How poetry can help us make better things

In 1988 I was asked to design an exhibition catalogue for Cecil Collins the artist. My client The Anthony d’Offay Gallery gave me a brief, ‘could I design a catalogue that would look and feel like a jewel?’ How to make a jewel-like catalogue? I loved Cecil’s work, very English and spiritual. My thoughts turned to the question of jewels. How do we find a jewel? How does it make us feel? What is its value as a gift? How does it feel to the eye and in the hand?

And so the catalogue was conceived, designed and made with those poetics in mind. I decided on format, the size of the catalogue, its materials, paper, cover, jacket, how it would be bound, I thought about sensuality and texture. How it should be printed, what typeface to use, and, of course how to arrange words and pictures on a page, its rhythm. All from the aspect of how one might create the sense of a jewel. On the day of the private view Cecil approached me. He politely asked if I was the designer of the catalogue? “yes I said”, “I just want to say”, said Cecil, “this is one of the most beautiful catalogues ever made for me, thank you”. I was 24, this man was a great artist, yet in cultural exchange we had given each other gifts. Cecil died in 1989, so for me our conversation had in a particular poignancy to it.

My belief is as a designer, even when working in business as an innovator, why not start with the idea of a beautiful outcome? Why not describe it as a feeling, as a piece of poetry, as it is in poetry we find truth. Why not describe an outcome that can lift the human spirit, to start from a place of optimism that says life is worthwhile. Beautiful things are made with love, it is beauty that lends things their immortality.

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