Drew Smith: ethnographer, strategist and host of Rising Minds

CreativeMornings London Interviews: Michael Johnson of Johnson Banks




For most graphic designers Michael Johnson needs little introduction. And judging by the response we’ve had to the news that he’ll be the first speaker at CreativeMornings London, demand to hear his story will far outstrip the supply of tickets. But for those who are new to Michael, the work of his award winning agency Johnson Banks or can’t make it along to the Sense Loft on July 8, we’ve asked him a few warm up questions on your behalf.


Where do you go when you need to concentrate?
I seem to concentrate best in either cafés with a very strict time limit, or trains. I have been known to go backwards to go forwards or get a slower train, just to make more time to finish a presentation


Is it about what you know or who you know?
Ha. For years, I hoped the former. Now, I fear the latter…


What’s been the most pivotal point in your life thus far?
Probably leaving the country for several years, it seemed to re-set and re-boot everything. It forced me many times out of my comfort zone, and my eyes were opened to design worldwide, not just the 5 mile radius of London


Do you think there’s enough discourse between disciplines?
No. We’ve had some of our best results from working with others. Collaborate with someone equally expert but from a different field and the project just gets better. Conversely, if you have to work with someone dodgy…


Can you teach innovation?
Perhaps not. But I do think that practising, a lot, doing more not less and being prepared to fail puts you in a much better position for success


Dollar or Yuan?
At the moment, it’s Yuan


Do you believe in an afterlife?
Nope. Get on with your life now, not fret about what’s coming next.


Negative or positive freedom?
I’m not sure I understand the question. Is that the reverse of creative discontent?


Ideal holiday?
Bali, about thirty years ago, before they used the reefs to make the big hotels


Can you draw?
A bit. Not that well, but well enough to explain what I mean, if you see what I mean


Can you draw us a wave?
Only when slightly drunk


Individual or state (or both)?
I’m kind of centre left. Does that answer the question?


Favourite LP?
If we’re doing it by ‘most played’ it would probably be a toss-up between Belly of the Sun by Cassandra Wilson, or Offramp by Pat Metheny. Otherwise, you’d probably have to go for Kind of Blue


Last book read?
33 Revolutions Per Minute by Dorian Lynskey, one of the Guardian’s music writers. Probably the best music book I’ve read since The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross


The best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Never apologise about a piece of work in your portfolio. Either take it out, or redo it the way it should be


What advice would you give to someone who wants to be where you are?
Be prepared to spend your formative years working really, really hard, whilst read everything you can on design, art, architecture and business. Then by your thirties, some break-though projects will be needed to put you or your company on the map. After that, each year you’ll need to keep doing  afew breakthrough projects, whilst staying in business, and attracting or finding new clients. Repeat til fade.
Alternatively, ignore all of the above and do it your way.


CreativeMornings is a monthly speaker series and morning gathering of creative types. Each event includes a 15-20 minute lecture, followed by a 20 minute group discussion. The gathering begins at 8:30am with the topic presentation starting at 9:00am and everyone taking off for work at 10am. CreativeMornings are free of charge and made possible by the marvellous Sense Worldwide, The Sense Loft and Gelupo, our amazing breakfast sponsors.

Category: CreativeMornings/London


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  1. […] in July 2011, when CreativeMornings/London launched, we were honoured to host Michael Johnson of Johnson Banks as our first […]

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