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.

Making Signs out of Old Horseshoes

Mark's Workshop

Mark forms the word “Welcome” out of used horseshoes.

For Mark Rees, it takes an effort to form words. A lot of effort. That’s because he forms them out of old horseshoes. Each letter is heated, beaten and welded together in his snug little workshop in Columbia, Kentucky. His business is simply known as Mark’s Custom Horseshoe Art, and his creations are sold across the United States. I first came across Mark’s work when a prospective customer of ours explained that she wouldn’t be able to place her order for a handcrafted sign for her barn. The reason was sensible enough, in the meantime a good friend of hers had presented her with a sign as a gift. She was considerate enough to send us a picture, and what a unique sign it was!

Lynne's Barn Sign

The sign

I had never before seen lettering made entirely of horseshoes. Undoubtedly, it falls squarely into the category of dimensional signage, although Mark has never thought of it that way:

I never really paid much attention to the variety of signage that I see every day, I looked at your blog and seeing the variety in one place is pretty neat. I think a horseshoe sign would fit right in to the mix.

I couldn’t agree more. Hence, today’s blog post. Though more a man of action than of words, Mark took a few minutes of his time to explain, albeit with humour and wit, what made him choose this unique profession:

What started as “I want to learn to weld and I have steel horseshoes to play with” eventually led to taking my ‘creations’ to craft fairs and farmers markets and Facebook and a website. Most of the designs for my early creations were shown to me by a horseshoe artist in Florida and a retired blacksmith in Virginia and the designs used with their permission. Then I started coming up with my own designs for critters and objects that I thought would be fun or neat to make. Some things I do are fun to make but there is no way anyone would pay for the time invested, so they become gifts. When I am feeling creative, my wife, Anita, gets lots of gifts.

I do not want to be accused of stealing someone-else’s idea, so I don’t spend a lot of time looking at what others are making and selling. Anita runs the business and marketing, I do the cutting, welding, forging, bending, and finishing.


I asked Mark how he goes about cutting and bending an object as tough as a horseshoe:

I started cutting the shoes with a hand hack saw but that was hard work and I would pretty regularly end up punching the vise which is hard on knuckles. I eventually found a well-used metal cutting band saw for a very reasonable price and have been using it ever since. The easiest way to bend shoes is using a forge to heat them. I have a small propane gas forge that does a pretty good job of heating as long as I can get whatever I want to heat into the fire box. Some shoes I will bend cold if it is a small bend, but you are correct horseshoes are tough. A large hammer, big vise and heavy anvil help though.

Where do the shoes come from?

We have 3 shod horses and get additional used shoes from farriers and horse friends. Most everything I make is from used shoes, or has used shoes incorporated into it. Used horseshoes are a great deal! They are usually full of nails, horse poo and rusted pretty good by the time I get them, but they are usually free. I spend more time pulling nails and cleaning the shoes than it usually takes to weld them.

I have to pay for new shoes and they have mill slag on them and that has to be removed before I can work them, so I guess it works out.On some projects I need a bunch of shoes the same size or shape and it is easier to use new shoes than sort through piles of used ones looking for matches.

How’s business?

As far as how the business is going, It was crazy before Christmas, I was in the shop for a few hours pretty much every day starting in late Oct. As Christmas got closer the days got longer. I think it finally slowed down just after Christmas. I think we did almost twice the business for Christmas 2012 as we did in 2011. Right now we get 1 or 2 orders some weeks, some weeks none, but that is fine, horseshoe art is not our primary income. We make enough to pay for the website, gas for the forge, gas and wire for the welder, and all the other misc. supplies we use. As someone pointed out, my horseshoe art is a great self supporting hobby that I actually make a decent profit from.  Right now most of my orders are for signs made from horseshoes.

How did the “Lynne’s Barn” order come about?

The order for the Lynne’s Barn sign came from my best customer, LeAnne, she apparently likes my work and has ordered a bunch of goodies for herself and friends from me and has the patience of a Saint. One of the signs she ordered was too long for my paint drying box and I fixed a tent with halogen lights to keep the sign warm so the paint would dry, but the weather just didn’t want to cooperate, it was cold and/or wet for 2 weeks after I got the sign made. LeAnne was patient and has continued ordering things, so I guess she understands mother nature doesn’t always work with me. Someday maybe a bigger paint drying booth… For the Lynne’s Barn sign the weather cooperated and I got it made, primed, and painted in a week or so. Letting the primer and paint cure are what drag the time out.

I have had a couple of requests for prices on signs from people in Oz, the world wide web is a great thing, but the shipping charge for 4 or 5 kg of horseshoes was a bit ridiculous and they rethought their purchase. For Lynne’s Sign We shipped the sign, I think it cost about $21 from Ky to Ca. I don’t remember the weight though.

I like customer feedback, so I can try to give people the best product I can for a fair price. I also like other people who see my creations opinions and feedback, I get some really good suggestions on doing things better, easier, or faster (Helps my ego too).

Blacksmith grinding a horseshoe

heating a horseshoe red hot

One of Mark's dogs watches attentively as a horseshoe is cooled in water

drying paint on horseshoe art

Lizard made of old horseshoes

The T-Shirt

Rustic Garden Sign made of old horseshoes

Another typographic creation, for a client’s vegetable garden

Irish Pub Signs

Have you ever wanted your very own Irish pub sign? The sign below was actually made as a wedding present for somebody else, but it is a take off on an actual Irish pub sign. The customer actually visited our workshop and we sat down and designed the sign together. After a few final tweaks, the design was ready to put into production, and I have to say, I am more than impressed with the final result.

Personalised Irish Pub Sign

Personalised Irish Pub Sign

Contact us to receive a free proof and quote, or to speak to a designer.

The Dead Ostrich

Possibly the most humorous sign we have made, “The Dead Ostrich” is to hang in a private study, (not on a pub).  The background depicts a pub building on a hill top in the Karoo region of South Africa, hense the Afrikaans translation on the reverse of the sign. It was given as a 70th birthday present to a much loved uncle, and  I trust he is enjoying it on his wall as much as we enjoyed designing and crafting it.

The Dead Ostrich

The Dead Ostrich

Seasonal Signs

Throughout the course of the year, we here at Clover Signs can’t help but notice the tendency of people to request a house sign design that is in keeping with that particular time of year. For instance, many crocuses and daffodils are requested in Spring, and we seem to paint a lot of blackberries and apples in the Autumn and poppies in November. This seems quite logical except when you stop to think that your house sign will be up year round. Nevertheless, we are still receiving orders for and making numerous Holly House signs like this one.

Holly Cottage

Holly Cottage

Tempted? It’s not too late for that last minute Christmas present. However, orders must be placed by the 10th of December in order to deliver by Christmas. Just remember, a house sign will last many years and will be on your house throughout all the seasons, so don’t limit yourself to the present moment.

Double Sided Signs

Generally, when people are ordering some new sinage, whether it is for their recently rennovated house or they are opening a home B & B, they want the complete package to be delivered from one company. As of the beginning of 2008, Clover Signs has made both hanging signs and wrought iron hanging brackets. There is nothing special about it but The Cart Lodge has become easily our most-referred-to sign; ie. “I want a sign just like The Cart Lodge”.

Hanging Sign

Popular hanging sign with wrought iron bracket.


B&B Chambres D’Hôtes

Although primarily a traditional house sign maker, Clover Signs has also expanded into the business market, making pub signs and bed and breakfast signs. In October of 2007, Martine approached us for a hanging sign for her new B & B which she clevery called “Martinn”.  The Martinn, located in southwest France, opened its doors on March 20th 2008 and we are pleased to see our sign gracing its entrance. I can assure you, the inside is much more attractive than the outside, featuring a pool, gourmet food and many great activities.

B & B Sign

Bed and Breakfast Signs

Sign Making for a Piece of Cake

When selling signs, we mostly get the payment by credit card.  However, when Gina from Gina’s Cakes asked us to make them a sign, we couldn’t resist.  We accepted payment for half the sign, then charged the other half in “cake.”

The Cake Swap

Cake for Signs Deal

Gina was thrilled with her part of the deal and the cake was most delicious!  Clover Signs certainly recommends Gina’s Cakes as the source for your celebrations.

Of course, if you are looking for a sign, not a cake, you can get a hanging shop sign from us!

Slate House Signs

Clover Signs would like to announce that we are no longer making slate house signs. The simple reason is this: Our carved signs and house signs have become so popular that we cannot concentrate on 2 things at once.

Slate and stone is still a great choice for a house sign, so we would like to recommend Rustic Stone. Rustic Stone make all manner of slate house signs and signs on boulders, ideal for setting next to driveways.

Slate House Sign

However, if you were dead set on getting that beautiful custom painting, and simply had to have it on slate, Your Signs, based on the Isle of Wight is the place to go. From simple house number plates to superb custom painted house plaques, their dedicated team of house sign makers and house sign artists combine traditional arts & crafts  techniques together with contemporary  resin & reflective lettering technologies  to produce elegant, quality, long lasting house signs that will  enhance the look of your home in daytime and also help  make your home address easier to find during hours of darkness.