Graphic designer Alex Walker is pretty aware of himself when it comes down to examining his own creative decisions. “I get bored of my own design reflexes and decisions very easily,” he understands, and as a result of this, parts of his process today involve removing control from decision making. Currently based in Amsterdam, Alex grew up in Shelley, West Yorkshire, of which he recalls an early interest in CD artwork, graffiti, skateboarding and so on; which served as an initial introduction to graphic design. Then, when he enrolled at art college, he came to the realisation, he tells us, “that I prefer the poetry and beauty found in ordinary objects, rather than Fine Art.”
After a long stint of living in Nottingham, he came to The Netherlands to study for a Master’s degree at the Sandberg Institute, and has lived there since. It’s the city’s secondhand book markets and charity shops filled with trinkets that provide much of his inspiration these days. Anything from fruit packaging to a train ticket can be seen as beautiful in its vernacular design, so in this respect, arguably, not much has changed in terms of what inspires Alex from his youth in West Yorkshire.
His eclectic absorption of material is visibly evident in Alex’s portfolio to date. Predominantly print based, his work is contemporary yet clearly accessible, hinting to the elevated design of commonplace objects aforementioned above. “I enjoy making typography and layout systems,” he says on his creative process of purposely removing elements of control. “I will make some initial decisions regarding how the structure works, but then I like to see what happens when it is followed through in a very inflexible way.”
Admiring the compositional quirks that occur as a result of this process, Alex observes any “strange alignments and the friction between different elements.” This serves as a basis for how he approaches a project, and with this in mind, we can admire the playful spacing, interesting type choices and eclectic mix of elements on the pages of Alex’s work. In turn, Alex distils his signature visual language down to this: “I like it when something looks idiosyncratic at first glance, but then after some time, you notice the underlying logic.”
A similar approach follows the production methods for Alex’s designs. In contrast to the way most graphic designers work, first, he chooses materials at the very beginning of the project. Then, aesthetic decisions follow, depending on the answer to questions like “What kind of printing will be used? How do the inks behave? How is the paper folded?” Following this unconventional pattern, Alex’s work can be appreciated for its artistic structures which often feel painterly in its languid compositions.
The designer likes to print his work himself too (if he can) using Risograph in some cases and in others, working with local printers and binders. Allowing him to cut down on the supply chain and distance, there is another benefit to this way of working. “I’m keen to learn about these technical aspects and know what the limits are and where experiments can be made,” he goes on to say. Exemplified in the softcover book he designed last year, Schemas of Uncertainty, Alex’s design centred around two illustrations by Bin Koh printed on the fore-edge of the publication. When the book is open, the illustrations appear like abstract marginalia but when the book is closed, interestingly, the edges of the page morph between the two illustrations, creating a holographic effect.
Through Alex’s research, he found a way to print the illustrations not on the edge of the book (which can be costly) but rather, on the margins of each page. “It became a way to add something special with only a modest production budget,” he finally goes on to say of the innovative design. In other work, Alex is allowed to experiment freely with type in his designs for events hosted by Research Fellowships at Sandberg. Playing with grids and columns in a free flowing expression of contemporary graphic design, this is just one of many examples of Alex’s work which highlights the friction between styles and registers in both a complimentary yet challenging way.
GalleryAlex Walker (Copyright © Alex Walker, 2020)
Alex Walker: Climate Knowledge (Copyright © Alex Walker, 2020)
About the Author
Jyni became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.