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Ian Anderson on the making of AZTDR™

With AZTDR™ now shipping, we spoke to Ian Anderson, TDR™-founder and the author of the book, about the process behind putting an A—Z of his studio’s work together – and how he went about the task of selecting projects for inclusion from more than 30 years of The Designers Republic™.

AZTDR™ is now available to order from the Unit shop.

Mark Sinclair: Can we talk about the format of AZTDR™ and why you wanted to organise the studio’s work alphabetically, rather than chronologically or by sector? What does an A—Z enable you to do?

Ian Anderson: Although TDR™’s work exists in time there’s no intentional chronological development to it, just a series of obsessions punctuated by low boredom thresholds and fuelled by the clients we work with and the projects we work with them on. To show our work in the context of evolution negates the notion of a body of work showing what ideas look like. Time isn't a connection here.

It could be more accurate to group the work in terms of the themes we bounce back and forth from, but physical books work better as analogue experiences; there is a beginning and an end (and usually a middle) — the reader can flick forward and backward, and an author can direct that to a degree, but the way TDR™’s work references and self-references other work and themes makes it impossible for any thematic grouping to work in any constructive way.

No TDR™ design is an island, everything exists in the context of everything else and the random connections the reader makes helps to amplify this. But there has to be an order of content for practical reasons in a book and an A—Z creates an order that allows navigation based on an abstract idea not related to the work itself, either in terms of chronology or concept. It also allows for some interesting unintentional connections. It also makes sense to offer the work for consumption alphabetically because it connects with the AZTDR™ talks I’ve been doing around the world over the last four to five years.

MS: In addition to telling the story behind the majority of the 170+ featured projects in AZTDR™, you’ve also focused on the core ‘idea’ in each of them. Why take this route and show, as you say in the book’s introduction, “what ideas look like”?

IA: I’m only interested in (graphic) design as a conduit for communicating ideas and solutions. The better the design, the better the communication and the more effective (and interesting) the dialogue it provokes. You can look at the book as a compendium of great design, but that’s not what I see, or at least not all I see.

MS: In terms of looking back at the studio’s earliest work — and to some of its most well-known projects, particularly from the 1990s — did this process make you think differently about the TDR™ story, or the studio’s evolution?

IA: Not really. It’s been an interesting process, like reading an old diary, getting to know the person I was, or the people we were when a given design was created. Primarily, it’s made me hungry for new projects, new opportunities, new conversations, new collaborators and new clients. The past is a nice place to visit, if you have a reason to, but it’s not somewhere to stay.

MS: There’s a balance of well-known TDR™ projects in AZTDR™ as well as much lesser-known work in the book, but did you have a selection criteria for including work? Are some projects special to you for reasons that TDR™ fans might not be aware of?

IA: We work for other people primarily because it’s interesting to us. Because we immerse ourselves in the process we give more than service (sometimes too much). What we see in a project isn’t necessarily what other people see … so maybe this is a book about what we see filtered through what Unit Editions perceived to be what people would like to see. It’s a snapshot really. Nothing is written in stone.

MS: There are some 28 different PWEI projects included in the book and ten Autechre collaborations. What’s the key to the longevity of these relationships, do you think?

IA: Trust.

MS: Many TDR™ fans came to the studio’s work through music or its self-initiated projects, but is there a particular area of TDR™’s work that you’re keen for more people to know about — and that the book enables you to share?

IA: I would happily do an entire book about the work, the ideas, the themes, the problems and the solutions, both specific and universal, that we immersed ourselves in with Manchester School of Art. We also did a great body of work for Manchester School of Architecture which got shelved primarily down to inter-Uni politics. There was so much creative which never got used, so many plans cut short, so many opportunities missed.

MS: Can you tell me about some of the more recent projects you were keen to include in AZTDR™? Is the older work somehow easier to decide upon in that it has, in your eyes, either stood the test of time, or not?

IA: It’s definitely easier to identify older work to include — the benefit of hindsight or maybe how the work has grown a life of its own. Its always interesting to see the real world populated by ideas that have previously lived in your head or on your monitor. But, there’s a hierarchy of ideas which help to inform the choices, the selection.

If anything, I think we went with more music work than I initially intended — most of the ideas I find more interesting inhabit bigger, more corporate projects, because they are bigger problems to solve. But, as with Coca Cola, Audi, Manchester School of Art etc, the solution doesn’t always reside in picture book graphics, maybe it’s out there in a strategy somewhere. We decided against including a raft of Pinterest work, for example, because its output was a feed for other ideas, answers as more questions.

AZTDR™ is now available to order from the Unit shop.