Dean Poole on playing with words

The creative director of New Zealand agency Alt Group reveals the ABC's of his creative language.

Dean Poole may be a designer but it's words that he's obsessed with. In particular, wordplay.

“I love language and I love ideas that are simple," says the creative director and co-founder of Alt Group, a multidisciplinary design studio in New Zealand. "Simple ideas communicate in a simpler way.”

In his presentation at Design Indaba Conference 2014, Poole talks about some of his most celebrated work that uses words to arrest people's attention.

His quirky definitions of the letters of the alphabet assign characters to each letter form. In Poole's mind, A is an "H designed by an architect", D "ate too much" and R is a "poser". The design of letters interest him as visual puns rather than for how they can be manipulated typographically.

Alt Group's identity for the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki exemplifies the firm's approach of simplicity, restraint and humour. The gallery's branding demystifies the serious and complex meanings often attributed to art using a system based largely on wordplay. The identity uses an endless series of simple statements on posters, maps, publications, apparel and environmental graphics that give different perspectives on what art can be: "A geometric abstraction", "A recurring motif", "A real beauty" and "A universal truth". The statements are lined up to spell out the word "ART" in every case. 

Poole's recently published book This Over That takes the wordplay one step further. The pocket-sized book visualises phrases using the word “over”, replacing the actual word with a horizontal line in the manner of a mathematical division symbol. and shows the relationship between mind over matter and replaces the word “over” with a line, staking the words on top of each other. The book earned him a Bronze award at New Zealand’s Best Awards in the category for editorial and book design.

Under the leadership of Poole, Alt Group has been recognised with more than 250 national and international awards. Poole's creative direction has been awarded the highest accolade in New Zealand five times, The Purple Pin. In 2010 he was also awarded the John Britten Black Pin, the most prestigious individual award for his contribution to design in New Zealand and internationally.

"Part of the system of creativity is creating the rules," says Poole. He has helped conceptualise and deliver on a number of national interest projects including the promotion of his country's creative industries for Brand New Zealand.

"We like the social life of ideas [and] collaborating with other people,” he says, “because the problem with working by yourself is the echo.” 


Watch the Interview with Dean Poole