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Graham Bell

Graham Bell on the art of design

By Graham Bell

Managing Director, Absolute Graphics

With his artistic aptitude and devotion to design, Graham Bell has created thousands of pieces of graphics and artwork in his twenty-plus-year career.

Graham’s graphic design odyssey began with a degree in marketing and design from Southampton in 1996, followed by a stint working in corporate marketing locally and then a couple of design roles in London, before starting his own business Absolute Graphics in Southampton in 2003.

Marking his company’s 20th anniversary this year, Graham has seen the hues of the sector change through contrasts in trends and new dimensions of technology.

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You’ve got an extensive portfolio of projects, are there some that you’re particularly proud of?

I had a five-year contract with the Rugby Players Association, based in Twickenham. I designed the materials for their high-profile events attended by over a thousand of people each year, including the England team, and their branding displayed across London and on Sky Sports. It was a great project to be involved with; to go to the events and see my design work in person was fantastic.

I do a real variety of work; I've now created well over 30,000 pieces of artwork. I work for magazines; I create environmental impact reports; I've done brochure work and adverts for companies like Carnival cruises; I do a lot of national ads both for the UK and US; large format exhibition backdrops; web-based design, graphics for email marketing; downloadable PDFs; and a lot of logos, corporate identity, and branding.

I had a great contract with a chocolate company; I did all their packaging design and their products are available on the high street. Even after 25 years, you still get a buzz from seeing your work in the public domain!

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What’s your creative process? Do you have a method for collating ideas?

Quite often I have to give it a bit of thinking time. I don’t always start on something immediately; I like to give it some thought and research – look at what the client’s competitors are doing and how things are in their industry. It depends on what the client wants, there’s a lot of listening involved to really understand what they’re looking for.

I do a lot of artwork and layout work which you can often just go straight into but when it comes to creative work I like to think about it and give it time before I start.

You’ve been in the industry for over 20 years, how have the trends and tech evolved?

There have been several different trends that have come and gone. Things like the use of grey – 20 years ago you would never have used grey for anything but it’s a big deal these days.

The design programmes have massively evolved. When I first started as a designer, Adobe Acrobat didn’t even figure. That revolutionised things for people from a proofing point of view. I use Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign all day every day – the programmes are so intuitive now and the computers we use are so much faster so the workflow is quicker.

But I think the biggest evolution is the fact that there’s so much online now.

"There are some graphic designers who are pure artists but because my background is in marketing and business, I tend to think of myself as a graphic designer with a business mind."

What do you foresee to be the future changes on the horizon within graphic design?

There certainly seems to be a return to print, when I talk to printers they’re flat out. Of course we went through a big boom with everything going online, and now it almost seems like people have got to the point where they like to have physical items again – it’s kind of gone full circle.

How would you describe yourself as a graphic designer – what’s your style?

There are some graphic designers who are pure artists but because my background is in marketing and business, I tend to think of myself as a graphic designer with a business mind.

I look at things from the perspective of how it could work from a business point of view as opposed to just the pure art side of it.

It has to look good and feel great, but it also has to do what the client wants it to do. You can make a design piece super artsy and clever but if it doesn’t do what the client wants it to do, then it can fall flat.

"Even after 25 years, you still get a buzz from seeing your work in the public domain."

Graham Bell - Managing Director, Absolute Graphics

How do you fuel your creativity outside of work?

I’m also a graphic artist; I’ve got a little side hustle going where I create pieces of graphic art and I’ve got them in one or two galleries in the New Forest.

My wife and I have got two teenage boys and a dog. We’re quite into American football (my boys both play), we love to travel and we’ve also got a classic car.

Who, what, or where do you draw inspiration from?

My original inspiration for becoming a graphic designer when I was in my late teens was album artwork on records. I’d see all these amazing pieces of artwork on the records I used to buy and I was always intrigued by the concepts and how they created the designs.

Now my inspiration comes from many different things. I’m always on the lookout and I notice things all the time in everyday life. I tear things out of magazines and always keep hold of different bits and pieces that I pick up because I find them inspiring or interesting.There are certain photographers that I love because they’ve created clever artwork.

In the same way with my art, I find things like urban architecture and graffiti really inspiring. There can be some amazing beauty in things around us all the time, particularly in cities.

Where is your favourite place to focus on your creativity?

I find Manchester a very inspiring place to go, it’s a creative place to visit and I pick up all sorts of ideas when I’m there. I also find Southern California very inspiring and have been many times.

Graham Bell