"I once read somewhere that the only thing found in pigeonholes is pigeon shit." Rob Carney explores the unconventional yet brilliant mind of Luke Prowse.
"My initial awareness and interest in design was unconventional," states Luke Prowse, former Research Studios man and now a freelancer based in the heart of Paris. "I don't have a particular obsession with record covers, skateboarding, DJ'ing or for that matter most of the clichés that cling like leeches of cool to graphic designers. I always remember there being a computer in the house and have been stuck to that idol ever since instead. I taught myself to program blithe little applications and soon started 'designing' interfaces for them. This seems like the beginning of where I am now, a process that's driven by the possibilities of technology but caged in the practical and human."
That's certainly some introduction to the mindset of Prowse, an extraordinary talent who sees type not only as a passive vehicle of communication but as an active means of expression. In case you're wondering exactly what that means, Prowse is quick to elaborate. "I'm interested in exploiting these properties in a more authorial, narrative sense," he says. "You rarely read, or should that be see' typography used to complement genuine literary art. It's such a shame. I'm currently plotting a humble novella much entwined with both programming and unorthodox typography. In a recent project for the 50 Years of Helvetica exhibition at the Design Museum I programmed a calligram that formed Dr David Kelly's face. I'm always pissing about with something."
He explains that he's always been interested in language, and working with type now seems to have been inevitable, though he admits he could be rationalising. "While I would love to delude myself that my aesthetic comes purely out of certain beliefs or processes, there's always a matter of subjective taste that feeds in, consciously or not," he adds. "Work is sometimes done on whim alone, sometimes with logical rigour. A theoretically pure style borne solely of philosophy would still end up with the label eclectic.
Prowse was never formally trained in his art form. For a long time he might even have felt a little inadequate as a creative: "I was, after all, the scourge of professionals - the hobbyist done good." But a certain Mr Brody at Research Studios picked up on this. "Neville recognised my ill-fitting position in design as he had faced that himself when he was younger," Prowse recalls.
What's the main thing he learned as Brody's prodigy? "It's difficult to isolate one thing. You unwittingly learn so much in the day-to-day detail that you don't recognise the change."
Now Prowse has split from Research Studios' the firm where he found greatness as one of the lead designers on the much-publicised revamp of The Times. Why did he leave what is arguably one of the UK's leading studios? "I moved so many times and went to so many different schools as a child that I have a nomad's instinct for change," he says. "It can be a dangerous philosophy, but new is exciting if not always good." So what's next? "I'm enjoying spending time working on my own projects and exploring wherever they lead. My ambition is a selfish one: not to allow my art to be compromised. It's always best to start with impossibles."