The CDT years

The entrance to CDT’s studio in Brownlow Mews, London WC1 where I worked from November 1995 to November 1997. A wonderful building whose interior was designed for CDT by David Chipperfield Architects.

It learned with sadness last week that the studio where I began my design career was liquidated in October 2011. In the 1980s and 1990s CDT (formerly Carroll Dempsey & Thirkell) was a tour de force in the world of visual communication design, highlighted by design week in their piece: ‘The most decorated consultancies of all time‘. Through its awarding of gold, silver and yellow pencils D&AD have made a canonical listing of individuals and studios who have received the most graphite in the fifty-year lifespan of the awards.

Poignantly, Mike Dempsey in his Graphic Journey blog, this week posted the last installment of The story of Carroll Dempsey & Thirkell (CDT): Part 6: The end of the end. For anyone interested in the history of graphic design, you will learn much from reading his candid retelling of the ups and downs in the life of the consultancy, that he founded in 1979 with Ken Carroll.

Dempsey’s story ignited an unnerving sense of nostalgia in me, resulting in this blog posting. Unnerving because I thought that I had buried my feelings of insecurity, self-doubt and lack of confidence along with (what were supposed to be my salad days, but never were) my twenties. I started thinking about the music that resonated with me in 1996, when I would spend days, evenings and sometimes late nights in Brownlow Mews, WC1. In May 1996 my ex-partner Henrik and I moved into a basement flat in Dartmouth Park Road, in Camden. I recall driving a van down from my parents in Suffolk with the sound of Killing me Softly by The Fugees playing on the radio. George Michael released his studio album Older and This Life – the story of a group of twentysomething graduate lawyers flat sharing in Southwark Street – was the one to watch on BBC2. Paula Snell a designer at CDT and a dear friend used to join me for lunch in the gardens at Gray’s Inn, one day we saw the BBC filming there, much to our delight we saw the strong fiesty character Anna Forbes played by the brilliant Daniela Nardini.

This was also the year I met in person Josef Müller-Brockmann at a lecture, he looked frail. I brought with me the monograph published by Lars Müller, and he graciously signed it for me. Shortly after this, his last public event, he died of cancer.

I was working on a prospectus for Benenden School and spend weeks scanning in photographs from contact sheets, (645 of them in total) produced by the wonderful Czech-born photographer Markéta Luskačová. For years after Markéta would meet up with me before Christmas to hand over a card and a box of her own hand-made chocolates, exquisite!

I remember feeling sad that Laura Herd, a lovely lady and great designer decided to leave, and shortly after her Rebecca Foster went on to new challenges. But new arrivals came, Simon Elliot, Susen Vural, Andy Mosely, James Alexander and the delightful project manager for our team Rebecca Holloway (nee Oliver). In fact if you read Mike’s blog this was the natural ebb and flow of staff, this seemed to be the one constant at CDT.

In the autumn of that year Henrik, myself and ex-Ravensbourne friends Sarah and Hilary went to see Victoria Wood at the Albert Hall. Sarah and I had our photo taken with her after the show. The following day I went to the Design Council with the director I worked for to be briefed on designing their annual report. I met Simon Cowell (no not the Simon Cowell) who was assisting on the project. He is still a good friend to this day, and has become a successful design writer and is currently Senior Commissioning Editor at Berg Publishing. The project team from CDT were invited to the Design Council Christmas party in Soho, a little too much alcohol was consumed, I will divulge no more!

Shortly before Mike’s enforced lay-off from CDT due to cancer, we had started work on the signing project for the National Theatre. Mike took me down to the South Bank in his 2CV to meet with the architects, Stanton Williams, who were working on a new entrance foyer. I’d never taken a ride in a 2CV before or since then! Alan Stanton was a lovely man, only later did I appreciate the work of his practice.

1997 and the Spice Girls were being played on the radio frequently, much to the chagrin of Andy Mosely, another CDT designer who worked on projects for Our Price (long since disappeared from our high streets). There were many laughs, peculiar names of suppliers would make us fall about, charming Mike Dyer would have a constant banter with Neil Walker and anyone else that would lend an ear, and once a week he would get fish and chips from a restaurant on Theobald’s Road. The company who provided IT solutions regularly sent in their man Chris to fix system faults, I used to do impressions of him that made Mike Dyer chuckle.

And who could forget the lady that used to send shivers down Rebecca Foster’s spine? She was the telephone deodorizer and made fortnightly visits, like the CV ride, I have never met a telephone deodorizer before or since my time at CDT.

There are many more memories that I am sure will come to me, and I will update the post as and when I can, sadly though, I haven’t any photos, we didn’t seem to take any, I guess we were too busy.


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