John Warwicker - Co-Founder of Tomato Design Company
Design company Tomato ( http://www.tomato.co.uk ) was founded in 1991 in London by John Warwicker, Steve Baker, Dirk Van Dooren, Karl Hyde, Richard Smith, Simon Taylor and Graham Wood. In 1994, Michael Horsham and Jason Kedgely joined. tomato specializes in: Architectural Design, Consultancy, Drawing, Education, Electronic Interactive Media, Film & Commercial Direction, Graphic Design, Fashion, Motion Graphics, Music & Sound, Strategy, Branding & Identity, Photography, Publishing, Title Sequences, 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 become 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, tomato has studios in London, New York, Tokyo and Melbourne. Laura Schwamb interviewed one of tomato’s founders, John Warwicker. Aside from his involvement with tomato, John Warwicker’s 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. Since 1989 Hyde and Smith have been “Underworld” and have released 7 albums to world-wide critical acclaim and had their music featured in several movies, the most notable being the film“Trainspotting,” for which tomato created the title sequence. tomato creates all the band's sleeves and videos. Released in 2000 'Everything, Everything', Underworld Live was released on CD, Vinyl and DVD. The DVD was at the time one of the most technologically sophisticated DVD's released and went on to achieve Gold in its own right on the Japanese Music Charts. Apart from the accolades and awards Underworld in 2004 was voted the most influential Dance/Techno band in Japan in the last 20 years. Some of tomato’s 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 (City of New York), DoCoMo, MTV, Nescafé, 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 bit about yourself and your current situation. John: I was born in London in 1955. I could have gone to either Oxford or Cambridge University to study math or philosophy but I chose art school at Camberwell in South London because I wanted to find out how I could describe through experiences and thoughts—art gave me a greater possibility to play with language. (The real reason was that the girls were prettier at art school!) I finished my B.A. and then got my Masters Degree in “Electronic Interactive Media,” at Birmingham Polytechnic. Being the end of the 70’s, I had to write my own course. I spent the 1980’s mainly working for the record industry, but by the early 90’s, I had a portfolio of jobs that others (clients) liked, but I did not. At this time other friends of mine were going through a similar crisis or needed to be re-energized or re-focused, so I got them together in the same room—not all of them knew each other…and the conversation has continued under the guise of ‘tomato.’ I’m still part of tomato, in contact with the studio in London each day via phone and e-mail. Over the years, I’ve traveled a lot (About 40 counties), sometimes for work, sometimes to give lectures or hold workshops; received a few prizes (The most cherished of which is that I became the first foreign member of the Tokyo type directors club); joined a band (in the early 80’s as a video DJ) and left but still kept in contact with the members. In the early 90’s that band became ‘underworld’ and the members are founding members of tomato, too. And since then I’ve been a ‘member’ of the band again. I’ve written some articles, I’ve done a countless amount of press, written a book (out this year?) and contributed to the 5 books that tomato has had published and I’ve been a consultant to the British government on the ‘creative industries.’ I’ve basically drifted for 25 years—mainly in the company of people who I really like, love, and respect. I guess it has been a struggle. One struggle is getting paid enough money to keep myself and my family going. I was married for 15 years before this marriage, and have two lovely children, Poppy and Angus, from that marriage, on one hand and on the other hand is my “art.” So, do I think I’ve succeeded or accomplished anything? Besides the personal things like my children and my marriage with Naomi—all of whom I adore and tomato itself, I think the answer is ‘no.’ Actually, I know the answer is no. Q: What message do you try and 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 would still have problems answering that. And every now and again one has to take a minute to seriously ask those questions. It’s important because one can get so easily diverted and submerged by the ‘commercial’ world. Now, if someone is happy about that, then great. This is not a qualitative judgment, just a recognition that I can sweep you away from who you are. Also, I think education has a lot to answer for. A lot of art education around the world fails in its basic requirement to help and support everyone. The ironic thing (and the most difficult one to be objective about) is that neither tomato nor I would have worked on the projects that we have for the ‘a’ list of global clients if we believed that 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 might think we are). Life is too interesting to be constrained by method. It’s too reductive. Both tomato and I take as much care over a humble black and white a flyer as we do designing a building or directing a television commercial for Nike or Chanel. This is not trying to disown the commercial projects that I—or tomato—have done. As long as one learns something (which is often the case) than it’s valuable. But this learning has to be focused towards an aim. And in this multiple-media, post-modernist world of distractions we all live in, the focus and the aim is not only very hard to define, but also very hard to keep hold of. All through my commercial ‘life’ I’ve pushed on with my own personal work, which has in part acted as R&D for the commercial. And I hope my book, which was started, in some ways, when I was studying for my M.A. –has benefited from taking such a long, enforced time. Also, I hoped that moving to Australia would provide the break in the commercial habit and need, but so far that hasn’t been the case. In fact, quite the opposite. On one hand, I’ve been very lucky because I’ve had lots of work, all of which have been interesting and challenging, and this has been needed because moving one’s family is always far more expensive than one can imagine. But on the other hand, I’ve had less time to myself, or more accurately for myself. So, this question has caught me at a time of irresolution, but that’s nothing new! Q: When creating, 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 throughout this process. I often think of this ‘spirit’ in musical terms, of a note or a series of notes.and that the process is akin to hearing something, writing it down, getting it played and recorded. Q: Tell us about your favorite project. What was it? John: Despite what I said earlier, I’m proud of many of the commercial jobs that tomato and I have undertaken. In some ways tomato itself is my favorite project. I guess the answer to your question is my book “The Floating World” because even though it isn’t everything I would want, it has gone some way to laying down a foundation that I can now build upon. “The Floating World” is 400 pages of thoughts, drawings and photographs. It’s a journey recorded and journeys reflected upon. Q: Where do you go for inspiration? Any must-have magazines? John: Everyone and everywhere is the truthful answer. There’s no method to it. Sometimes, one can look at a book or magazine containing the most wonderful work with ‘dead eyes’ and then, for no apparent reason, something might ‘catch’ my eye while I’m walking down the street and ideas just explode. There was a wonderful African band called Osibisa that had some popularity in England in the early 70’s. One of their first tracks had the wonderful lyric of ‘.criss-cross rhythms exploding with happiness.’ That’s what I experience when something ‘clicks’ inside of me. But as to its trigger, it’s wonderfully unpredictable. Out of the hundreds that I come across, these magazines are my “must have” ones are: Idea (Japan), Eye (UK), and Creative Review (UK) Q: You handle many projects on a daily basis. Can you give us a sense of how many, what kind, and how you keep track of so many? John: The best way to answer this is for me to list exactly what I’ve been doing this week:
1. Creative direction and rebranding for the rejuvenation of the Hotel Windsor, including the design of 150 different items. Writing the interior design brief and supervising the choice of architects and interior designers.
2. Submission of a proposal for an interactive film for Chanel in Paris (with tomato).
3. Submission for a proposal for a Hewlett-Packard television commercial for Asia.
4. Designing an identity for a large property development company here in Melbourne.
5. Designing a website for an English-speaking culture guide to Paris.
6. Working with Rick and Karl of ‘Underworld’ on a multitude of projects. New Book, Online Publications, 12" ‘House’ Bag, 12" Sleeves for Remixes.
7. My own work/experiments.
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