Oh Sh*t What Now?

Oh Sh*t What Now?

by Craig Oldham

A new book from Craig Oldham is always a cause for celebration. This one (coming in April via Laurence King) carries the byline ‘Honest Advice for New Graphic Designers’ which sums it up perfectly – I caught up with Craig to find out a bit more…

How would you sum up the book? (in 3 words – with explanations if poss) 

Honest. Bright. And John Rambo.

Four words. Or two words and a name.

I wanted, above anything else, for this book to be honest. To share my experiences and my experiences with others, and what others have shared, in an open, honest and human way. I’m so tired of veiled platitudes in the industry such as working hard and being nice (as much as I love Erik and Anthony) as I think there’s been so much distance between those things and how one actually might apply them they cease to offer much function int he real world. I cant say I don’t tell people to work hard and love what they do, of course I do, but I try to honestly add to that environment so people can gain some functional meaning in their approach.

It’s bright. Really fucking bright. That’s my small-market-town-upbringing seeping onto the pages in fluorescent joy, but I also wanted its content to be bright. In reading it I think many will love or hate how it’s written, as I’ve just tried to be me. It meanders, makes jokes, and talks conversationally to try and bring a bit of brightness to, let’s face it, a pretty terrifying part of everyone}s life: that point where you have to make big decisions.

And John Rambo is my shit idea of saying rammed. Rammed with content. I’ve tried to get as much in there as possible for people of all backgrounds, experiences, and career points. Partly because I want it to help as many people as possible, partly because the publisher told me to.

Is this the book you would’ve liked to read when you graduated? 

It sounds vain to say so, but yes. As an idea I do like the ‘write the book you want to have in the world’ idea (that’s some one else’s idea I’ve paraphrased there, I remember Ellen—my partner—talking to me about it the other night so I guess it’s sunk in) but I wasn’t too aware of this on the outset. I kinda made a pact with myself when I was still studying and when I was a young working designer, that I would never let go of how I felt during that transition. And today I am still sensitive to that part of my life, but it’s made me really reflective on many things, all of which I’ve spent my career (in design practice and design education)   documenting and sharing. So the book really was a culmination and a desire to share that.

What other books do you find yourself recommending regularly?

Erm… depends on what mood I’m in. I always do that thing where I’ll be chatting about a subject with someone and I say “Ooo, if you liked that, then read this…” so I can never recall. In terms of creativity I always pimp James Webb Young’s A Technique For Producing Ideas (mainly because it’s [a] cheap, and [b] readable in 5-10 minutes).

You’re always pushing the materiality/tactility of the books you produce – can you tell us a bit about why that is, and how you made the decisions you did in this case? Was it easy to persuade LK for instance?

Since their inception as a technology, books have always beautifully embodied and encapsulated their content in physicality. Really early books were more than often beautifully crafted and presented objects, much like their predecessor the illuminated manuscripts and such. But without getting into a history lesson on the book as a technology, I’ve always seen the book as a perfect technology to share and disseminate ideas, so why should those ideas be shared in  standard grade? Why not demand a physical quality that not only delivers the ideas relevantly, but also in many cases adds to that idea, or even extends it? I also greatly believe that a lot of designers forget that the quality of reading isn’t solely down to their design. They spend so much time disproportionately, looking at the flat design and less about the physical design—the real life design. How a book feels in the hand, it’s weight, smell, experience to read, format, packaging, delivery, all add to or at the very least start and lead the experience. So for me their materiality is vital.

Oh Shit What Now was no different. It’s genesis was actually in another book I produced called The Democratic Lecture, something which the publisher wanted to take the the next level of development and lead actually.I would have probably wanted to start a fresh with it, but I think we made the right decision. And when you make a commitment to a book’s production, you can start to really play with those limitations. It was real fun planning up the fluro, letting those colours dance through it and across seemingly random expressions of the stock weight. I like that the change of pace confronts you in this book.

The title is a little alarming – are you panicky/troubled about the state of graphic design in 2018? 

My initial title was Oh Fuck… so I don’t know whether that sheds any light on your question. It came from what I believe to be a universal feeling we all experience at some points, and often at many points, in our lives of making decisions that will determine big things for us moving forwards. It’s a What Next question… it’s future focussed and about development and examining what one wants to do with what one has, or has just achieved, or has just come to terms with. In reality it’s an open question for all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds and experiences to find their own answer, hopefully within it.

Whats the best career advice you ever received? 

To leave a good job, from a place with a good reputation, when I was in a good role for the simple reason that I was unhappy.

And what’s the best career advice you’ve ever given?

Oh I don’t know. I think that’s down to whomever I’ve offered advice to or whom has asked for it and it might have, in some way, helped them. That’s up to them to say not me.

Type plays a pivotal role in much of your work, and this publication puts Timmons NY by Matt Willey through its paces – can you talk about your choice?

Does it? I guess you’re right, but I tend to see it less as typography and more as words. For me words are the best way to articulate something and I think they can take you (and their embodied ideas) to really universal places. I know a lot of creativity is visual and image focussed and I love that, and I know people roll out the usual 1,000 words cliché, but I just feel that words are still graphic shapes, and I still believe them to be credible vehicles for ideas. As for the typeface, I’ve always loved Matt’s work and when we met at a D&AD Judging event a few years ago he complimented my book In Loving Memory of Work, so I thought I’d repay the compliment (and also where the fees for using the typeface go played on the choice). I do love the design of it, and loved working with it, it also lets you cram-in so much more… which helps when you’re as verbose as I.


128 pages
210 x 148 mm
ISBN 9781780679631
Published April 2018

Luke Tonge