Unapologetic design provocateur Richard Turley’s work always shows a deft engagement with the times we live in. His occasionally iconoclastic covers for Bloomberg Businessweek transposed a playfully rebellious spirit entrenched in the digital world to the mainstream newsstands; while in his role as creative director for MTV News, Turley foisted a boisterous barrage of glitchy graphics at his predominately teen demographic. It’s a tirade that requires an affiliation for improvisation, distraction and experimentation, one that the designer revels in as he engages with his audience across multimedia platforms.
Now the sought after designer is at Wieden+Kennedy, and his methodology continues to be more of a youthful attitude than a precise set of goals or processes. We see this here as Turley tells us the story of his first “job” during art school: the editorial design for his university’s student magazine. Despite being the result of belligerent drunken nights and political fracas, it was this project that landed the designer his first internship with The Guardian and paved the way to a successful media career.
“I studied graphic arts at Liverpool Art School at Liverpool John Moores University in the mid ’90s. It had a very free, unstructured approach to studying the craft of design—to the extent that it was barely a course at all. I don’t have very much memory of turning up, and when I did, it was to collage or something…
“[Graphic artist] Jimmy Turrell was on the same course as I was and we became really good friends. At the end of our second year, we were in a bar one night and bumped into the newly appointed editor of the university magazine, Shout. Jimmy had known him for a while and we got to talking, which lead us to volunteering to design the publication. It wasn’t something that up until then had had a lot of design—it was more ‘laid out’ by students on the journalism course.
“Jimmy and I loved magazines—it was the golden age of The Face, Dazed, Trace, Raygun—and being dumb wannabes, saw that the student magazine had potential.
“I remember us turning a couple weeks early to university in our third year to do the first issue. I don’t think we had a plan or any idea what we were doing. Looking back, I’m surprised we could even use the software, which was probably Quark XPress.
“We eventually honed our process, which would involve turning up about a week before each issue had to ship with a box of photos, drawings (and most importantly, beer), and then we’d slap something together until it made sense to us. We’d get into the office as everyone else was leaving and would stay late into the night, getting progressively more drunk. There was very little consistency between one issue and the next, almost no consistency between one page and the next, but we had that bravado of youth, and a naivety that meant we didn’t even really see those things. Just getting an issue out felt like an achievement.
“One of my biggest lessons at the time was when, one drunken, late night, I changed the headline for a puff piece on a new library about to be built by the university to ‘YET MORE WASTED MONEY.’ I didn’t really think any more about it… In fact, I totally forgot that I ever did it. Then the next week, when Jimmy and I walked over to pick a copy of the magazine, we were greeted by the sight of an assembly line of furious university staff white-outing the headline from every single copy of the magazine. It was a lesson in the power of the media, which I hadn’t really considered before. I think we got punished by being banned from the student union premises for a day or something for that.
“I suppose moreover I realized that corporate design—whether designing logos, brochures, websites, or even record covers, ads, or websites—is different from working on media; media carries a different weight. You receive information differently; it has a different emotional density. No matter how beautiful a record cover is, it’s never going to talk to someone in the same way that the front page of a newspaper or a magazine spread can. Through working on Shout, I begun to understand that I wanted to be part of that conversation rather than one around pure aesthetics. I love the way you get into people’s heads.
“We had an especially fractious relationship with the editor. He absolutely hated us by the end (probably with good reason). It transpired about half way through our time at Shout that he only wanted to edit the magazine to use it as a propaganda tool for his quest to be President of the Student union (which he got by the way—power of the press!). He fired us multiple times, but seeing as we never got paid and it was a student union based on left wing ideals of workers rights and inclusivity, we sussed out he couldn’t really fire anyone so we just kept on turning up. We’d do awful things to his desk and seat when he wasn’t there. It wasn’t just him, I seem to remember falling out with everyone in the magazine, and with each other too. There was definitely one issue I did pretty much alone after a particularly heated argument. We were… passionate.
“The only other time we saw the editor after that was at an award ceremony where we won a prize for the ‘Best Designed Student Publication.’ If memory serves, there was some sort of altercation when he tried to claim the award for his own. Part of the prize was work experience at The Guardian newspaper, which set me off. I have idea what would have happened to me if we had’t won that. You’d like to think it would have still worked out, but honestly, who knows?”