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Interview with Michael Peters, OBE - International Designer

Internationally renowned designer Michael Peters OBE is well known at Winsor & Newton for creating our iconic Drawing Inks packaging.  At the forefront of the design industry for more than 45 years, his work has revolutionised the relationship between design and business and has continued to attract global interest. Over the course of his career, Michael has created some of the most successful design companies in the world including Michael Peters and Partners, Michael Peters Group PLC, and Identica. Read more about Michael Peters Career spanning 40 years>

Michael Peters
  Winsor & Newton Inks - winners of the 1973 D.A.D.A.
silver award for a design programme

The design work for Winsor & Newton Inks has become an iconic reference point for designers, winning a D & AD design award in 1973 for Packaging Design. The design team worked on the design and advertising for Winsor & Newton over an eight year period, developing award winning packaging by commissioning illustrators, designers and artists to demonstrate the versatility of our products. The result was real design innovation that generated ground breaking designs that have earned a place in many design museums across the world.

This month our Artists’ Outreach Manager and Resident Artist, Paul Robinson, interviewed Michael about his work, career and relationship with Winsor & Newton.

How did your relationship with Winsor & Newton begin?

I was contacted by Alan Brown, the Marketing Director of W&N at that time and we had a long talk about business relationships and how they develop over a long period. I heard nothing more for some time. Then, out of the blue, he called and invited me to lunch. Having lunch there was a most peculiar experience in that they only allowed 15 minutes for me to do the hard sell before lunch started. However that was the beginning of a very good business relationship as well as a very strong friendship.

                 Inks Spider







As Black Indian ink remains the most popular colour in the Drawing Inks range, the illustration Michael Peters & Partners devised for its packaging covered four times more area than the other packs. A spider was an obvious choice because it could stretch out over a wide area.

What highlights do you remember from the 8 year period that you worked with Winsor & Newton?

There were so many memorable highlights and all the projects were so exciting for a designer. I remember the Chairman instilling in me the notion of perfection in all the work we did for them which we were happy to adhere to. He also insisted that at all times I personally work on the job. I have fond memories of meeting so many good people at W&N from all the projects I worked on.

Drawing Ink   

Do you remember the original brief for the Drawing Ink packaging and how did the project progress?

There was no previous packaging for this product at the very beginning and so we were free to make up a brief which was virtually unheard of. Once the concept had been developed, it took a relatively short time to progress and I knew that if I could get this concept accepted, it could be a masterpiece. Alan Brown needed to be convinced at first but I remember the fun we had working together right from the very beginning. It was so thrilling and I had no idea how famous this job was going to be and the fact that one can see it to this day, so many years later. The packs have so much energy and the original concept is still in evidence.

What attracted you to design as a discipline?

I originally wanted to be an architect. However without high academic grades, I left school at sixteen and joined a small practice as a studio junior mistakenly thinking it was an architectural practice. It turned out to be a graphic design studio run by a German designer called Arnold Rotholz. I learnt a lot from him and after eighteen months I applied and was accepted to the London College of Printing on the Typographic Course. After three years, I won a design scholarship to Yale University School of Art and Architecture on their Graphic Design Course.

How would you describe good design?

Good design is firstly a good idea. This has to be combined with good typography, photography, illustration – in other words everything that surrounds it.

Looking back at your career, what achievement are you most proud of?
I recently had a book published called Yes Logo – 40 years of Michael Peters branding, design and communication. All my best achievements are in that book. Every nuance of typography, every stylistic approach is included in the book and is what I’m most proud of. If you haven’t already got it – buy it!

Do you think that the aesthetics in design are the same or similar to the aesthetics in fine art?

No. I think that the aesthetics of fine art are different to design. Fine art is a rendition of the artist’s desire and only comes from one source whereas design has to solve a problem and many people are involved helping to bring it to the marketplace. Ultimately it has to be commercial.

Michael Peters, OBE - Background about the Designer

Michael studied at the London School of Printing and Graphic Arts (now London College of Communication). After graduating he went on to win a scholarship to Yale University’s School of Art and Architecture in New Haven, Connecticut. At Yale he studied under major design figures such as Paul Rand, Josef Albers, Norman Ives, Herbert Matter and Alexej Brodovitch and he acknowledges these teachers and the Bauhaus School as huge influences on his career. He graduated in 1963 with a Masters Degree (MFA Yale).

After graduating from Yale, Michael worked for CBS Television in New York on campaigns in advertising and design. In 1965 he moved back to London to begin a long and illustrious career in design, setting up his own design company, Michael Peters and Partners in 1970.

He was also one of the founders of the School of Communication Art.

Along with Winsor & Newton, the impressive list of clients that Michael has worked with include BBC, Virgin, Martell, British Airways, Bird's Eye, Shell International, Unilever, Phillips (Holland), Giorgio Armani, Procter & Gamble, BP, Universal Studios, Johnnie Walker, Tesco, the new Wembley Stadium, Vodafone, NatWest, Ocean Spray, Planters, Reebok and Nike to name a small selection from a vast portfolio. 

Michael remains a key player in the design business as a brand consultant and continues to promote the power of design worldwide. YES Logo, a retrospective book charting Michael Peters' career and his contributions to the design world was published by Black Dog Publishing in October 2008.

Michael has won countless design awards over the course of his career. His first D&AD Yellow Pencil was won in the 60s, early in his profession. In 1990 he was awarded an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) for his services to design and marketing. He was also nominated for the Prince Phillip Designer’s Prize in 2002.

In 2009 he was awarded the D&AD President’s Award for outstanding contribution to creativity. 

Yes Logo, 40 Years of Michael Peters Branding, Design and Communication, by Sarah Owens chronicles the history of this extraordinary designer, published by Black Dog Publishing, London.   

For more information about the current projects being undertaken by Michael Peters & Partners, see their website: www.michaelpetersandpartners.com.