The cooks are working like ants in the open kitchen, industriously pumping out breakfast orders as the southern hemisphere floor staff flit about sporadically asking if you need anything with a tone of reservedness that any blue blood would be proud of.
Fresh sweet coffee wafts up from the roastery in the basement. Customers pile in for their flat whites to go, early morning business meetings are being held in booths, freelancers type furiously in front of the huge windows. They are too absorbed in their keyboards to notice the blue sky above and bright summer clothes passing by. One sharp dressed man sits adjacent and is eavesdropping in on Dalton’s words.
Dalton is dressed in a white shirt and black jeans, his black boots slip effortlessly from under the hem of the jeans, an ode to the 1960’s polished style of Mick Jagger. He looks startlingly like a young Christian Bale. Minimalist electro beats of The Knife are playing in the background as Dalton pores over his sketches in his notepad. By his own admission he is shy however when the subject moves to design his words are considered and his face lights up as clichéd as that sounds – but it really does. He is a man obsessed by design.
He is originally from the Dun Laoghaire/Killiney area of Dublin. He has been living off Holloway road in London for just over a year and a half. He found his apartment serendipitously through a previous client. The client owned the apartment and offered it to Dalton. A symbol of generosity that clashes with the perception that all Londoners are intensely individualistic. No doubt the client could see brilliant talent in Dalton and wanted to help foster that.
He also found his current job with SEA Design through chance. He discovered their book SEA 10 in the library at Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design & Technology (IADT). The book was to mark the studio’s 10th anniversary and consisted of all their work. ‘It was limited edition, you could barely get your hands on it in the library. When I discovered this kind of work, I could not believe people were doing it. It completely turned me on to graphic design.’
From Fine Art To Visual Communication
He spend seven years studying at IADT. He first started out in fine art and then decided to take a second degree in visual communication. At the time he questioned his decision to get a second degree. ‘It was scary going back to graphic design after fine art. I was happy after my first degree. I envisaged myself having a little studio to paint in and having a nice life. I was on a set path so to deviate from that was risky financially. But I’m glad I did it, it felt right.’
It’s on twitter where he saw the job for SEA Design, ‘it took me a week to respond I wanted to get a portfolio together and curate it especially for them. I didn’t want to show any old stuff. I was kinda afraid that maybe I left it too long, anyhow I submitted it off and they got back to me immediately. I was chuffed!’ As he he should be, SEA Design work with incredible brands such as Jaime Oliver, Selfridges, Regatta and many more.
‘I look back to the past a lot especially designers from the 1960s and 1970s. You can see trends coming through again and again. Back then there were no limitations. They were quite ballsy, the client trusted the designer more. Nowadays a lot of companies need so many people to approve something,’ which means being risk averse.
Sean Scully, Bridget Riley, Sol Lewitt and Damien Hirst are artists that he admires. In a Guardian interview Scully talks about how the fields of his Irish childhood inspires his work, to him the fields are ‘flags of imaginary countries not yet discovered.’ All of them embrace geometry, pattern and melancholy. Here’s a quick question for you that is on topic but also off topic, which one of them put a cigarette up his penis after an alcohol and cocaine binge?
The common theme in Dalton’s work is clean design, ‘it’s probably reflective of my personality, its an aesthetic I like.’ In the graphic design world he is a fan of International Typographic Style which is also known as Swiss style. It has a strong focus on clarity, order, cleanliness, readability and objectivity. Sans Serif is their preferred font as it is for Dalton, ‘a type style believed to express the spirit of a more progressive age.’ Other influencers include Wim Crouwel, Jean Widmer, Total Design, Geigy and Lance Wyman who did the Mexican 1968 Summer Olympic Games logo.
‘I was doing a project called Album Anatomy. It was a poster series. I did eighty A1 posters about my interpretation graphically of an album that I love. The style was very rigid, it had the band name, track length and in between is my graphic response. I did that for three years but after a time it got very restrictive. There is graphic design out there that is very loose and witty like Stefan Sagmeister. He is a rock star of graphic design, his stuff is very organic, with bold statements. For him it’s all about the idea. I get a bit annoyed that I can’t be as expressive.’
‘Designs in connection with postage stamps and coinage may be described, I think, as the silent ambassadors on national taste,’ said William Butler Yeats. Dalton has been designing stamps for over a year now. It’s a personal project that has attracted a large following on Instagram. From listening to Dalton’s story you could easily point out that he has become more bold with his design which sits in contrast to what he thinks.
As a child he would draw every formula one car with their logos for each season, an exceptional feat for a child and an early clue to his love of order. It seems that this stamp project is harking back to that time in his life, a time of new possibilities to explore. ‘I wanted something that I can express myself more with. I can use any pattern, colour and font. Stamps have been around for so long, I love looking at the 1970’s modernist stuff. The format is appealing from landscape to portrait and square. The scale challenges you to communicate effectively.’
The founder of SEA Design Bryan Edmondson said in an interview with Design Boom that, ‘designers are magpies.’ Dalton is no different, he is constantly collecting ideas that he uses for his stamps project. He averages at creating one stamp per week. ‘I have a notebook, I believe in drawing stuff first. I always try to have a meaning.’
His most popular stamp to date is of the American moon landing. He points to an image of the stamp on his phone, ‘This was for the moon landing. It’s literally one dot made of blind emboss. That means it comes out of the paper. That’s the fun of this project no one can tell me what to do. It looks easy but to strip everything back is challenging. You need to be aware of the stuff you don’t need, the excess stuff. I want to communicate something in a glance.’
His project has resonated with many people and his next goal is to make the project into a book. ‘I want to make a nice book with nice colours, a nice dust jacket and section dividers.’
He seems unaware of his talent but thankfully most people notice it. He is modest and has boundless creative energy that not even his colour blindness can halt. ‘I’m partially colour blind, I struggle a lot with it.’ His girlfriend who is also an artist made him a colour chart, ‘now I’ve a set guide of colours that I know will work.’ It’s the ease at which he sees answers and solutions through the haze of visual noise that have people telling him that he now influences their design, ‘it’s a really nice feeling that people think that’.
You can look at Duane’s work here duanedalton.com
You can check out his stamps project on Instagram: duane_dalton