EF Education First Designer Spotlight: Andy Cooke

Graffiti artist, book author, pizzeria co-owner, and brand extraordinaire, Andy talks about his big move to Switzerland and what it means to be a designer at Education First

How did you get into design? Were you the kind of kid who scribbled in class all the time?

Yes, scribbling was my outlet — on desks, in notebooks, everywhere. But bikes were really my thing, I used to ride mountain and motocross bikes, and that was what I was mainly into. My tutors at the time told me I should consider designing bikes. And I thought: oh cool, if I pursue this I can actually design cool bikes in amazing parts of the world and ride all day.

But when I got into university and started studying product design, it bored the shit out of me. I didn’t care about any of the classes I was taking, so all I did was go out and party. During this time I was getting into music and DJ-ing and started doing graffiti, which reminded me of when I was younger, making freehand drawings of expressive letterforms just like I had done on classroom desks.

And even at this point when I was running around the city, painting on people’s houses, on random concrete walls, I still didn’t realize that graphic design was actually a thing. I just knew that I liked letterforms more than anything.

And then I started doing fliers for punk shows, and it was all just freehand typography, sorta reminiscent of DIY stuff from the 1980s.

Who asked you to do a flier for a punk show?

No one. I knew the guys who were promoting the show, but just because I liked the band, I was like: I’m going to make a flier. And they liked what I designed and used it. This was a surprise for me. I got a little high from this, because I was like: “Woah my work is out there. It is real.” And I just kept making more and more and more fliers.

Around this time I had a friend Myles who I knew was doing design and drawing a lot but I didn’t know what he exactly did. I used to see his typography work and think: wow, that looks really interesting. I asked him: what are you doing exactly? What classes are you taking? After finding out, I knew: he’s doing what I should be doing.

What do you like most about design?

I like the idea of making something that didn’t exist previously. We get to make something from nothing, to build things, whether it’s an idea or a design. Whatever it might be, we create — even businesses. That’s what gets me going. I like the start of things, because it’s new and exciting. It’s this raw sense of building that I like, whether it be a business or building a team, whatever it might be. Just making something.

You’re like a craftsperson, then?

Yes, crafting. That’s what I like to do.

What were you doing before you moved to Lucerne?

I had a design studio called Weather in Stoke-on-Trent, England. We were doing big and small projects spanning across digital, identity, and print. In Stoke there wasn’t many design studios like us. Most of the other studios were one-stop shops — doing PR, marketing, graphic design, web design, and people would just go to them because they were quick.

Weather design studio
Weather design studio

But more and more in Stoke there was this cultural uprising, an appreciation for art and design that wasn’t there before. Our design studio really caught that wave and specialized with local clients in the art and cultural sector, which for us was perfect as designers — to make considered, beautiful work. Really thoughtful, meaningful design.

I also have two other businesses, a pizzeria called Klay (with Georgie Stanway & Paul Wainwright), and a creative agency called EN (with Rob Fenton & Tom Edwards) where we sell streetwear clothing, skateboard and graffiti supplies, and have a gallery and print workshop. And while living in Stoke I was also teaching at Staffordshire University.

Klay pizzeria & bar in Stoke-on-Trent
Inside shot of 51–53, store previously a part of EN. Agency

What were you teaching?

Advertising and brand management.

And you also had a meet-up group called Beers&Ideas?

Yes, I started going to networking events and design events in Manchester. But I began to wonder: why were these two events separate? I had an idea to merge these two events. I wanted to have an open mic situation, where someone could get up and say: this is who I am or this is my idea and I need someone to help me. To make it more of a discussion rather than a one-way “Here’s My Design Story”-thing. It was intended to encourage discussion in an open forum.

Did you start this with friends?

I floated it to a few people but no one seemed all that interested, so I just said: I’m going to do it myself. Contacted some venues to give us some space, put out a promotion for it. Had a few Beers&Ideas events in Manchester and a few in Stoke when we opened the studio there. I would love to do one here in Lucerne, it’s more of a concept rather than tied to any one place. In England we did it in all sorts of different places — a gallery, a craft beer shop, a nightclub, and a bar. As long as there’s a way to project and chat then we can do it.

What does Switzerland allow you that England did not?

The ability to be free. Switzerland allows me to create the kind of life that I really like living in. It’s quiet here and allows me to focus on my craft. Yes, I was a big part of the creative community in Stoke. Alongside my peers, I helped change the creative landscape. But in Lucerne I have the chance to rest properly, to create. Back in Stoke I always felt slammed, but in Switzerland creative ideas seem to come a lot more easily.

How do you feel living here influences you as a designer?

My first question to the recruiter for this job was actually: “Where the fuck’s Lucerne?” But great design is all around us, it’s prominent in the fonts, advertising posters, and shops. Graphic design is in the DNA of Switzerland and in terms of what I need to influence me and satisfy that part of my brain, it’s more than enough in Lucerne.

You recently went on a research trip in China. What did you do there?

I was trying to find out more about EF in China. Get a baseline understanding of the culture and how it works. As a brand designer and white person, I have to take into account a lot of cultural considerations for this very different market. I can’t make all of the creative decisions, because I’m not the Chinese consumer. I had to speak to visit schools, sit in classes, and discover what EF actually is there. I went on one mission: to understand and bring that understanding back to the studio to create something appropriate, that works.

In any project, research is the most important part. Many designers jump into project without understanding who the client is or what the problem actually is, but only when we truly understand can we design. We can’t design solely on intuition. It doesn’t matter how much we want to be artists, we are commercial. If we haven’t had a business impact then we have failed. Through research we can have better ideas, better designs, and more impact.

What does a normal day look like for you?

I have a really short commute, like a 120 second commute door to door [laughs]. It’s not different to a normal day before I moved here. I get up, get into the studio, work through my todo list, and that’s kind of it.

View from Andy’s flat at dinner time

I see that your todo list is written on paper rather than in an app. Why is that?

I have so much on my plate all the time. Although I wouldn’t have it any other way, simply putting things down on paper helps me remember what I need to do.

For the past two years I’ve used Mark+Fold; they make beautiful diaries and notebooks. Well-designed, well-printed, well-manufactured paper. People buy me other notebooks but I seldom use them. I’m really a creature of habit.

What work are you most proud of?

My last book “Graphic Design for Art, Fashion, Film, Architecture, Photographer, Product Design and Everything in Between”, a collection of insights from studios around the world about design. It was a great exercise in curating something. Having some kind of mark about what other creatives are doing and why they’re doing it.

When that first copy came to the doorstep, I was like “Wow”. The book took 18 months to make — including the design of it. I worked late in the evenings and on weekends to get it done and also had a couple of designers at my last studio helping me. Actually, a lot of people helped me. For me, creating anything is a team sport. Not one single person can do everything.

What will your next book be about?

I’m interested in writing a book on self-initiation in the creative industry. Why do people create passion projects, what motivates them to create at all? Is it because of their knowledge in design or craft or is it because it actually can make an impact on people or the industry? Or is creating just a matter of satisfying the ego? What’s the inner motivation? That’s what I’m interested in exploring next.


Andy Cooke is an Integrated Art Director in the EF Central Creative Studio. Follow him @thisisandycooke