Saturday, 31 January 2009

The Death of The Designers Republic

The monumental, inspiring, groundbreaking design agency The Designers Republic has closed its doors.

For those of you not half drowning in the design industry as myself The Designers Republic (or tDR) were an award winning internationally reknown agency based in Sheffield who did more in their 23 years of design practice to subvert and challenge the creative norms and progress digital postmodernism than anyone. It all started with Ian Anderson designing record sleeves for Age of Chance based around Russian Constructivism. This was the dawning of the digital design era with Mac platforms springing up at most agencies and Anderson rejected traditionalist approaches in favour of a projection of purely digital aesthetic.

This work continued apace adopting many different visual influences from Japanese culture and corporate branding and re-inventing them through tDR's kaleidescopic digital vision. The resulting work for Pop Will Eat Itself, Warp Records, and Wip3out became an instant success due to its complete leftfield avante garde aesthetic compared to the rest of the design industry. The Designers Republic, in essence, created and sustained its own movement. This is the most important aspect to tDR. It created its completely identifiable signiture style and therefore a brand. People would come to tDR for work that looked like it had been made by The Designers Republic. This is contrary to how most agencies used to work. tDR made the first authentic niche in the design industry, lived in it, and expanded it until it broke.

The Japanese elements to tDR's design work are a prime example of how the process at tDR works. The agency raided Japanese design culture, expanded on the most modern and challenging design practices, exaggerated it, and then repackaged and resold it back to the Japanese. I like to describe this work as 'more Japanese than Japan'. And it is. Its a design characture that is extreme and over the top in all the main Japanese design catagories: Minimalism, detail, composition, reduced palette, and coolness. Its Nihon-Hyperbole.

Unfortunately The Designers Republic became a victim of its own success with work for Coca Cola, Orange, and other large corporations beginning to water down the basic premise of tDR. While the company admirably continued to blaze trails and stamp its own design signature on its output the restrictions of working with larger and more corporate clients had a negative effect on the company. This, combined with a number of financial issues during the recession, caused the Republic to close its doors in January but one has to recognise founding member Ian Andersons heart hadn't exactly been in it for the past couple of years. In a recent interview he suggests he will get back to his roots, back to where The Designers Republic was an outsider and a controversial figure, and back to where all the fun is.

So next time you're looking at a new piece of design work that uses some twisted corporate sloganeering whilst ramming some Japanese styled clean corporate design in your face with some hot pink pantones you'll know the designer is just a pretender to the throne recently abdicated by tDR. The Republic is dead, long live the Republic.

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