Graphic designer Dennis McInnes wants to make work that is “strong and empowering”
“The projects I like to work on have to lead me down a new path, and have an idea behind them that’s rooted in some kind of emotion or narrative,” says Dennis.
- Joey Levenson
- 27 October 2021
Originally from Lagos, Nigeria, Dennis McInnes has been living in London for the last nine years. “My journey into design was quite unconventional in many ways,” he tells It’s Nice That. “Mainly because I never studied it officially, so I’m largely self-taught through pure intrigue and appreciation.” Often, it’s assumed that avoiding art school can stifle creativity in art and design. But for Dennis, it’s apparent that the opposite is true. His designs resonate with an edge, where current trends and fashions are adapted to feel unique to his eye. “My circle of friends around the age of 17 onwards really inspired me,” he explains. “They all made music and I wanted to be the guy who designed their covers.” With a flurry of graphic musical references inspiring him, Dennis found himself inspired to pursue the cross-section of both industries. His first job was at NTS Radio, then at MTV, and then finally Vice, before leaving to work freelance. “Working for three different scales of companies taught me a lot,” Dennis says. “The intimate studio environment of NTS, to then the much bigger commercial entities, really helped me understand so many parts of the industry beyond my own, whilst I practised and slowly began taking on extra work.”
It’s not just music that has inspired Dennis’ graphic career. “Design is such an open door that I’ve never felt akin to one area or aspect of it,” he says. “Right now the most exciting thing I’m finding is in collaboration and the symbiosis of two or more brains working to one common goal.” The process of working with others “triggers a really beneficial critique” for Dennis, something he finds is often lost in practising creative solitude. On that note, it seems the process is just as important as the output for Dennis. “The core of how I work is all centred around adapting, and some kind of harmony,” he tells us. “It’s very subliminal to me but each new project feels like an opportunity to reinvent myself or something, and I think it comes from arriving in the United Kingdom as a kid, travelling and constantly having to learn how to navigate different spaces and assimilate to feel comfortable.” Now, Dennis prides himself on being a “fluid” designer, adapting to every project in the same way he himself has adapted to British society for many years.
Adapting his process and output remains a recurring theme for Dennis. He prides himself on abandoning the notion of working with a singular pattern of work. “It exudes this idea of some kind of perfectionism,” he says. “Instead, I think being able to mould and play with different styles and approaches has led me on a very fun journey so far and I’ve worked on a wide variety of projects as a result.” It’s an approach that doesn’t work for every designer, but for Dennis, it has clearly made an impact. Each work in his portfolio feels different from the other, but an unnameable quality still ties them together – thus creating somewhat of a cohesive output. “I’d say the most recurring theme in my work is some sense of simplicity,” Dennis adds. “I try not to overstimulate, and just give whatever the subject is centre stage.”
Recently, Dennis worked on the identity for an ICA exhibition, Channel B, by music collective Nine Nights, which is on from now until the end of January in London. “A group of us were brought in to create the logo and typographic language to be displayed on the walls of the ICA,” Dennis explains. “The world Nine Nights created was deeply rooted in a lot of influences from pirate radio, afro-futurism, speculative fiction, experimental sound, and satire to explore contemporary issues such as surveillance and non-human intelligence and the Black experience, with a series of live performances happening periodically during the calendar.” With so much stimulant to dive into, Dennis and the other designers focused on audience perceptions and challenging the status quo of exhibition text. “We were given song lyrics, poems and satirical adverts and had to figure out the system for it, alongside the main logo,” he adds. “The idea was to make the identity feel almost like you were walking into some kind of factory where all this music and information was being processed.”
Looking into his future, Dennis hopes to focus on launching a joint studio venture with fellow graphic designer George Edge. “Titled Cave Studio, we will begin to centralise our practice and develop on the type of work we've been doing already, but with the hope of taking on more challenging projects that really push our methods and ways of thinking.” So far, the pair have already worked together on five or six projects, “including the identity for Haroon Mirza’s audio-visual label Outputs.”
Dennis McInnes: Joy, film poster for Ahluwalia (Copyright © Dennis McInnes, 2020)