How did a self-described working-class dyslexic from London’s East End become a flamboyant design and branding guru? Steve Edge says the secret is letting the consumer decide what the brand is all about.
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Digital printing is an amazing tool but one that still has some flaws. That’s the opinion of the British design and branding guru Steve Edge. His agency, Edge Design Ltd, uses digital printing extensively for brochures and small-run products such as invitations. The technology can provide a cost-effective, bespoke service to clients, but it still has some way to go, mainly when it comes to exact colour matches, Edge says.
The man himself is more than colourful, known throughout the business for his dress sense, which hovers somewhere between dandyism and a jaw-dropping high-glam style. “Fun” is a key word for Edge. “An agency that has fun produces great work,” he says.
His design firm, which he founded in 1982, has offices in London’s Shoreditch district and in Wolverhampton in the North of England. The client list includes Hamleys, Christian Dior, Skanska, Tom’s Kitchen, Cartier and Lalique.
“We had a formula that was different to all the other agencies,” he says. “It was about being lateral rather than literal. There is too much information in branding and design. Being dyslexic, I always thought I’m not the only one with reading difficulties. It is assumed in the design world that everybody can read and see perfectly. Well, they can’t, and the truth is that nobody is interested in reading hundreds of documents. If you can create something simple that’s lateral, with strong components, then the consumer can make his or her own idea of what the brand is about and create a ‘Wow!’ in their heads. Instead of throwing five balls to people and having them dropping all five, we throw one ball and they catch it. That’s our philosophy.”
Edge describes digital printing as a major breakthrough.
“When digital printing came out it was such a breath of fresh air and so exciting, so easy to use,” he says. “You can be spontaneous with digital printing.”
His studio had previously used a system called Omnicrom, which he described as cumbersome. The designers had to make a black-and-white photocopy, do colour separations according to the Pantone colour charts and then put it all together as a mock-up. Having a digital colour printer in-house has streamlined the process.
How has digital printing changed the studio’s design work?
“With digital printing we can offer bespoke and flexible design products,” he says. “We have done this for Skanska, one of our biggest clients. We can produce a completely customisable brochure for them. If they’re bidding for a project in Scotland, rather than present a brochure with images of London they can present one with images of Scotland without paying a fortune for it. That’s an amazing tool to have as a designer. You can offer the client so much more than with traditional printing methods.”
Other advantages include the ability to do small runs of just a few copies of an item, something that would not be financially viable with traditional printed products.
“We use digital printing mainly for brochures and for invites to launch parties,” he says. “We recently produced a brochure with some 200 pages for the London-based architect firm Assael. They wanted no more than 10 copies of it to be handed out to clients at a presentation. For things like that you simply can’t beat digital printing. But if we need to produce more than a couple of hundred copies of a product we use litho, because it’s cheaper for big runs. Cost is always a factor in this business.”
"When digital printing came out it was such a breath of fresh air and so exciting, so easy to use."
Still, Edge says, digital printing has its drawbacks.
“The main problem with digital printing is the colours,” he says. “Orange is particularly difficult to get right, and certain shades of purple are downright impossible. That is a big problem when it comes to logos, because the colours have to be absolutely spot on.”
Edge thinks the digital design sector could do more to inform the design world about the technology.
“I wish I had some kind of matrix that could inform me exactly what is possible and what isn’t, especially with colours,” he says. “That would make my life as designer a whole lot easier.”
Teamwork makes better projects. Here is Tom West, director and senior designer, with Ilona Gurcinaite, account manager.
TEXT: MICHAEL DEE PHOTO: JULIAN LOVE