Graham Clifford Design

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Graham Clifford got an early design start in his native London. At age 6, he was tracing letters from the reference books his type director father, Reg, who worked at Leo Burnett and other agencies, left around the house. Something must have stuck, because a decade later he'd elected to learn art direction and typography in a rigorous apprenticeship under his father's wing. "It was a baptism by fire kind of thing," says Clifford, now 40, who remembers creating as many as 50 layouts per brief. "He thought I was going to give up halfway through, but I kept up just to annoy him."

Kept up he did. Clifford landed his first typography job at 19. Since then, he's brought better letters, not to mention design, to several London and New York ad agencies-most recently as design director at O&M/New York-until 1994, when he launched Graham Clifford Design in New York. His recent work includes packaging for Moby's Teany line of beverages; Jetrosexual, a magazine for Virgin Atlantic Airways, produced with Crispin Porter + Bogusky; and an aptly irreverent campaign for HBO's Ali G with BBDO/New York.

Clifford plies his trade in a 12-point, Times New Roman kind of world. "Talk to a layperson about typography," he says, "and they look at you like you're speaking Mandarin." But the language difference isn't as make-or-break as it would seem. "You shouldn't have to overthink typography to appreciate it," he says. "When you turn a page over on an ad, you instantly respond before you read one word. To a large degree, that's based on typography. The feel and look of a headline can set you off on whether you're going to embrace it, whether it applies to you, whether you're going to be interested in reading it."

The same can be said of movie title design. Gary McKendry's Academy Award-nominated Everything in This County Must presented a difficult title-begging the question, "Must what?"-but Clifford drew from the film's context, set during the Troubles in 1982's Northern Ireland. Inspired by the spray painted messages on security vehicles at the time, Clifford created a stenciled type treatment, using red rather than the vehicles' original yellow to evoke the blood spilled during the struggle.

It stands to reason that a second-generation typographer should be attracted to the storefront and street signage of New York's font-addled streets. For the cover and divider pages of The One Show Annual, Clifford answered the brief to celebrate New York by sampling its type with photographer Peter Cunningham. On the cover, the masthead of a certain paper of record perused hereabouts provides an emblematic "The," while the "one" of a one-way street arrow sits at the center. A neon "Show" reminds (some of) us of the now-defunct erotic Times Square establishment Show World.

Clifford credits his dad for his ability to see the beauty in type, as well as its endless possibilities. "There are only 24 characters in the alphabet," he says. "You'd think everything that could be done has been done already. But you can find fresh ways to use type every day."

That includes pushing type beyond its functional role. Take his quotehead concept, which turned the inverted comma into a symbol of the DiMassimo Carr Brand Advocates' dedication to word-of-mouth advertising. Each employee of the New York agency receives a custom quotehead-an illustrated portrait of his or her profile that fits snugly within a quotation mark. These appear not only on the website and business cards beside a quote about brand advocacy, but-being easily imported into Microsoft Word-at the start of every letter or memo crafted. It puts a human face, says Clifford, on the company's every point of communication.

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