CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/RICHARD SEYMOUR - Polymath turns his energies to D&AD presidency. 1999’s president wants to bring designers back into the fold, Emma Hall hears

This man invented the cordless kettle and designed the Baby-G watch.

This man invented the cordless kettle and designed the Baby-G


With Michael Palin he devised a children’s book which was pipped only by

The Snowman as best-selling children’s book in the year of its


He co-presented a popular BBC television series in which he and his

partner redesigned three staples of modern life - the bra, the toilet

and the car. And he’s won a shelf load of D&AD pencils, including the

President’s Award in 1995.

Richard Seymour, 45, has the credentials to make anyone sit up and take

notice. And as the 1999 president of D&AD, he won’t nestle in quietly

among his design cronies - he’s going to make the advertising fraternity

pay attention too.

Not in the interests of self-publicity, you understand. Seymour wants

advertising and design people to know him so that they can see him

coming when he starts knocking their heads together to make them realise

how much the two disciplines have in common. ’They are joined at the hip

but they just don’t know it,’ he protests. ’Package design is

advertising just as surely as art direction is design.’

Seymour adds that the suspicion between the two D&AD factions is just

down to ignorance: ’This is what wars are fought over. My job is to

break down the membrane between the two. If I fail it won’t be for lack

of trying.’

David Kester, the chief executive of D&AD, says: ’Richard is a

passionate man and his core message plays to D&AD’s strengths. If we’re

clever we’ll get a lot out of him this year.’

For a start, Seymour promises that the design winners will be better

represented at the 1999 awards ceremony in May. If he keeps his word, we

will be spared a repeat of last year’s cringe-making moment when a

picture of a plastic forklift truck was projected on to the screen for

the audience to applaud as a winner. At least this year we might see the

real thing and have somebody explain why it won.

’An ad is what it is,’ Seymour explains. ’A television commercial is all

there on the night, but an injection pen for diabetes which has changed

the lives of millions is only represented by a couple of 35mm


The standing of design at D&AD is also relegated because, unlike

advertising, the best work doesn’t always - or even usually - get

entered. He says: ’In advertising there is a real sense of ownership of

the work which just doesn’t exist among most designers.’ Seymour is on a

mission to make D&AD more prestigious within the design community by

persuading top designers from all over the world to enter their


Worryingly, many of those he has approached hadn’t even heard of


On the difficult judging question, however, Seymour is less


He is proud of the elitist nature of D&AD, which he sees as a ’beacon of

excellence’ and dismisses any suggestion that the judging process is

venal: ’The charge of nepotism comes from outside a lot but I don’t

believe it exists in reality.’ The process is more likely, he thinks, to

be sullied by a lack of proper instruction: ’In pursuit of fair play I

will give them a better briefing,’ he says.

Seymour has already had plenty of ideas about the awards bash, which

will again be held at Olympia this May. He promises to reinstate the

warmth and intimacy lacking at 1998’s event. The table layout will be

reorganised so that we can all ’schmooze a-go-go’ with ease. ’It has to

be a hell of a party as well as offering the work respect. The two aims

are not incompatible,’ he insists.

It is a while since we have seen such an evangelical president of


The 1998 president, Tim Mellors, says: ’(Seymour) has bags of

enthusiasm. Design needs more of a voice and it’s in his nature to make

noise, but he won’t achieve everything he wants. It’s ambitious to think

you can change the whole perception of D&AD in a one-year tenure, but if

he does half of what he wants it will have been a good year.’

Adrian Holmes, chairman and chief creative officer of Lowe & Partners

Europe, believes his former colleague is politically astute: ’He is not

a bull in a china shop but he will cause ripples. Richard is grown up

enough to know to what extent you can affect a large organisation.’

Seymour, who was born in Scarborough and lives in Kingston, is uniquely

placed to make a difference - he has worked successfully in advertising

and design and many disciplines in between. Not long after graduating

from the Royal College of Art, he started freelancing as an art director

at Holmes Knight Ritchie, where he teamed up with Holmes. The pair

offered themselves to Dick Knight on a three-day-a-week pounds 10,000 a

year basis - this was the late 70s - but Knight’s response was: ’You’ve

got to be joking. I could get a good art director for that!’

Seymour was not deterred and soon after began a five-year stint as

creative director of a new hotshop called Blazelynn Advertising. He

continued to pursue other interests, including the children’s book,

Mirror Stone. He eventually broke away to form his own advertising

agency - Seymour Furst - which, by his own admission, ’never got


Anton Furst pursued an alternative career which opened up to him when he

won an Oscar for art direction on Batman, while Seymour was drawn away

from advertising and into new product development until with Dick Powell

he founded the product design company, Seymour Powell, in 1984. Seymour

says: ’I enjoyed the immediacy of advertising but it is ephemeral. It’s

difficult to see months of effort evaporate in a News at Ten break.’

The self-styled ’everlasting bum’ who, by his own admission, had

’hitched through most of the creative industries,’ now finds himself at

the hub of his own international design enterprise and president of

D&AD. Design brings him into the realm of ’deep futures’ where ’you

always have to be a minimum of 18 months ahead of the game and sometimes

ten years ahead. We don’t just predict the future, we do the


The current vogue for ’design’ seen in magazines such as Wallpaper

doesn’t reassure him that the merits of his craft are fully appreciated.

’Whichever advertising creative came up with the line ’Gloria Vanderbilt

designer jeans’ struck a great body blow to design. It contaminated a

whole generation which sees design as a trivial pursuit based on style

vagaries rather than something that affects every corner of our


Seymour Powell’s design credits range from the first digital personal

organiser more than 12 years ago to whole ranges of motorbikes (Holmes

says Seymour has ’engine oil running through his veins’) and deep-fat

fryers. Seymour takes pride in what he calls the ’emotional ergonomics’

of his work, in which he strives to give all sorts of products the same

lasting satisfaction that you get from a good leather jacket or a Zippo


’Everything that isn’t a product of nature is art or design,’ he


’There is morality in design. It is our duty to make things better for

people and everything could be better - even the best is not good


This passion was illustrated in the series, Designs on your ..., when

Seymour and Powell questioned why women always ended up fastening their

bras at the front and then swivelling them round to the back; or why

toilets all have rims that collect germs.

The constant struggle against the status quo will also be the theme for

the series of D&AD president’s lectures for which he wants speakers who

are ’guarding the flame’ - creative people who have bitten, clawed and

dragged themselves through adversity until their ideas prevailed.

Seymour doesn’t claim to be one of these ambitious, motivated

individuals himself. ’I left school with no big ambitions but I’ve come

into the orbit of some truly great people who have inspired me and added

velocity to my life. If it was just me, I’d never get out of bed.’


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