If you’ve been reading my comment threads over the years you’ll likely be familiar with Lee Newham of London-based Designed By Good People.

Lee’s been kindly sharing his experience for as long as I can remember, so I thought it’d be interesting to get more of an insight into what makes the man tick. I asked him one question: What influences you? His reply was a nostalgic look at his path to design.

Zodiac ToysPhoto via zodiactoys.wordpress.com.

We’re influenced by everything around us. I grew up in Nottingham and remember my trips to Zodiac Toys in the Victoria Centre and the amazing mechanical clock that was designed by Rowland Emett — the same guy who made Caractacus Potts’ inventions in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Aqua Horological TintinnabulatorThe Aqua Horological Tintinnabulator, Nottingham, photo credit.

Then I moved to a seaside resort in North Devon, and remember the hand-painted signs that advertised day trips on buses, and the colourful lights along the harbour. I remember Matchbox Cars and Dinky Toys sold at Labbots, rows and rows of boxes with Thunderbirds, and Rovers, and Minis, with opening doors and boots. Their packaging was really exciting, and because the cars were made from metal they had a substantial weight which made them feel more special.

Matchbox CarsPhoto via vintagetoys.com.

I remember the Bond film posters that I became a huge fan of, and Tootles the Taxi Ladybird books with their beautifully crafted pictures.

Tootles the Taxi illustrationsImage via @TheIronEngine.

As a child I was surrounded by boats, camper vans, and lots of classic cars, so when I was little I was always designing these things — cars that looked retro but had clever layouts inside that converted into boats and campers. Then the subject morphed into houses as my family bought a plot of land to build our own house. So I was six when I started designing houses and wanting to be an architect. I became interested in books by Oscar Niemeyer and Le Corbusier. I loved the ideas, visions, and drawings but hated the tall tower blocks I kept seeing. It was like going into McDonalds — nothing looked like the pictures.

Then, at the age of twelve, my first real influence came about: Bill Bernbach. His book was all about problem solving and ideas. I loved it. It made me smile. I could relate to the ideas, such as the VW ads, the Mobil campaign called ‘We want you to live’, and Avis’ ‘We try harder’.

“Can you really judge an idea from a storyboard? How do you storyboard a smile?”
— Bill Bernbach

I knew I wanted to be a designer.

Looking back, I guess it was a combination of everything — even high street signs were beautifully crafted back then. Everything was done by people with lots of training. Very little was dumbed down. It was a real craft.

When I eventually went to college in Somerset, my tutor, Malcolm Swatridge, was new, and a founding member of The Partners. Various designers visited the college to show us their work but, in addition to my tutor, I was most impressed by Pentagram’s John McConnell. Malcolm also introduced us to the work of Alan Fletcher, Bob Gill, Robert Brownjohn (he did the titles for Goldfinger and From Russia with Love), Carol, Dempsey & Thirkell, Minale Tattersfield (who I would later work for), Turner Duckworth, and Michael Peters. They all became heroes of mine, many of which I’ve been lucky enough to meet over the years.

More recent influences are philosophers and thinkers such as Alan Watts, Simon Sinek, Malcolm Gladwell, and Alain de Botton.

Look around you, at buildings, into the past, how people actually shop in a supermarket, find out why things are the way they are, why people do what they do, visit historical sites, look up from your phone... it should all influence you.

The best person to sum things up is Peter Saville’s former assistant, Brett Wickens, who I Interviewed for my thesis when they were at Pentagram together. “You have to be a cultural sponge. Soak everything up and squeeze it when you need a solution.”

Lee NewhamLee Newham, Designed by Good People.