Design: Back to Basics

by Feb 27, 2014

With designers often having to quickly churn out work from their trusty steed Mac, Nat explores the idea of stepping away from machines and going back to design basics.

Today’s working world for a designer demands a fast pace and quick turnaround to meet those ever-present ‘urgent’ needs. This often leaves designers desperately depending on their ol’ faithful Mac to churn out the work without having time for exploration of novel or different approaches, or delicate crafting of the final piece. Damn you deadlines.

Thankfully, in the wider industry we’ve seen a resurgence of the traditional hands-on ways of working. At Cannes last year I saw a huge focus on work that allowed designers to be unshackled from their keyboards and instead go back to basics. This allows the creator to be both mentally and physically immersed in their work: now relying on their hands to bring a concept to life.

I love this anti-digital mentality and the way it brings a sense of intimacy and real blood/sweat/tears to what you see. This work was created by incredibly dexterous and passionate hands, not by clicking a few buttons, and that should be celebrated.

I’ve spent a while hunting for examples of design craft, here’s some of the best:

Dirty Bandits




Typography in itself is an artform. It can make or break a design, or sometimes even BE the design as this Dirty Bandits work shows. These eye-wooing, quirky handmade type pieces come in the form of prints and other such paper-based objects that can be purchased from here.

Jack Daniels, Independence


In a celebration of independence, Jack Daniels worked with local artists to create five stunning hand crafted posters presented via short video stories, which you can view here.



Stefan Sagmeister has been exploring this humanistic approach since his iconic 1999 poster, where he carved detail into his own body. Thus began a career which saw design in a different light.

Sagmeister explains “With the advent of modernism, everything became machine-made, be it in architecture, products or graphics. This made a lot of sense in the 1920s when there was a need to get rid of ornamentation in order to reflect the cultural climate. As this machine-made ‘objective’ direction has now been the status quo for almost 100 years, a more human, handmade, subjective, natural approach is the more effective way to communicate.”

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And with the recent addition of Jessica Walsh to his empire, the pair have been exploring many ways to shape design without mechanised processes. View the company website here.

TBWA, Paper sculptures



As a self promotion exercise, ad agency TBWA\SA transformed varied creative briefs into paper sculptures using the raw materials of the document itself. The idea behind the experiment was to capture the attention of the client, expose the essence of the brand and promote the talent that TBWA\ Design has to offer instead of answering the brief in a traditional manner. Watch a video of the creations here.

Anthony Burill



Graphic artist Anthony Burrill is also trying to revive the handmade creative process. Burill works closely with Adams of Rye (a printer who specialises in woodblock printing), and although Burill’s practice still uses computers to sketch the typographic prints, they are inspired by his knowledge of wood block printing. “It doesn’t feel as satisfying just doing things on-screen any more, I like the long process of making work physically.” View his work here.


And then there’s illustrations…one of the key things that can really differentiate your work, stamping that mark of individuality on a design. Here’s a lovely example of letterpress card craft to fuel your inspiration:



So with handmade processes returning to the design scene, the next time you start a project put your Mac down and pick up a tool instead.

Words by – Natalie Jahangiry

[Imagery courtesy of Dirty Bandits, Jack Daniels, Sagmeister & Walsh, Ad Week, Anthony Burrill & Behance]
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About Natalie Jahangiry

Natalie is half Persian with a Geordie accent. Although small in stature, she makes up for it with a big personality! As a Graphic Designer you will often find Natalie gushing about her passion for all things creative and sharing her ideas with everyone and anyone who will listen. If she’s not decorating her house you will find her cooking up recipes from her foodie family or propped up in a cocktail bar in town.