John Warwicker – Co-Founder of Tomato Design Company
Tomato specializes in: Architectural Design, Consultation, Drawing, Education, Electronic Interactive Media, Film & Commercial Board, Graphic Design, Fashion, Motion Graphics, Music and Sound, Strategy, Surf & Identity, Photography, Publishing, Title Series, Typography, Writing.
In 1997, tomato interactive was formed with Tom Roope, Anthony Rogers and Joel Baumann. Tota Hasagawa joined in 2001 when tomato and tomato interactive became one and the same.
Baumann has since been professor of interactive media and communication at Kassel University in Germany and is still a member of tomato. Roope is a lecturer of Interactive Media Studies at the Royal College of Art in London.
Currently tomatoes have studios in London, New York, Tokyo and Melbourne.
Laura Schwamb fed one of tomato founders, John Warwicker. Apart from his involvement in tomato, John Warwickers’ book The Floating World is expected to be published by the end of 2006. He also works with the band Underworld, with tomato co-founders Karl Hyde and Richard Smith. Hyde and Smith have been underworld since 1989 and awarded 7 albums for worldwide critical acclaim and their music appeared in various movies. The best known is the movie Trainspotting, for which tomato created the title series. Tomato creates all the band’s sleeves and videos. Released in 2000 ‘Everything, Everything’, Underworld Live is released on CD, Vinyl and DVD. At the time, the DVD was one of the most technologically sophisticated DVDs released and achieved Gold in its own right on the Japanese Music Charts. In addition to the awards and awards, Underworld was the most influential dance / techno band in Japan in 2004 over the past 20 years.
Some tomato clients include:
ABC (Australia), Adidas, AOL, Bacardi, BBC, BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio Scotland, BMW, Casio, Chanel, Clinique, CNN, Coca-Cola, Daidaiya, Dell, Downsview Park New York), DoCoMo, MTV, Nescaf, Nike, Nikon, Nokia, Playstation, Porsche, Quest, Rado Rado, Reebok, Renault, Royal Mail, Sapporo City University, ScottFree, Seiko, Time Warner and many more.
Q: Tell me a little about yourself and your current situation.
John: I was born in London in 1955. I could go to Oxford or Cambridge University to study math or philosophy, but I chose Camberwell’s art school in South London because I wanted to find out how I could describe through experiences and thoughts I have a greater chance of playing with language . (The real reason was that the girls were more beautiful at art school!)
I completed my BA and then my Masters Degree in Electronic Interactive Media, at Birmingham Polytechnic. By the end of the 70’s I had to write my own course. I worked mainly for the record industry in the 1980s, but by the early 90s I had a portfolio of jobs that others (clients) liked, but I didn’t.
By now, other friends of mine had gone through a similar crisis or needed to be resurrected or refocused, so I combined them in the same room. Everyone knew each other and the conversation continued under the cover of tomato.
I’m still part of tomato, in contact with the London studio every day by phone and email.
Over the years, Ive traveled a lot (about 40 countries), sometimes for work, sometimes giving lectures or holding workshops; received some prizes (The most cherished of which I became the first foreign member of the Tokyo-type director’s club); joined a band (in the early 80s as a video DJ) and still remained in contact with members.
In the early nineties the group became underworld and members are also members of tomatoes. And since then I’ve been a member of the group again. I wrote a few articles, I did a myriad of press releases, wrote a book (from this year?) And contributed to the 5 books that published tomato and Ive was a consultant for the British government on the creative industries.
Ive basically driven for 25 years in the company of people I really love, love and respect.
I think it was a fight. One fight is paid enough money to keep myself and my family. I was married 15 years before this marriage and have two beautiful children, Poppy and Angus, from the marriage, on the one hand and on the other hand my art.
So, I think, have I succeeded or achieved anything? Besides the personal stuff like my kids and my marriage to Naomiall whom I and myself and I worship myself, I think the answer is no. Actually, I know the answer is no.
Q: What message do you try to teach your students?
John: I often ask students. Who are you? Who do you want to be? And how do you want to get there? and like them I still have problems answering it. And now and then you have to take a moment to ask the questions seriously. This is important because one can easily deduce and immerse through the commercial world. Now, if someone is happy about it, then it’s good. It’s not a qualitative judgment, just a recognition that I can carry you away from who you are.
Also, I think education has a lot to answer. Many art education around the world fails in its basic requirement to help and support everyone. The ironic thing (and the hardest thing to be objective) is that no tomato or I have worked on the projects we have for the global client list if we believed there was such a thing as the industry.
We are asked to work on projects because we are not part of the industry (although the industry may think we are). Life is too interesting to be limited by the method. This is too reductive. Both tomatoes and I care so much about a humble black and white flyer, as we design a building or a television store for Nike or Chanel.
It is not trying to ignore the commercial projects that IOR Tomatohawe has done. As long as you learn something (which is often the case) it is valuable. But this learning needs to be focused on a goal. And in this multi-media, postmodernist world of distractions we all live, the focus and purpose are not only very difficult to define, but also very difficult to hold on to.
During my commercial life, I have been promoting my own personal work, which has partly served as R&D for the commercial.
And I hope my book, which started, in some ways, when I studied for my MA, had benefited from such a long time of forced labor.
I also hoped the move would be in the commercial habit and need of Australia, but so far it was not. In fact, the opposite. On the one hand I was very happy because I had a lot of work, which was interesting and challenging, and it was necessary because the moving family is always much more expensive than you can imagine. But on the other hand, I had less time for myself, or more accurately for myself. So, this question caught me in a time of trouble, but it’s nothing new!
Q: When you create, what do you feel is the most important aspect? Planning, designing or implementing?
John: When it comes to creating, the most important thing is to keep the spirit of what you are trying to achieve fresh in this process. I often think of this spirit in musical terms, of a note or a series of notes … and that the process has been dealt with to hear something, write it, make it play and record it.
Q: Tell us about your favorite project. What was it?
John: Despite what I said earlier, I am proud of many of the commercial jobs that tomato and I have undertaken. In some ways, tomato is my favorite project. I think the answer to your question is my book, The Floating World, because even if it’s not all I want, it’s been laying a foundation on which to build. The Floating World is 400 pages of thoughts, drawings and photos. It is a journey recorded and reflected on travel.
Q: Where are you going for inspiration? Any Must Magazines?
John: All and everywhere is the true answer. There is no method for this. Sometimes one can look at a book or magazine that contains the most beautiful work with dead eyes, and then it cannot see my eyes as I walk in the street and explode ideas simply. There was a wonderful African group called Osibisa who had a popularity in England in the early 70’s. One of their first songs has the wonderful lyrics of … happily exploding cross-rhythms. That’s what I experience when something comes from me. But as far as the trigger is concerned, it is wonderfully unpredictable.
From the hundreds I touch, these magazines should have me: Idea (Japan), Eye (UK) and Creative Review (UK)
Q: You handle many projects daily. Can you give us a sense of how much, what kind, and how much do you like?
John: The best way to answer this is to list exactly what I did this week:
- Creative direction and rebranding for the Hotel Windsor rejuvenation, including designing 150 different items. Write the interior design briefly and oversee the choice of architects and interior designers.
- Submission of a proposal for an interactive film for Chanel in Paris (with tomato).
- Presentation for a proposal for a Hewlett-Packard television commercial for Asia.
- Design an identity for a large property development company here in Melbourne.
- Designing a website for an English-speaking cultural guide to Paris.
- Work with Rick and Karl or Underworld on a multitude of projects. New Book, Online Publications, 12 “House Bag, 12” Sleeves for Remixes …
- My own work / experiments.
- Preparing for a workshop and my main talk at the big draft conference, AGIdeas, next week in Melbourne.
How do I keep it? Mainly in my head rather than writing them down!
Q: Do you often have to go the extra mile? If so, how often? Give us your most comprehensive example.
John: I think my book, The Floating World is my most extreme example. Without knowing it, I write it all my life. It started when I examined 70 master’s material at the end of the years and then took 25 years to slowly accumulate and come to a critical mass that seemed to have formed in one thing.
In 2002 I started designing the book, all the diverse thoughts, writing and visual material together. I had to design the entire book (400 pages) 4 or 5 times before I was satisfied.
And then the task of finding a publisher starts. The first tomato book was published by Thames and Hudson, so I took the floating world to the editor I knew. He loved the book, but said it was too difficult to publish. The sales team wouldn’t understand it and didn’t want to know how to market it.
Then, through friends, I approached another publisher who wanted to publish, but unfortunately, after a promising start, the company folded. Michael at Tomato suggested that I see a friend and writer, Liz Farrelly, who had several contacts in the publishing house. She was very enthusiastic about the book and sent me to see a publisher named Michael Mack.
Michael immediately said yes. However, this was not the end of the saga. At the beginning of last year I was with my family in my in-laws in Melbourne. The plan was X-Mas and January in Melbourne, then back to London, then to Germany to oversee the printing.
Well, my mother-in-law suffered 3 days before returning to London. Then my wife pulled a ligament in her knee and needed surgery. So, I had to stay and take care of them all and I missed my print slot. A year later I’m still waiting, but it looks like the book is going to print this June.
Add to influences: Lawrence Weiner, James Burke, Sol Le Witt, Carl Andre.
Q: What was your highest pressure situation so far?
John: That’s, and always will be, the first point on the paper or screen.
Q: When designing a project, do you keep it personal and make all your decisions based on solid research, trends and related information?
John: I find it so important not to personally take things and design as a business, so I’m curious to hear other designers feel about it and if it works in some way.
I couldn’t care less about research, trends, and so on. when quantified for the industry. Partly because the industry is currently trapped, it has long since gone and mutated in something else.
And for those who read what believes in the industry … I was a consultant to a worldwide advertising agency and I was presented with the work of creative director of JWT in New York (which I rejected because they flooded the 21st century). I know how wrong this method of quantification can be.
Q: Considering the importance of keeping current, how do you stop? What are the current trends in packaging, color, design, architecture …
John: I’m not worried about how to stop. I just feed myself with things I don’t know about. There is always a problem with keeping and current trends at the time you know about them they did.
As you know, I have thousands of books and thousands of magazines and I am always interested in what is happening, but a titanium paint is just as fast as a website. It always depends on your approach.
Q: Tell us how to start a typical day from when you first wake up when you finally arrive home.
John: At 8:30 am (Unless our son Noah jumped into my unlimited enthusiasm earlier!) Emails, phone calls, and work throughout the day and also meetings. On average I stop about 2-3 hours, 7 days a week. This is partly due to the fact that here in Australia and London / Europe I do not start their day until 18:00 my time.
Q: Do you travel a lot? How much? Where? Tell us all about your favorite work / travel experience.
John: Over the past 10 years, Ive has traveled internationally – for conversations, work, etc. Possible to give 5-10 times a year. Antwerp, Berlin, Paris, Barcelona, Rome, Stockholm, Tampere (Finland), Tokyo, Sapporo, Sao Paolo, Rio, New York, Sicily, Rhode Island School of Design, Los Angeles, Sydney, Auckland, Iceland, Montreal, Cape Town, Milan, Istanbul, Castellon (Spain) are some of the places I visited. I never touch New York, Tokyo or Paris.
But the best trip was probably the week or so Naomi and I spent on Stromboli, the volcanic island just outside the coast of Sicily. None of us are passive travelers. We tend to do work (drawings, photos, writing) anyway on holiday. But Stromboli is just an active volcano, black beaches, good food and the Mediterranean. Great.
Q: What is your favorite aspect of your work? Photo shoots, travel, meetings, offers …?
John: Learn. Finding something new doesn’t matter in what context.
Q: Who or what was your biggest design influence and why?
John: The true answer is all I meet and everything I see or hear. Obviously everyone is in tomato and my friends. But there are other people (often dead) I look at. And by the way, I don’t think of design in influences. It’s all about someone or something that influences people’s approach, and thinks, as well as craft.
I think my first influence was my grandfather. He was the catalyst for my young imagination. He was a mathematician and was also interested in art and philosophy. Through his notebooks, I was interested in brand and typography.
At age 6, there is no way to understand his comparisons, but he tried to explain them anyway. The idea that a letter or symbol could mean something else was alchemical. It has my interest in typography and its notebooks in combination with a discovery of the work of Katsushita Hokusai in a book on Asian art uncovered my lifelong immersion and interest in art and ideas.
My wonder about Hokusai was initially young; I was 6! I read that he had made 30 000 woodcuts during his long life, as well as a wonderful number of paintings, drawings and books. These kinds of facts always fascinate little boys (though they can now be older than 50!)
And what was (and still is) of equal importance was that his articular, lifelong images of the world were around him and not the stated artifice of all the brown European paintings of the 17th-early 19th century elsewhere in my grandfather’s books.
In addition, there were visits to the museums in London, such as the British Museum and the more idiosyncratic children like the Hornimans Museum near where my parents lived. London and South England are themselves rich museums of art and ideas. Everywhere I traveled, wherever my parents or grandparents took me, it was rich in artefacts and stories proving the long journey. All that acted as directions for my imagination.
So, I did not assimilate this list of influence as a copybook, but as a personal composite lexicon of ways to do, ways to be.
Q: How does tomato work for you in Melbourne?
John: I don’t know! I really didn’t have time to say hello, here we are. I was too busy. This may change if I talk to a conference next week at 2000.
Q: And last, what were you right before you decided to answer these questions? And if there was a CD or radio, what are you listening to?
John: I tried to sleep, but at night we allowed Noah into our bed and tonight he was at full rotation, rather than suffering more hours. I got up and at 3:30 am this questionnaire started! I listened to Cornelius Cardew’s dissertation.