We sat down with Rob Bartlett, an Iconographer whose work finds itself in the hearts and pockets of billions of users around the world, at Mortimer House to hear his creative story.
“I'm really a sort of frustrated illustrator at heart.”
Let’s begin with the first bit of design you ever created.
I was given the task of creating a little trifold for a photography exhibition at art school, and I think it was the first time that I started to really think about placement, type, photographs and generally content — it's long since been put in a bin.
What about your first creative job?
I didn't go to university: I finished art college and decided to go straight into work. My friend was working at an internet agency at the time and so I turned up with some life drawings under my arm, no real understanding of what the internet was and managed to blag a job. I haven’t looked back.
Is there too much freedom when it comes to a design brief?
No — I'm all for freedom.
What led to your style as a designer?
I remember going to see an exhibition about Egypt when I was about 10 years old – I was absolutely mesmerised by the hieroglyphs and thought that I could go home and learn the entire language over a weekend.
I remember being very disappointed.
But it wasn’t my only inspiration. I remember those early handheld games and falling in love with those little pictograms on screen. If I could design one thing that's as good as those then I'll retire a happy man.
Does my designer's eye for detail infiltrate other parts of life?
I think it infiltrates everything I do and that it’s basically impossible to switch off. It’s a bit of a curse as well as a superpower in that sense — I can't go to the cinema or to the supermarket without seeing stuff that I want to change or redesign.
Like the internet as a whole irritates me how we've all got so used to having to put up with popups and GDPR litter — cookie notices and literally having to battle your way to get to the content. When I was starting out as an internet designer in the late 90s, you know this wouldn't be happening and so I'm amazed that we've collectively decided to put up with it as it is now.
What designers do you look at and wish you could do what they do?
Probably the creative teams at Liberty or William Morris & Co. I think I'm really a frustrated illustrator at heart — getting to do something like that day in day out would be amazing.
What new styles and mediums are you currently experimenting with?
So the most recent set of tools I've bought is a pottery wheel and big bags of clay. I'm just absolutely loving the freedom of using clay as a material and getting away from being in front of screens all day. It’s been fun diving into this whole weird and wacky world and is just overall really cathartic.
What projects do you find most exciting?
Ones that I really kicked off myself. So it's the stuff that I do kind of outside of the day job I suppose — because then you have complete ownership of what you produce.
Tell us about one of them?
I designed a series of tote bags that were based around four different themes and donated 100% of the profits to a specific charity that relates to that individual thing.
I thought I’d try and make the world a better place and figured that by using my skills in pictography I could create some really nice tote bags that not only looked great but actually did some good in the background without you even needing to know about it.
One of my major gripes with design and designers in general is that we're all very self congratulatory and ego driven. But actually, we've got a great opportunity to do something of actual worth in the world, and so this was my tiny little piece of doing just that.
How did it go?
It went well, I sold handfuls of bags and was able to contribute to the amazing work the charities are doing. But selling products is harder than I thought. And there’s quite a bit of stock left over — so I've realised that actually, I can still make the big charitable contributions that I was hoping to do with the bags, but through my day job.