Adam Rix on finding design inspiration at car racing circuits
Up until recently I always thought I ended up in this line of work because of my art teacher, Mr Phelps. When I was about 14 he told me about a job entitled ‘graphic designer’, pitching it as the perfect combination of my two favourite subjects; CDT and art. So without any real idea what a graphic designer was, I decided to become one.
However, when I recently read an article with Richard Turley (who led the design of the new F1 brand identity) it dawned on me that my love for graphic design actually started much earlier.
I’ve always known that my dad gave me the gift of motorsport (a big passion of mine), but what I didn’t realise until recently is that he also gave me the gift of graphic design. As a kid, we would spend our weekends at stock car racing circuits. He was a tyre and exhaust fitter who loved cars and he was an avid follower of short circuit racing, particularly stock car racing, which a friend of his competed in (Conrad Self, car 636). We’d often spend time in the pits with Conrad, and we’d wander around looking at the other cars.
In the interview, Richard talks about why the F1 logo needed to be so simple; “The identity is also built out of this idea that Formula 1 is full of logos – it’s the sport of logos”.
It dawned on me that his statement didn’t just apply to F1, it applied to all motorsport – including stock car racing. As a kid, I’d gaze longingly at the signwriting on the cars. The car numbers were airbrushed to perfection despite the battered nature of the cars, the detailing almost fooling the eye into thinking they were genuinely metallic. They were covered with colourful hand-painted renderings of logos of local garages, auto salvage companies – even chippies.
And motorsport isn’t just full of logos – there are all kinds of graphics everywhere; the iconic Martini stripes and cheeky abstractions of the Marlboro logo throughout the noughties to get around cigarette advertising laws – each helmet is filled with graphics personal to a driver.
So I’ve chosen the Tyrrell P34 as my design icon for a couple of reasons.
First of all, without being brought up around motorsport I’m not sure I’d have found the career I love.
Secondly, it represents everything I love about F1. Obviously I love the speed, the glamour, the risk… but I also love that F1 is ultimately a competition of creative minds. Teams of creative thinkers (designers, engineers, aerodynamicists) work tirelessly to come up with ideas that make their cars go round a track quicker than the opposition.
I’m a designer that is driven more by ideas than aesthetics, and while there are far more beautiful cars to have graced F1 than the P34 (and far more successful, but we’ll gloss over that), for me it stands for the kind of audacious thinking I love in both motorsport and the creative industry.
In 1975, on a flight home from the South African Grand Prix, Derek Gardner, a designer for the Tyrell F1 team, snuck into the first class section of the plane and showed retired three-time world champion Jackie Stewart his plans for their next car. Stewart had a choking fit on seeing that the proposed car had six wheels. The rest of the sport had a similar reaction. It was an idea borne out of restriction, when many fundamental parts of cars were standardised – so any competitive advantage came from thinking differently.
As a designer who is probably more inspired by advertising than I am by other graphic design, I’ve always really liked this statement on ad agency Fallon’s website – “We believe creativity is the last legal means to an unfair advantage”. That’s what I love about what we do. And achieving that unfair advantage often requires the sort of audacious idea that Gardner had… Drumming gorillas selling chocolate. Thousands of balls thrown down a hill to sell TVs. Advertising for a hotel that tells the world how crap it is. An art gallery with four logos. Stamps with fruit and veg you can stick eyes on… and that’s just the first few things that spring to mind from the archives.
Ultimately our industry is a competition of creative minds – and almost every good creative I’ve ever met is at least a little bit competitive (even if they don’t admit it). Our job is a competition to outthink our peers (and be lauded with industry awards, if you’re that way inclined) on behalf of our clients to make them more successful and more famous – to give them an unfair advantage.
You can’t always win but when you do, it feels great.
Adam Rix views the Tyrrell P34 as the perfect example of using design to achieve a competitive edge.