So Jonathan Barnbrook’s 20 questions are only really 18 but they’re insightful, and offer more than just a glimpse into the way this designer’s head works.
1. What's the most adventurous thing you've ever done? Well if you mean things like bungee jumping or skydiving, that is a really conventional way to think about being “adventurous”. People can still be narrow in their thinking after doing such a thing. More adventurous is letting go of the things you consider your “identity”, taking a risk with your mind and trying to understand what is the point to “be”, to be on this planet. It’s a fundamental question we all face, but conveniently put off most of the time.
2. What is the question you ask yourself the most? What is the point of living, how can I make my life worthwhile and help others? When written down it might sound quite depressive but I can assure you I am full of life energy.
3. If you were told that you had to live inside a work of art, which would you choose? I am already in one and it’s called planet Earth. I don’t need anything else.
4. What would you like to have written in your obituary? Either a very detailed account of every second of my life, listing all of the bad things I did as well as the good, lasting several thousand pages so that people understand the flaws, mistakes and hopes, or just one single full stop on a page.
5. How do you define creative success? I don’t like the word “success” because creativity shouldn’t be a competition. It’s an internal process, a journey that changes all the time about evolution. What is right now will not be right tomorrow. Being creative is satisfying but it’s also quite painful if you really put your soul into something.
6. If you knew you only had six months left to live, how would you spend the time? That’s difficult, but since most people never have an idea when they will die I will do as most people do, which is carry on every day as though I am never going to die. Having said that, I think I might just stop working if I can afford it. Being alive is quite hard work so I deserve a bit of rest before I die to spend the time learning the names of the flowers and animals that I never had time to learn when I was working so hard.
7. If not design, what would you do? Something in the medical profession where I can see what I do directly benefiting people. Sometimes graphic design can seem such a selfish profession.
8. Do you have a creative muse? From about the age of 15 I have been following a musician/artist called John Foxx. The atmospheres and ideas in his work really hit something inside my soul. He has been the biggest influence on my design and I finally have started to collaborate with him on projects in the past two years. It was only when I was mature enough to believe that I was equal was I able to do so. I video DJedd for him recently for one of his concerts and I had to pinch myself when I was on stage. If my 15 year-old self could have seen me, he would have been very happy. We are planning some other projects together so I am looking forward to some positive collaborations.
9. What's your happiest childhood memory? I remember being passed around quickly between people when I was about six months of age, people and laughing, my blanket was falling off me, which made me cold but I didn’t care, everybody else was laughing because I was laughing. It’s a very positive simple memory.
10. What's your favourite book? There are so many that have been good companions throughout my life. So if you allow me three I would say Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse, Atrocity Exhibition by JG Ballard and Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett.
11. Can you name one of the defining moments in your life that guided you to where you are today? Yes and no, we all have a false idea, I think, of what kind of person we are. I am the same as I was 20 years ago and also completely different, so it so difficult to know. There are certain things that have pushed me into producing the work I do. The political side is coming from a working class family, understanding how badly treated these people are when you mix with the people who are in “control”, as I have done a lot of the time as a graphic designer. The quest for a beauty based on classicism also comes from my family, it was a fairly stormy home life.
12. If you could have dinner with anyone that ever lived (dead or alive) who would it be? It depends entirely on who is paying at the end of the meal.
13. Have you ever seen insanity where you later saw creativity? The former is always necessary for the latter.
14. Do you recycle? Yes everything, especially ideas. In my studio and at home I try to practice what I preach, so I recycle as much as I can and I don’t buy stuff from any of the companies I wouldn’t work for. I also travel everywhere by bicycle.
15. Can design save the world? Saving the world is not a finite process. Designers are making the world a better place to live for many people in many ways. It does have a strong role in facilitating social change, although most designers don’t seem to understand this. Just take a look at a political demonstration, before, after and during, the tools that are used to disseminate the information about it are graphic design.
16. What's something you know you do differently to most people? I draw my letter “s” from the top rather than the bottom, and my shoelaces always come undone because of the bad way I tie them. All part of the pleasure/pain of being left handed.
17. What is your most treasured possession? Yuk, no. I don’t like the idea of having any possessions. Anything I lose would be inconvenient but I don’t think I would be upset. So I can live without it all.
18. Do you have a favourite gadget? See previous answer. Lets start getting rid of some of the clutter in the world. Yes much of the stuff… Made by designers.