Submit Saturdays: Designer Johnathan Pell blends traditional methods with modern technology
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Graphic designer and printmaker Johnathan Pell has just recently finished his BA at Leeds College of Art. Already he’s establishing his own style through a series of experimental projects that often use traditional techniques combined with modern technologies. Johnathan enjoys picking apart the design process to create new solutions and here he tells us more about how he incorporates new elements into projects and what influences his work.
How did you start as a designer?
I have always liked breaking and making things and have ridiculous amounts of interests outside of design. Design allowed me to put all these things together and give them purpose through creating work that had meaning and answered multiple problems. I don’t really like to do the same thing twice, so pursuing a career in something creative was always going to be the route I went down allowing me to continue pursuing new interests that not only amused me but also helped feed into influencing me as a person and a designer.
I can’t say I have ever followed the traditional principles of design and my journey has been somewhat chaotic. This was evident from my foundation year at Wakefield College where I began exploring processes ranging from 3D structures to abstract painting. It wasn’t until I started my degree at Leeds College of Art that I began putting all these random pieces together into something that actually began to have direction.
How would you describe your style? Is it influenced by anything?
It’s very chaotic and deconstructive but the end result somehow has a purpose that communicates a strong message. It’s influenced by everything. In order to arrive where I have over the years I have exhausted a number of influences relating to subjects like architecture, sculpture, photography, engineering, technology and abstract art. But right now I prefer to take influence from things that are real, things that relate to my daily routines and reflect my personality rather than the regurgitation of other design styles.
How do you approach a brief? What’s your process?
My process and how I approach a brief resonates with my style in the sense that it’s very deconstructive with each visual element, be it a production process or design choice representing a certain informative aspect. I like to build up an overall answer to a problem through multiple visual pieces.
I treat each element as blocks of words so to speak, making up an overall story. With the story starting through the deconstruction of the brief, figuring out the initial problem at hand before going through an experimental process of doing, making and breaking things, breaking down and manipulating traditional design principles like grid systems and typical typographic communication. I find each principle can be pushed further this way.
You mention on your site that you work with technology as well as traditional processes – what do you enjoy about working with the two?
I have always enjoyed doing and making, often using very basic and traditional processes be it a basic stencil screenprint or a physical handmade 3D structure. But with the introduction of technology I can begin to push what these products do or change how the traditional process is delivered completely.
There is always going to be a love of printed and handmade products, this will never change. I feel that technology can be applied to things like letterpress and relief prints with the introduction of 3D printing technology, CNC machines and laser-cutters and there becomes less visual restrictions, which allows me to push what’s not possible with solo digital processes. Technology is always going to advance and the beauty of print and traditional process will never die, so there’s no reason why the two processes shouldn’t keep working together.
Can you tell us more about your Digital Letterpress project?
The Digital Letterpress project was an opportunity to place my dissertation and a year’s worth of research influenced by my practice throughout my final year at LCA into a physical output. It gave me an opportunity to compile together all the information regarding the journey of communication starting with the humble beginning of spoken language to the introduction of the internet as a vessel for distributing information.
It compiles together this journey and everything in between using design solutions ranging from laser-cut letterpress to bring together the Gutenberg method of distribution and cyberspace technologies to the dilution of dialogue between friends through the overuse of emojis, abbreviations and text shorthands showing our literacy decline through the increase of text conversations. While the overall design aesthetic shares design principles that show the limitations of traditional distributions like the limited column layouts of the Gutenberg and the introduction of 3D image making software.
What decisions went into designing your website?
The main focus was to create a universal platform for my work to be presented against, something that had little distraction and allowed my work to speak for itself. Squarespace allowed me to create a system that allows all my projects to flow together nicely allowing anyone browsing work to flow through and experience my work and the contents of the site at their own pace with no distraction. My work can be quite complex so the neutralness of the site allowed these elements to remain the focal point.
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About the Author
Rebecca became staff writer at It’s Nice That in March 2016 before leaving the company at the end of 2017. Before joining the company full time she worked with us on a freelance basis many times, as well as stints at Macmillan Publishers, D&AD, Dazed and frieze.