Designer Soapbox: Dave Petherbridge

Dave Petherbridge is one half of the Two Teas design partnership based in West Yorkshire. As ‘Purveyors Of The Finest Pamphlets, Motifs, Slogans & That’, the agency works with clients including the RSPB, Kelly Hoppen, Motorola and WharfeBank Brewery.

They may work with a brewery, but these are people with a serious love of tea. Catch up with them on Twitter @Two_Teas, as they send their tweets from inside a giant teapot on top of a hill in Yorkshire, looking out at the world using a periscope through the spout. Just don’t mention coffee.

Here, Dave talks about what he loves about his job, what drives him crazy about writers and how to find inspiration in a packet of frozen peas.

All this - and a proper brew too

All this – and a proper brew

What’s your day job?

Being half of a small agency with some big clients, I share responsibility for everything from bringing in the work to taking out the trash.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Spare time is a rare and cherished thing for anyone with their own small business. Fun and fresh air are usually a top priority.

What do people get wrong about you?

Forgetting the sugar in my tea.

Why did you want to be a designer?

Every time we returned from the shops, my mum discovered me clutching anything from brochures and pamphlets to simple handouts, promoting everything from films to frozen peas – if I liked it, I picked it up.

Almost 30 years on and the attraction has become a career driving passion. I’m still collecting imagery, ideas and ways of working. Thankfully the collecting has become digital these days.

The supermarket as source of inspiration (see Sainsbury's Own Label book)

The supermarket as source of inspiration (see Sainsbury’s Own Label book by Jonny Trunk for striking 70s packaging)

What was your first job?

I started my career at a small agency in East Yorkshire with a despotic but brilliant Creative Director. It was both a baptism by fire and a wonderful way to learn my craft, at speed – especially after the indulgent deadlines of university.

How did your career develop from there?

I moved to West Yorkshire and spent the ensuing years working for a handful of very different agencies. Art Direction became a passion, allowing me to work with photographers and also directly with writers as more of an old school ‘creative team’. Working with passionate, creative, positive people is a wonderful privilege.

Traditionally a print designer, I have had to evolve over the last couple of years as our work is now 98% online.

What do you love about your job?

Every day is different. Things change so fast that even after all these years it still excites and challenges me. I’m fortunate to have seen such seismic changes in the industry. I started in 1996 on a drawing board (you may want to Google that, kids) and now find myself working in ways that seem to completely change with the seasons. I always said it was the best job in the world, and it is.

Ad for the A.B. Art magazine. "The text on the strap is a day in the life of the owner," says Dave. "The writer typed the text into a mask I'd created,with me kerning the type to fit exactly. I just about drove him nuts."

Magazine ad for Swiss watches. “The text on the strap is a day in the life of the owner,” says Dave. “The writer typed the text into a mask I’d created,with me kerning the type to fit exactly. I just about drove him nuts.”

How’s business?

Despite all the portents of economic doom, our clients have managed to continue to grow and be successful due to their positivity and ability to work smarter, as well as harder. Being a small, agile agency with a non-traditional model, we are able to service international brands and one-man bands without difficulty.

What do you enjoy about working with words and writers?

Words originally meant typography to me. During my time at university I was actually taught how to hand render type. Can you believe that? And I have been much the richer for it. Understanding type is key to working with it. Too often, designers confuse typesetting with merely typing in words. Letters are a thing of beauty to be individually appreciated. They can be kerned and aligned in order to create something beautiful. With more typeface and combinations available to convey and reinforce any point or emotion, words will always be an intrinsic part of how I design.

As my career developed I was fortunate to work with many, very different writers – each as individual in approach as the typefaces available to set their work. I have always envied good writers in the same way I do actors, for their ability to portray any character, delivered in any tone of voice – and especially their ability to switch between styles.

A Boys' Own style brochure for a brand strategy agency

A Boys’ Own style brochure for a brand strategy agency

What drives you crazy about writers?

Apart from envying their understanding of the richness of the English language, it does sometimes seem that writers feel the need to give us quantity instead of quality for fear of not earning the money.

How do you see the interplay between words and design changing in your work?

The way we use words as a company has changed drastically over the last couple of years, essentially due to the shift towards digital work. SEO changed words into a very functional element, removing the need for any real depth or audience engagement. Now that has all changed once more thanks to Google’s new machine-learning algorithm developed by Navneet Panda. Google Panda has seen the rise of ‘content’ as a driving force in search engine rankings. It has brought depth, interest and engagement back to the fore. Essentially it rewards site content that’s written by humans for humans – and punishes those who fail to engage. This is both a challenge and an opportunity for writers.

What’s your favourite gadget?

For my 12th birthday I received my very first Sony Walkman – half the size of a breeze block and about as sophisticated. Through countless evolutions, reinventions and more ‘AA’ batteries than I care to remember, the mix tapes have been replaced by playlists. My iPods may be infinitely more advanced, but the experience is still as enjoyable. That said, I do have real trouble rewinding MP3s with a pencil. It’s not all progress.

What’s your favourite place for creative inspiration?

I’m usually at my most inspired when I remove myself from any deliberate creative process. I also crack problems by going for a walk, and am regularly thankful for having a camera on my phone.

Who’s your design hero?

Harry Beck created a true classic with his 1931 London Underground Map.