Johnathan Barnbrook is one of the designers I have looked up to for many years. He has maintained a high level of standards in the design industry and is considered the pioneer of graphic design with a social conscience. I first discovered his work in Adbusters Magazine years ago while I was living in Salt Lake City. At the time I was into the culture of subvertising and civil disobedience. I was impressionable and looking for answers to a world that had turned into an advertising mind fuck. Jonathan’s contributions to Adbusters were riveting and sometimes startling, but they were spot on and made people think about the world around them.It was a time when psychologists were being consulted to create direct marketing groups for toddlers. Sports players were about to take over the world and everywhere you looked there was someone shoving a product in your face. Nothing was sacred and Jonathan decided to stand up to this madness.
It was years later when I finally met Jonathan at a lecture he gave during my time at Pacific Northwest College of Art. By this time, his design firm and foundry in London were well established and he had clients like David Bowie and the BBC under his belt. His lecture was a slideshow of his favorite work and he touched on the ethics of design. He was modest, funny and very passionate about his work. I was inspired. He has turned down clients like Coca Cola and refused to work with companies like Nike and other sweatshop supporters. He made me believe I could be a designer and not feel ashamed of myself for working for and supporting businesses and corporations that I didn’t believe in. He gave me his email address and said to contact him anytime. Perhaps this is the time to do so. I need a good shot in the arm.
I never wanted to use my creativity to sell products to people or make million dollar corporations more money by manipulating people, but it is hard to avoid if you want to make money in the design business. I made a compromise with New Seasons Market because they were practicing sustainable methods and had a great involvement within the community. They also had products I could stand behind and wanted to promote. I felt good working there and giving my talent to promote the company, the many great vendors and local farmers… How could they be such a wonderful company on the outside and such a mess internally? How could they string me along for eight months, promising me a competitive wage and tell me to be patient and then not deliver? I really don’t know the answers. It makes me sad.
I loved the company and the people I worked with, but I had to look back at my roots and my own ethics of design and self worth. The answers were clear to me and the decision was made to stand up for myself. The positive side is that this opens the door for me to do freelance work again and pick the clients I want to work with. It allows me to take the time to look for an employer who values my work and commitment and it allows me to move forward with a clean conscious knowing that what I gave to New Seasons Market was 100% love, quality and commitment. You can read more about Jonathan Barnbrook here.