Daniel Lock is the 360 creative who has made his name in some of London’s premiere design agencies, including Spring, Wednesday, and NB Studio, a stint at Apple and as Design Director of Construct. Whether it’s branding and identity, art direction, or graphic design, Daniel now runs his own practice that fashion, beauty, and luxury clients turn to to breathe new life into their brands. Here Daniel tells us about the surprising roots of his tactile and super refined design aesthetic.
Where did your interest in design come from?
My father was a sign maker, so I spent a lot of my youth in his factory surrounded by huge 3D letterforms. That peaked my interest in typography and a passion for industrial processes and materials. I loved watching the guys there using the engraving machines and cutting out letterforms from rolls of coloured vinyl, and building these huge logo expressions (the life-size World Cup Italia ’90 stick man, Ciao, was a particularly wow moment). It wasn’t a creative environment – it was a far more mechanical, industrial and quite brutal aesthetic. It was also very working class and hypermasculine so there was no space for erroneous decoration and frivolity. There was lots of incredibly rigid and systematic vernacular materials around: the catalogues for Pantone, acrylic samples, vinyls, and plastics.
I think that’s why much later, when I learnt about the Bauhaus, Brutalism and Swiss Modernism it was very easy to connect to. I was always interested in the physical side of things – the fetishisation of materials and industrial process. I wanted things that were beautifully constructed.
To counter all of that, at school my mind was blown by this enormous Phaidon book called ‘The Art Book’ which was a really accessible A-Z guide to artists from medieval times to present day. That was my way into artistic expression and the creative act. I loved epic, romantic landscape painters as well as anything graphic, pop art and the YBAs.
Does your job at the moment look like you thought it would when you were starting out in the industry?
The current zeitgeist is far more progressive, open minded, and you can live and work in a nomadic and flexible way without so much structure and limitation. It’s an exciting time now, everything feels open to change, if you want it. You don’t need to work 9-5, you don’t need a permanent desk, you don’t need permanent staff and you can be anywhere.
I also always imagined that I might have been working abroad by now, or to at least have spent some time working in another country, which is still top of my ‘to do’ list.
You’ve worked in some really incredible agencies over your 14 year career, have the demands from clients changed in that time? What are the major differences now to when you first started?
The whole world sped up dramatically in the past 10 years; the pace is so much faster than I ever remember. We produce more and we say more and in a variety of different mediums. Smartphones and social media changed the industry hugely. Everyone had to learn about social media very quickly and organically – there was no crash course when it was introduced.
Recently I’ve had to become an expert on sustainability. Working on packaging briefs – particularly beauty packaging – means I’ve had to understand the implications of everything we suggest to the client: Is it necessary? Will it harm the environment? Will it last? These are all questions that we can no longer ignore. Environmental problems need to be designed out.
Where does your inspiration come from as a Creative Director?
I like to think that you can’t stop inspiration. It is attacking you all the time. The battle is just whether you’re able to see it or not. A cloudy mind, a mind under pressure or a busy mind will struggle to see inspiration as it occurs. Therefore I’m always looking to achieve a calm and serene headspace.
Most of my inspiration comes from outside the studio when I’m not doing design. Being out in the world, from rambling long conversations, viewing art, reading a good book, staring out the window… anything that stimulates your subconscious mind. That’s where the creative powers are.
I love that your portfolio lists your beliefs as a creative, has there been a particular job or person that’s really helped to shape what these values are?
They are the culmination of learnings from all the work experiences I’ve had – good and bad.
I find myself talking about meaning, beliefs, and emotions now more than design and aesthetics. I feel that this is far more important in expressing yourself. A stronger, more fruitful relationship with new clients will form if it’s based on a like minded belief system that’s forward thinking.
How important do you think the notion of the ‘personal brand’ is for a Creative Director?
I’ve always been quite enigmatic about my own persona. I find the unknown very alluring in an age where most people give everything away for free on social media.
What are your career goals for the future?
I’ve always told myself I should spend some time away from London and view the world from a completely different perspective – geographically and conceptually. So hopefully I will be opening for business in Tokyo or New York or somewhere else wonderful very soon.
I also have ambitions to start a publishing platform that will allow me to test creative product ideas that I have. I’d like to position myself in my clients’ shoes for a change. My experiences helping others set up their business has been hugely insightful in what and what not to do. I’d like to push my more progressive ideas without any other purpose other than the amelioration of the art.
What are the challenges of freelance life for a creative?
I wouldn’t say I was the typical freelancer. I do a mixture of work for my own studio, project work for other consultancies and then also direct in-house for other brands, so it’s quite a nice mix and doesn’t leave you on your own too often, or chopping and changing too quickly. I like to continue to be pushed and challenged, whether that’s by clients or by other designers. It’s important to be continually learning and progressing forwards. The only way to strength test your ideas and beliefs is have them challenged by others. If it holds up, then you’re onto something, if someone spots a flaw, then there’s room to improve it.
Do you have a favourite part of the creative process?
When that amazing idea hits you there’s certainly a rush of adrenalin that’s quite addictive. I work mostly with brand owners and with CEOs so it’s always really satisfying when you help them manifest their vision. For founder owners it can be an intensely personal and emotional journey for them – they might have taken a huge risk to create their business – so for it to come together from whimsical idea to fully developed brand is so rewarding. When you go on a big journey with someone like that your working relationship often becomes far richer, deeper, and connected on a human level.
I’ve noticed lots of business are becoming attracted to working with smaller independent studios over larger agencies because of that: more care, more affordable, more attention, deeper personal relationships, and less bullshit.
Which are the brands and businesses you feel are really disrupting the design space at the moment?
Those that play by their own rules, take risks and try to break traditional systems and retail conventions. Typically this was always the new players in any sector, but there is now a taste in fashion and luxury for self-disruption. Established fashion houses are being far less precious; throwing out their identities and heritage, collaborating with people that wouldn’t have even got a meeting with them 10 years ago, and hiring outsiders into influential positions. There’s an interesting clash of social classes that never previously met. There’s a big departure from traditional operational models.
I also really enjoy seeing more brands taking an active stance on societal and political issues, which seem to be slowly bettering business practices and care for the environment. It’s quite a mercurial time that I’m sure will lead to exciting new things, or perhaps reveal that some of the old ways were right all along.