Imagine designer Daniel Benneworth-Gray, head down, tucked into a small, neat alcove. An iMac rests on the big desk, some sheets of good off-white paper and a very black pen off to the side. Here Benneworth-Gray sits, day in and out, churning out massive amounts of work: book covers for every press you've ever heard of, articles on work-life balance for Creative Review, and Meanwhile, his weekly design-news digest.
"Every now and then, this is exactly what it looks like," Benneworth-Gray told Spine. "It doesn't last long, though."
Benneworth-Gray's office does sit in a small alcove, but that small alcove sits in his York home, where he lives with his family, including a four-year-old son. With children, barriers between professional and personal, between designer and dad, are permeable at best. More often than not, his desk is "a high-functioning mess." So re-imagine: small alcove, big desk on which sits not only the iMac, the quality paper, the exceptional pens, but also books, comics, notebooks, paper samples, LEGO, receipts, and doodles. "It's basically a nest, but I like it. I've grown accustomed to the inevitability and coziness of chaos."
While Benneworth-Gray acknowledges that personal intrusions into his professional space can be frustrating, the ultimate payoff – flexibility – is worth it. Work can occasionally give way to daytime snail hunts, cookie bakes, Hey Duggee marathons, and can be returned to after the four-year-old's bedtime. And when he is hard at it and needs a community not beholden to naptime, whose main toolset isn't produced by Crayola, Benneworth–Gray turns to the water cooler of the 21st century: the internet, primarily the private sharing site Path and the very-much-not-private Twitter.
"I try to keep my network relatively small. I don't understand how you can follow thousands of people and make any sense of it all. As well as peers and heroes within the design world, I think it's important to engage with creative sorts in other, different disciplines. Writers, filmmakers, journalist, cartoonists — basically any area that I daydream about working in one day."
Benneworth-Gray also connects with the greater design community via newsletter. Every week he shoots out Meanwhile, a digest of whatever he's found that week to inspire. "My newsletter is me kind of thinking out loud. I don’t want whatever I’m currently fascinated with to be washed away, so there’s something about the whole selection/curation routine that helps me cement these thoughts in my head. It's process as memory."
Spine asked Benneworth-Gray to walk us through the design process on two of his recent covers, Joyce in Court and Street Furniture Design. Take it away, Benneworth-Gray.
Joyce in Court by Adrian Hardiman, Head of Zeus, June 1, 2017
Joyce in Court is my first cover for fabulous independent publisher Head of Zeus. Art Director Jessie Price is incredibly patient with me – I fling a lot of nonsense at her before we find the right direction! For this one, we considered some more illustrative concepts, with old courtroom sketches and photographs, but the timeless Big Type treatment stood out from the rest. I think it’s in keeping with the tradition of older Joyce covers – just letting the title do the work. I picture it sitting comfortably next to a first edition of Ulysses, looking better with age, charmingly battered and discolored like an old judge’s wig.
Street Furniture Design by Eleanor Herring, Bloomsbury, July 14, 2016
Street Furniture Design has a special place in my heart, because of where I’ve found it since it was published: one of my designs, on a book about design, in the Design Museum! Fine, it may only be in the shop, but it’s a start.
The cover went through a lot of iterations! The color and type were fairly straightforward – it’s always nice using Eames Century Modern – but it took quite a while to settle on an image. We had benches, lampposts, bins, traffic lights, bus shelters, telephone boxes, everything. Eventually Kenneth Grange’s parking meter won. I became a bit of a street furniture nerd doing the image research for this. I still get a bit excited if I see a K8 box when I’m out and about.
After years of work on academic texts, Benneworth-Gray is branching out into fiction. He's also currently obsessing over film posters, and hopes this fascination leaks into his work at some point.
Spine Authors Editor Susanna Baird grew up inhaling paperbacks in Central Massachusetts, and now lives and works in Salem. Her writing has appeared in a variety of publications, including Boston Magazine, BANG!, Failbetter, and Publishers Weekly. She's the founder of the Salem Longform Writers' Group, and serves on the Salem Literary Festival committee. When not wrangling words, she spends time with her family, mostly trying to pry the cat's head out of the dog's mouth, and helps lead The Clothing Connection, a small Salem-based nonprofit dedicated to getting clothes to kids who need them. Online, you can find her at susannabaird.com and on Twitter @SusannaBaird.