Interview with Michael Peters OBE – designer of Winsor & Newton Drawing Inks packaging

Michael Peters OBE is a designer with an enviable worldwide reputation and his work will always enjoy a prominent place in Winsor & Newton’s history. Peters created our iconic, award-winning Drawing Inks packaging, which became a reference point for designers around the globe.

His team commissioned illustrators, designers and artists to highlight the versatility of Winsor & Newton’s products. The result was groundbreaking innovation that features in many of the world’s leading design museums. Peters has been at the forefront of the design industry for more than 50 years and his work has helped revolutionise the relationship between design and commercial business. Along the way he has created some of the most successful design companies in the world.

Our artists’ outreach manager and resident artist, Paul Robinson, spoke with Peters about his work and career – and that very special relationship with Winsor & Newton.

How did your relationship with Winsor & Newton begin?

Alan Brown, who was then the marketing director of W&N, got in touch and we had a long talk about business relationships. I heard nothing more and then, out of the blue, he called and invited me to lunch. It was a most peculiar experience. I had just 15 minutes to do the hard sell before we ate. However that was the beginning of a very good relationship and friendship.

Ink Spider
The illustration devised for the Black Indian ink packaging had to cover an area four times bigger than the other packs. A spider was an obvious choice because it could stretch out over a wide space.

 

What highlights do you remember from your time with Winsor & Newton?

There were so many, and as a designer all the projects were so exciting. The chairman instilled in me the notion of perfection in everything we did. He also insisted I personally worked on the job at all times.

Do you remember the original brief for the Drawing Inks packaging?

There was no previous packaging for this product so we were free to make up a brief, which was virtually unheard of. The concept came together relatively quickly and, even then, I knew that it could be a masterpiece.

Winsor & Newton Drawing Ink Design

 

What attracted you to design as a discipline?

I originally wanted to be an architect. I left school at 16 and joined a small studio as a junior. It turned out to be a graphic design studio run by a German designer called Arnold Rotholz. I stayed and later was accepted at the London College of Printing. I then won a design scholarship to Yale University School of Art and Architecture.

How would you describe good design?

Good design is firstly a good idea. Then it has to be combined with everything else that surrounds it: good typography, photography, illustration.

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. Every nuance of typography, every stylistic approach is included in the book and is what I’m most proud of.

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 are very different. Fine art is a rendition of the artist’s desire and only comes from one source. Design has to solve a problem and many people are involved in the process and it has to be commercial.

Designed for life

Michael Peters studied at the London School of Printing and Graphic Arts and Yale University’s School of Art and Architecture. After graduating he worked for CBS Television in New York on advertising and design campaigns.

In 1965 he moved back to London, later setting up his own design company, Michael Peters and Partners. Peters was also one of the founders of the School of Communication Arts. Along with Winsor & Newton, his impressive client portfolio has included the BBC, Virgin, Martell, British Airways, Shell, BP, Giorgio Armani, Universal Studios, Johnnie Walker, Tesco, Reebok and Nike.

Peters has won numerous major design awards over the course of his career, and in 1990 was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) for his services to design and marketing. He is a brand consultant and continues to promote the power of design worldwide.

Yes Logo: 40 Years of Michael Peters Branding, Design and Communication, by Sarah Owens, Black Dog Publishing, London