Interview: Lawrence Zeegen

As LCC’s Dean of Design Lawrence Zeegen leads undergraduate and postgraduate courses in advertising design, communication design, illustration and visual media and typographic design. Having worked as an illustrator since graduation with first class BA (Hons) in Graphic Arts from Camberwell College of Arts in 1986 and MA Illustration from the Royal College of Art in 1989, Zeegen’s clients have included major international newspapers, magazines, book publishers, design companies and advertising agencies. Zeegen has been a regular contributing illustrator for The Guardian newspaper since 2005.

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m always working on a few things at any one time… At LCC I’m working closely with my staff teams across the School of Design on the relignment of the academic portfolio at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. We’re developing courses that are design-focussed, informed by and informing the creative industries and that will be sustainable models of provision for the future. I’m also working with colleagues to further develop and embed the research culture of design within the college. There are lots of projects at LCC at the moment – it is a pretty fast-paced environment.

My own research interests currently are focused across two major projects – my latest book, for Laurence King publishing, is called 50 Years of Contemporary Illustration and the one following hot-the-heels of that title is The Design Graduate Survival Manual – the everything and anything that all design students about to emerge into the creative industries need to know to get ahead and forge a career in a 21st century global marketplace.

I’m also working with Fujitsu on a project visualising their 12 key new digital technological advances being rolled out across the globe over the next 10 years. We’re working on images influenced by a design movement in the making – ‘the new aesthetic’, most easily explained as how machines might make images for other machines to read / view, basically cutting out the middle man – humans!

I spent 5 years working as a regular contributing illustrator for The Guardian newspaper until last year when after constantly keeping a free half-day slot once a fortnight to make an image for the Comment and Debate section in the main newspaper became too great a challenge so I called it a day. Working as full time academic is pretty demanding and maintaining research and practice too can be a challenge.

Lawrence Zeegen, It's in my head... (YOU, 2001)

Who or what first inspired you to follow your chosen career?
I’ve been inspired by many individuals over the years – British artists Patrick Caulfield, Peter Blake and David Hockney in my youth as well as, almost a cliché I know, US artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Keith Haring all have had an impact. As for designers – I have to mention Jamie Reid, Peter Saville and the work of Klaus Voorman simply for his cover art for the Beatles Revolver album. I grew up listening to the Beatles, as well as the Rolling Stones and Velvet Underground, but it was Revolver that shaped my understanding of how I thought things should look and sound.

Key individuals that ensured I took this path – Dougie, my art teacher when taking my A levels and Paul Cox, the illustrator, teaching at Camberwell College of Art in the early – mid eighties when I was a young upstart art student. By the time I arrived at the Royal College of Art, it was my contemporaries on the course that had the most impact on my development – Marion Deuchars, Jason Ford, Patrick Thomas. Although, if I’m honest, I pretty much had a single-minded vision of what I wanted to do, but being around the best illustrators around was an inspiration.

What are you most passionate about?
Good question. I’m passionate about design education, design for living and good design for all. I’m passionate about great music, great film, great literature, great movies, great moments and great memories. I’m passionate about the future for my sons – Louie (19), Jake (18) and Felix (13) and about the new directions in my life…

Lawrence Zeegan, Expressing Love (UNICEF - Happiness This Way, 2009)

Which piece of art/design/performance/communication/fashion do you wish you had created?
Given the choices… maybe one of each – Warhol’s Death and Disaster series of images, Jamie Reid’s record sleeve for Pretty Vacant, The Clash on stage at the Rainbow, the Internet and Johnson’s, the two shops on the Kings Road and Kensington Market, stocking La Rocka in the late 1970s and 1980s. Lloyd Johnson’s clothes really made an impact on me.

Lloyd Johnson: The Modern Outfitter

Where is your favourite London haunt?
Currently High Street House in Chiswick – the west London outpost of Soho House but my all time favourite (for every one of the 29 years since I arrived in London to study at Camberwell College of Arts) is Wong Kei in Wardour Street. Cheap, cash-only, Chinese where rude swift service is the norm but the food always delivers and the menu has never changed.

What is your guilty pleasure?
Drinking good coffee and watching the world go by.

Name a favourite book, song or film
Favourite book – Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes (forget the movie – terrible!). Favourite song – Watching the Detectives by Elvis Costello. Favourite move – James Bond, Live and Let Die.

What is your signature dish?
It would have to be a Japanese Chicken Curry at the moment, but sometimes it can be a steak sandwich and at other times a pretty good Sunday roast.

What’s next for you?
A trip to Taipei to lead an event at the Taiwan Design Festival before meeting up with fellow ICOGRADA Board Members later next month and then trips to South Korea, Chile and Brazil later in the term to talk design, LCC and UAL with design professionals, researchers, academics and students. I’m also writing an article for Computer Arts magazine on the importance of a university education in design, following on from an Opinion piece for the same publication on the introduction of higher student fees this academic year. I’m busy, busy, busy but never too busy to stop and chat over coffee with new students. Stop me at LCC and I’ll buy the cappuccinos.

 

Do you think arts education has an important role to play in Britain’s cultural life?
More important than important – vital! It may be a heavily-used phrase but design is everywhere and in everything we do as humans… Good design should be the fundamental building block in everyone’s lives. Too often design is seen as the gloss, the sheen, the optional extra… British design is amongst the best in the world, but too often the great British public get short-changed with short-cuts the norm.

What advice would you give to aspiring creatives?
Be positive, be talented, be motivated, be yourself.

Do you have any tips for someone hoping to work in the creative sector?
Feed your brain, feed your eyes, feed your soul.

You have recently been on the reference group for the development of University of the Arts London’s new logo, what are your thoughts on the University’s new look?
Another good question… What can I say…? A little like the Olympics 2012 logo at launch, we were going be criticised whichever direction we went… I’d certainly liked to have been involved much earlier in the process but I only started at UAL in October and by then the brief had probably already been written. I recently read a piece by Creative Review editor Patrick Burgoyne who wondered if UAL might have been facing more flak over the redesign if we were to be moving from the simple Helvetica version to the constellation rather than the other way round… A very good point.
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