Aaron Dawkins on freelancing, moving to a different country and working with inspiring people
For Aaron Dawkins, moving to Berlin was a much-needed change away from a repetitive life in the UK. Since the pivotal move, the designer has worked with, and for, an exciting blend of studios and clients including Cskw, Neue Gestaltung and Marek Polewski. We caught up with him to hear all about it, and in response, he reflected on the German city’s impact on his life and design practice, alongside the creative collaborators he’s met along the way.
PT Hi Aaron! How are you?
AD Hey! I’m very well, thank you for asking.
PT How has 2022 been treating you so far?
AD It’s been kind so far, it’s had its bumps and curveballs like most years. But on the whole 2022 has been rather smooth so far.
PT Can you tell us a bit about your creative background?
AD Sure, I studied in Southampton, UK. After my studies, I spent 2-3 years designing posters and promotional materials for a venue and a club. This opened many doors and led to me designing identities, posters, album artwork and shirts for bands, record labels, and other venues and clubs throughout the UK. This was amazing, really fun. Gave me the opportunity to find my feet and develop my own way of working. But this wasn’t sustainable. So I got my first ‘real job’ working at Re-Format – a studio specialising in architecture and graphic design. Here I was designing for architectural projects, design projects and overseeing the studio’s branding and communications. I spent about a year at Re-Format before relocating to Brighton and finding a job at DRY in London.
DRY provided a beautiful opportunity to work with Liz Hay and Martin Isaac and be part of a really tight small team. DRY’s focus was graphic design for fashion and retail. Projects there involved everything from photoshoots, instore environments, and packaging to identities, campaign strategies and production. I’m so grateful for my time at DRY, it was a lot to take on board but I learned so much.
After DRY I moved to Berlin, which has been amazing not just for work but for all aspects of life. I’ve been here for seven years now. It’s been a mixed bag of working for studios and freelancing. I spent a few years working with Christian Steubing and Kirstin Weppner at Cskw, which was really fun. A few years working at Neue Gestaltung, which was disappointing, but I got to work with some really lovely people. This introduced me to many different ways of working, and I got lots of time to play and experiment. This planted a lot of seeds for future ways of working.
Since then I’ve been freelancing. I found myself as part of a project team doing a big book project for Red Bull Music Academy. This was a great opportunity to work with so many other great designers for four months and see how they work. Over the last few years, I've been working with Marek Polewski, supporting him with identity projects. Working with Marek has been really refreshing, it’s so lovely to work with someone who has such a passion for art and design. I started working with the photographer Marvin Zilm and the Illustrator Andrea Wan, these two are great to work with, and I’m looking forward to more projects together this year. I spent a year working with Louise Matell as the partnership AARISE, which was amazing, and really insightful. We did so many fun and interesting identities. Lots of time learning how to operate a studio and playing with colour.
At the end of last year, I took some time off. Since January I’ve been doing my own thing, working with clients and collaborating. So I guess that’s a lot, but still, it’s really brief. I would like just to add that I’m so grateful to have worked with so many lovely people over the years. This has gifted me with the capacity to watch, learn and listen.
Berlin really offered a sense of space and a completely new way of seeing.
PT What led you to relocate to Berlin? How was the transition, from a work and life standpoint?
AD A number of things, I was pretty tired of the UK, everything was becoming very repetitive and a bit dull, to be honest. I was travelling to and from Brighton to London every day, which was a lot. I loved working at DRY but I was working too much. This all had an effect on my health and resulted in me taking time off work. One evening me and my partner were walking along the beachfront in Brighton. She asked me if I could live anywhere in the world, where would I want to live? I said Berlin. She basically told me we would be moving in three months, and we did. The move was really simple and I took a month to settle in, after that, I started working on projects for Cee Cee and Cskw. The difference was vast, in a very positive sense. Berlin really offered a sense of space and a completely new way of seeing and approaching design projects.
PT How has the city’s culture affected the way you work?
AD I’m not really sure. But it’s had a massive effect, this is not something I’ve ever reflected on. But I see a reflection and change in my work. I’ve been here seven years now. I've been blessed to work at studios, in partnerships, as part of project teams, and with friends and clients. I’ve worked with so many people each one has introduced me to different ways of working, the references they like and how they see graphic design. Plus the city here, time with friends, the people on the streets, my apartment, and the galleries and institutions I visit. This all has had a natural effect and influence on the way I work and the ground I move from when approaching projects.
PT Has working internationally changed due to the pandemic?
AD I started working internationally over the last few years. During the pandemic mostly, at that time everything was done over Zoom, even working locally. Working internationally of course still is. It’s an interesting format, I like it. It has really changed how I present and how I communicate what needs to be communicated. Sometimes there are moments of confusion or disconnection which are fun to resolve. Working internationally seems to be a lot of phone calls, video calls and moving way too fast. Zoom zoom zoom.
PT Your practice “primarily explores how colour and typography can enhance environments.” Can you tell us about the thinking behind that?
AD There isn’t much thinking behind it, this is just something that happened naturally. Over the last four years, especially while I was at Neue Gestaltung and working with Louise Matell and Marek Polewski. I’ve really enjoyed creating colour worlds and playful typographic systems for projects, mostly for identities. I found I’m forever creating these little environments with colour, shape and type. I find this super fun and rewarding, and I would like to explore this more.
I’ve really enjoyed creating colour worlds and playful typographic systems.
PT What project do you think sums up your practice’s DNA?
AD In some sense they all do, my practice’s DNA seems to be a reflection of the relationship between myself and whom I’m working with on the project and our response to the brief. But if I had to pick one, I guess it would be Pssbl. This was great because we had a blank page to start with, lots of time to play, and I really enjoyed working with Anna Bülher and Pit Stenkhoff at Neue Gestaltung on this. Pssbl make bags from recycled ocean plastic. It was really fun to create an identity that’s always moving, changing and expressing itself, but still recognisable. It’s nice to be able to offer and do something new and exciting with each application. Keeps people engaged, and communicates openness and confidence. Also provides an opportunity for other designers to come in and do something interesting with the identity in the future.
PT If you could create work for any industry, what would it be?
AD Identities, books and catalogues for galleries, museums and cultural institutions, please.
PT What are you looking forward to, in the near future?
AD I’ve just finished designing a newspaper for a project called Seeing Libraries Differently for Nick Thurston and the University of Leeds. Which explores Chetham’s Library in Manchester which is the oldest public library in the English-speaking world. So I’m looking forward to sharing that. Me and Marvin Zilm have just started working on a new book, which is really exciting. But summer is here now, so I’m looking forward to time off, travelling, and time spent being quiet on retreat.