics, both are representations of language – whether graven on walls or painted on fascias
Spitalfields Life

Graffiti-style Lettering, Istanbul on King

In a recent chat with graffiti artist Christian Griffiths (he prefers to be referred to as “Sauce”), we discussed signage, murals and graffiti. I asked about the ‘gentrification’ of graffiti:

There is absolutely a growing acceptance of graffiti-style art and typography. That’s the idea with my studio in Murwillumbah. If you walk into Ikea, you can get graffiti-style photo frames. It’s everywhere. Of course, our Australian cities are quite far apart from each other, and there are big differences in attitude. Melbourne is definitely the most open to this style of art. I have friends down there who keep telling me “Come to Melbourne, you’d make a good living here”. The graffiti scene is part of the tourism down there. Murwillumbah is a fairly large town, but I can only think of two shops with hand-painted signage, and one of them is mine. Everybody is switching over to the digitally printed stuff.

Christian Griffiths (also known as "Sauce")

Christian Griffiths (also known as “Sauce”)

A far cry from a spray-can-wielding vandal, Griffiths is one of the new breed of graffiti-artists who use their skills for a wide range of professional work, from signage to murals and even logo design. He’s just as adept with a brush dipped in acrylic artist paint, as with an aerosol can, although the name of his business – Aerograffix – gives a hint which medium he prefers.

I first came across Christian’s work after seeing this rather unusual message on one of our notice boards for a Queensland school:

Strange – I thought – they normally keep a lower profile. And what was a graffiti artist doing at a school?

 I go to a lot of schools and do workshops. At high schools, this often involves painting a mural, but with primary schools I paint the mural and it often tends to become a demonstration exposing young creative minds to an art form they may not have witnessed in the flesh.

But how does he steer this creativity and enthusiasm towards legal activities?

We have to ask the question ‘Why do young people want to do graffiti?’. The authoritarian approach [to reducing vandalism] doesn’t seem to be working. I think it just pushes the scene underground. Creative young people really need an outlet to express themselves. Numerous studies have shown that when they have a legal outlet for their creativity, the illegal activities are greatly reduced.

I often make the comparison that a lot of towns have skate parks now. If you like skateboarding, that’s where you go on the weekend, but what if you like painting? Is there a place for that? For me, painting is my profession. I’m just as happy using an aerosol can as a brush, and I keep pretty busy.

Everyone is familiar with the artist known as Banksy, but who does Christian admire in the mural world?

I enjoy the work of Daim from Germany, John Pugh from the USA and Marc Spijkerbosch from New Zealand

DAIM mural in Germany

One of DAIM’s recent works

And now, for some of Sauce’s work:

A Mural at a Queensland School

Mural at a school in Queensland

A Mural at a Queensland School

Graffiti-Style Sign

Is it Graffiti, mural, or signage? I think it’s a bit of all three.

Sauce also designed the identity for Mooshka Restaurant, in Sunshine Beach:

Graffiti Logo on Fridge

Mooshka Graffiti Mural

Mooshka Restaurant Sunshine Beach Queensland

Mooshka Restaurant Graffiti Menu

To end with, I had to include a final example of “high-end graffiti” (by Artsigns, in Toronto Canada):

Graffiti-style Wall Letters

A response to this post from muralist John Pugh:

With the exception of Academe, I attached a few more recent mural images — might be good to use newer murals (I would like that). Good luck with your blog. – John

Blank Concrete Wall

Blank Concrete Wall


Mural in Process

Mural in Process

The Finished Work

The Finished Work


Thanks, John!

Dard Hunter Lives On

“Art is the Flower. Life is the Green Leaf. Let every artist strive to make his flower a beautiful living thing, something that will convince the world that there may be, there are, things more precious more beautiful – more lasting than life itself.” – Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Past blog posts have discussed Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and his influence on the world of art and architecture, as an influential  member of the Arts and Crafts Movement (an art and design movement of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth). Clover Signs produced more than a few Mackintosh-inspired signs, which were displayed on earlier blog posts. Maybe that’s why we received a request early last month from a customer in New Mexico, USA, who wanted an office sign in the Arts and Crafts style.

We first experimented with a font developed by Mackintosh himself, and later settled on P22 Arts and Crafts, developed by Mackintosh’s well-known contemporary Dard Hunter. Mackintosh was an architect from Glasgow, while Hunter was an expert on printing and traditional papermaking from Ohio, USA. The fact that two men in such diverse professions and locations  were both significant to the Arts and Crafts style, is tribute to the breadth and scope of the movement itself.

Arts and Crafts Book Cover Page

A Printed Page in the Arts & Cafts Style (image courtesy of Vamp & Tramp Booksellers)

The Arts and Crafts style gradually petered out around the time of the Second World War. But since the nineteen-seventies, there has been a noticeable revival of the style, especially in architecture & typography. Countless Arts-and-Crafts fonts continue to be designed and released, Canadian sign-maker Shane Durnford (and many other modern-day craftsmen) could be considered Arts-and-Crafts-inspired, and there will be a Dard Hunter Conference in St. Louis this October, sponsored by the Friends of Dard Hunter.

An Arts-and-Crafts-style house number sign by David Meddings

An “upcycled” Arts-and-Crafts-style house number sign by David Meddings

A Paper-Making Workshop by the Friends of Dard Hunter

A Paper-Making Workshop by the Friends of Dard Hunter

And what about the office sign?

Office Sign Revision 2

The Original Design

Office Sign Revision 3

With the new font & custom-design arrow to match

Office Sign Revision 6

The final design

Dard Hunter Inspired Sign

And the finished sign

So that’s our humble contribution to the Arts and Crafts Revival (hanging on an office door in New Mexico).

“The sign arrived today and I’m more than pleased with its design and quality – really beautiful work.  Thanks to you and your excellent staff! I’m also very impressed with your packaging.  It seems as close to “bulletproof” as one can achieve in a practical sense.” – Chris


A Growing Awareness of Signs & Type

“Signs are way-finding systems, but they are not just about navigation; they are about how we understand the environment. Signage is a component in our visual landscape, in the same way that architecture is, and industrial design. They are all parts of a very large system of how we read space and how we see ourselves.”

– Stephen Banham, Letterbox Design Studio

When signs make the news, it’s normally in an incidental sort of way – like when a truck hits one. Signage is everywhere but it is so omnipresent that most people hardly notice it. Of course, we signmakers are constantly stopping to inspect a fine hand-lettered specimen or a set of beautifully decaying metal letters – This habit sometimes annoys our friends – but for the unwashed masses, signs are occasionally read and very rarely admired.

However, there seems to be a gradual shift towards greater awareness of signage and typography. Recently, I saw an article entitled “Signposts point to a Font of Knowledge”, not in Signcraft Magazine, but in a mainstream newspaper (The Australian), interviewing Stephen Banham and Nadine Chahine about signs and type in Melbourne. Known as Australia’s “Cultural Capital”, Melbourne has probably a higher level of design awareness than most cities. After all, it even has a café named after a typeface (Helvetica). But the growing number of type- and signage-related websites and blogs reveal that signs are starting to be regarded as an art form (rather than just boring, functional “information boards”) in every quarter, not just the Garden City.

After all, we can’t let Melbourne have all the fun! Here’s a few pictures of classic metal letters (of which this area has a rich tradition), all within three minute’s walk of our shop:

Wrought Iron Gate Letters

A Gate on Brae Street

Metal Letters on a Gate

Metal numerals slowly shedding their paint

Wrought Iron Lettering

And finally, the pièce de résistance, a wrought iron gem on Wade Street. Once rectangular, this sign has now developed a stylish curve. I’ll admit, I flipped this image, so I could capture the sunset light behind, without mirror-writing.