The Designers: Accept & Proceed’s Benjamin Lee on pre-internet design, thinking differently and more
The Designers delves deep into the world’s leading design studios through a series of in-depth conversations with the individuals that make them tick. For the fourth interview in the series, we spoke to Benjamin Lee, a senior designer at London-based studio Accept & Proceed.
EM Hi Ben. Can you tell us about your background, and how that led to you becoming a senior designer at Accept & Proceed?
BL I landed in London around 2006 and after three years I graduated from CSM (broke) and jumped into a Junior Art Director role at Ogilvy in the capitalist utopia that is Canary Wharf. The irony of it still makes me laugh, as my entire three years at CSM had been devoted to developing my output around anti-corporate narratives. After a year or so I had the chance to move to a much smaller, independent studio where I had the opportunity to work within the record industry, so it was a no brainer really, from there I moved around a few studios until I eventually got chatting to the AP gang and I’ve been there for around three years now.
The projects that are important to me are the ones that have a tangible sense of purpose.
EM Is there a particular piece of work you’ve been involved in that you’re most proud of?
BL I wouldn’t say a piece of work, the projects that are important to me are the ones that have a tangible sense of purpose. I am hugely inspired by designers that have a point of view, that used their output politically to disseminate information and educate.
I actively pursue work to offset my commercial output, there are various partnerships and collaborations, working across human rights, education and environmental sectors, it’s an approach I take to stay sane and really feel like what I do is working towards a better future. I’d say I am most proud of this stuff, it’s real, it’s not about winning useless awards, or creating artificial desire but about solving real issues that can impact our existence on ‘spaceship earth’.
EM Can you highlight something you’ve learnt during your time at AP?
BL AP is one of those special places where you are surrounded by incredibly talented people, so just being in that environment is a continuous learning experience.
I am hugely inspired by designers that have a point of view.
EM Your Instagram is full of design from the ‘60s, ‘70s and 80s. Why does work from those periods resonate with you?
BL I guess it’s a kind of homage to the intellects that existed before. The attitude to design, the approach, the methodology. There was a purity and originality before the echoing panopticon we call the ‘world wide web’ appeared at our fingertips. I remember exploring libraries and the joy of finding that obscure designer in a publication I’d never seen before… it’s a little easier now, but it makes that find in an old bookshop way more rewarding.
EM Scrolling through your feed feels like a library of lesser-known design. Is it an intentional decision to make it more than just a place to show your work?
BL Yeah, the intention was always to make it more than just a portfolio, it’s a sort of non-linear commentary with references and experiments, it provides an opportunity to respond to the world around me, drawing on themes that I’m researching at that moment.
I will spare the rant about design for design’s sake, but our lives are already totally saturated with meaningless symbols, whether it is sharing or creating content, to use the words of Umberto Eco, I believe it should, or at least try to, serve as a ‘vehicle for critical reflection’.
EM How do those interests impact and affect your approach to design?
BL I’ve always had wide-ranging interests outside of design and I’ve always questioned authority. Being able to think outside of the established norms and imposed systems are important for new perspectives. When you can pull from an array of weird references it can help inform your approach in unpredictable ways. I’d encourage everyone to expand their reading material and be more open to the obscure. Just have a look on Instagram or Pinterest and you will see what happens when everyone has the same references.
EM What does a typical day look like for you?
BL The normal same-as-everyone-day-to-day stuff I guess… I like to get into the studio early so I can have a quiet start to the day and focus into the projects. Music is an essential component to my day-to-day existence, and I dose myself with a bit of Hicks and Mckenna so I don’t take reality too seriously.
EM What does your setup look like?
BL A notebook and a computer.
EM Can you tell us about something new you’ve learned recently?
BL ‘Surveillance Capitalism’ by Shoshana Zuboff and ‘Liquid Times’ by Zygmunt Bauman should be on everyone’s reading list.
EM How do you approach days where you don’t feel so creative?
BL It’s an interesting question, I’ve been thinking about creativity lately, in the sense of how I experience it, one thing that doesn’t help is trying to stuff it into eight blocks five days a week, like some automated assembly line, but that’s a slightly different matter.
I usually stay away from the screen, play records, or read.
The dream would be to operate in the same space as Experimental Jetset or MM Paris.
EM Do you have any advice for designers who might be thinking about sending their portfolio into Accept & Proceed?
BL I’d say, don’t create a graph of your abilities.
EM Would you like to start your own practice one day?
BL Yeah maybe, but I wouldn’t want to own or run a large design studio with politics and bottom lines. The dream would be to operate in the same space as Experimental Jetset or MM Paris…