Craig Oldham, Office of Craig

Craig Oldham is a designer, educator, writer, publisher, curator, letter-writer, website putter-upper, lamenter, Yorkshireman, and founder of the eponymous practice Office of Craig.

He’s worked with a lot of people you will have heard of, and a lot of people you probably haven’t, and his work has been celebrated internationally: on television, in press and books, exhibitions and festivals.

In 2013, his book The Democratic Lecture, was selected as one of the 50 best design books of the year. In 2014 Oldham published In Loving Memory of Work, which has been described as ‘superb’ and ‘beautiful’ by Turner Prize-winning artists Jeremy Deller and Grayson Perry respectively, and as ‘terrific’ by film director Ken Loach.

The book and print are now held in the permanent collection of the V&A. Craig is also an active member of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, supporting the movement through design and activism.

He also moonlights on committees, global awards juries, educational panels, as well as consulting for arts festivals and acting as a trustee for creative industry charity D&AD. In just over 10 colourful years, Craig has won almost every industry award going and been named as one of the most influential designers working in the UK today. He still drinks copious quantities of tea and (apparently)
swears too much.

What was your first memory of creativity?

I can’t identify one distinct moment or memory of creativity, but I do remember observing my grandad solving problems. He wouldn’t call this ‘creativity’ but there were always enterprising solutions to his everyday problems, usually assembled from the means of one drawer of odds-and-sods in his kitchen; known affectionately in the household as the ‘shite drawer’.

What was your creative journey to get to where you are?

It wasn’t one of distinction, and is probably familiar to many working in the industry. I too was put on the educational railway tracks of GCSE, A-level and degree. But although cliché, I was blessed with encouraging teachers along the way, in and out of education. Through their knowledge I sort-of found my own way.

What impact have big name clients had on your career?

I don’t prescribe to the client-myth to be honest. I prefer to work with people. I believe that if you get the relationship right, then you will do good work. Who that work is for (as in company, organization, brand etc.) is an afterthought for me. Rather than big clients, I’ve been fortunate to work
with gifted and great people.

How do you establish your own style over a period of time and still stay relevant?

I wouldn’t call it style, but for me relevance comes from authenticity. I think if you can work in an honest and real way, then you can almost eradicate the censor of taste. For example, not everyone agrees politically or even socially with some of the work we do, but I believe they can appreciate the passion and authenticity which we bring to it… and that always means the work is relevant, which is
much more important than the self.

Does your work and process develop thematically, or is it more distinctive and random?

I think it’s both. It’s a constantly evolving bricolage of influences, themes, ideas and reference points, but led by different priorities for different pieces of work and processes. I also try not to be too formulaic or prescriptive in the approach for two main reasons: I don’t understand it completely so feel apprehensive to describe it; and unless you change the ingredients, recipes produce the same meals, and I much prefer a rich and varied diet.

Who has been the biggest influence on your work?

Many things influence my work, but one thing above most has influenced the way in which I work: that’s my mother. She still does, and I suspect always will.

What inspires you or provokes the motivation towards creativity within?

I want to make things. I want to contribute. But I want to do these responsibly and also relevantly. I think there is still a lot to learn and a lot to understand, and I’d love to be a part, no matter how small, in contributing to that.

Who do you admire or inspires you the most?

Like my favourite film, or song, or food, it depends on what mood I’m in. I guess if I could steal the career of someone it would be a toss-up between John Carpenter (the director), Dave Eggers (the author), or Nick Cave (the musician).

What is it you love most about what you do?

That, even to this day, I still don’t know what it is.

Event Details: Conversations in Creativity (6.30pm) 3 May – Blackburn Cathedral