CAMPAIGN CRAFT: FORUM; The type fanatic who creates images from words

The publicity-shy head of Saatchis’ type talks to Jim Davies about his passion

The publicity-shy head of Saatchis’ type talks to Jim Davies about his

passion



Which Saatchi and Saatchi creative, past or present, has more awards to

his name than any other? Paul Arden? Jeff Stark? Think laterally. The

chances are that it’s Roger Kennedy, Saatchis’ head of typography. After

all, he’s been with the agency since 1975 and, come awards nights,

you’ll usually find his name tucked in there somewhere among the

winners’ credits. ‘Of course I like awards as much as any other red-

blooded creative,’ he says in his corner office, surrounded by an

inevitable collection of type catalogues and four-colour proofs. ‘But I

also enjoy winning and working on new business.’



Kennedy has certainly had the chance to do that over the years. And he’s

witnessed a few changes too, both in working practices and design

technology. When he joined Masius as a graduate trainee, fresh from St

Martin’s School of Art and Design, art directors were called ‘graphic

visualisers’ and roles within the creative department had no clear

definition.



However, he soon discovered a natural affinity for typography and

layout, and he decided to specialise. At this formative stage, Kennedy

was fortunate to have a mentor on hand to show him the ropes. ‘Dennis

Burton was head of typography at Masius. He took me under his wing and

taught me the rudiments,’ he recalls. These days, the immaculately

groomed Kennedy, who admits to being ‘in my 40s’, heads up his own

department of four typos, who are contributing to some of the strongest

press and poster work in town.



Creative typography can bring another crucial dimension to print

advertising, adding subtle emphases, setting a particular tone, or even

defining an ad’s visual style entirely. Last year’s poster campaign for

the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Bumblebee, for instance, which

incorporated direct quotes from burglars, used dirty great slabs of

type, unevenly set over scratched up, mutilated backgrounds. Combined

with shots of the shrouded faces of the criminals, it was aggressive and

disturbing. The handling of type on the Playboy TV campaign couldn’t

have been more different: languid, swirling letter forms.



It’s not surprising that Kennedy cites Herb Lubalin, the influential New

York advertising designer, as one of his all-time heroes. In the 50s and

60s, Lubalin pioneered the use of words as images, opening people’s eyes

to the power and potential of expressive typography. One of his central

tenets was that the advertising idea should always take a front seat,

and clearly Kennedy has taken this on board: ‘There’s a lot of talk

about a typographer’s relationship with art directors,’ he says, ‘but my

philosophy has always been that ultimately I’m working the copywriter’s

words. I take great delight if the copywriter is happy with the end

result. The first thing you’ve always got to look at is the ad,

understand it, understand the target market, otherwise you won’t get the

tone right. I aim to please the copywriter as much as the art director.’

Kennedy has a deep love of type in all its manifestations. At home, he’s

built up an extensive library of books on the topic, and he also hoards

pieces of ancient wood block type.



But he also has a handle on the future. The possibilities of new

technology, particularly the Apple Macintosh, turn him on too. ‘The Mac

is a boon, we’re doing far more design in-house than we ever have,’ he

says. ‘It’s essential to keep abreast of new developments in hardware

and software. It’s easier than ever to manipulate type, and we’re

discovering new techniques every month, which is very exciting.’

Prompted to recall his proudest moments, Kennedy mentions the recent

‘Have you got two minutes?’ ad for BA Club World, which meant not only

of pepping up a lengthy chunk of copy, but also working within the

constraints of BA’s corporate typeface.



He’s also pleased with his contribution to the JIA (an organisation

dedicated to saving Jewish lives) campaign, which featured specially

commissioned pressed-steel lettering, a chilling reminder of the signage

used outside Nazi concentration camps.



Typically for a typographer, who tend to favour the shadows over

limelight, Kennedy is more than happy to share the plaudits. ‘I’m lucky

to have worked with some of the greatest advertising talent in the

world,’ he says. ‘I still am. I have a feeling that things are going to

go from strength to strength at Saatchis.’ Typographically, they already

are.



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