Design Education Talks Ep. 3 – Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson has pretty much seen it all. He’s had nine jobs and was fired from three of them, before deciding he’d become unemployable. He started Johnson Banks in London 28 years ago. He now has clients across the globe. His company is known for how they define, then design, brands that make a difference. They work with people who want to do big things: tackle hunger; fight for an open internet; address child poverty; raise billions for innovation and education; bring culture and enlightenment to the world; create products that question the norm; shift paradigms and change lives. He has rebranded Mozilla entirely in the open and launched a world-beating campaign raising billions for the University of Cambridge. In 2019 alone, Johnson Banks rebranded one of the UK’s largest graduate employers, Teach First, the world’s favourite language app, Duolingo – whilst producing album artwork for Pink Floyd. Johnson wrote a book on problem solving then lifted the lid on the branding process with his international bestseller, Branding: In Five and a Half Steps (Thames and Hudson). His third book, Now Try Something Weirder – How to keep having great ideas and survive in the creative business (Laurence King) came out in 2019 and gathers 233 thoughts, hints and tips on ideas, design, communication and branding into one small, affordable handbook. Over his career Johnson has won most of the design world’s most desirable bits of wood and metal, including seven ‘yellow’ and one ‘black’ pencil from D&AD. In 2017 he was awarded the Gold D&AD’s Presidents Award, joining a list of previous recipients that includes Sir Terence Conran, Ridley Scott, Alan Parker and Wally Olins. Within education he has been D&AD President, an external examiner at Glasgow School of Art, Kingston University and LCC and lectures at countless others. He runs a branding workshop for D&AD that has lasted a decade, once helped revalidate the RCA’s communications course and is now an Honorary Professor at Glasgow School of Art. In his spare moments he wields old-fashioned yet wonderful cameras, and wonders why, after 48 years of trying, he isn’t a better guitar player.

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