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Malcolm Garrett's Manifesto for Graphic Design

Updated: Dec 30, 2023

In the realm of creativity, where imagination intersects with purpose, Professor Malcolm Garrett MBE RDI stands as a luminary whose legacy stretches across four decades. A maestro of graphic design, Garrett's portfolio is a testament to the seamless blend of art and science that defines the discipline. His work, ranging from iconic music album covers to cutting-edge digital projects, underscores the profound impact design wields on society.

At the heart of Garrett's philosophy lies a manifesto—a guiding light for aspiring designers navigating the ever-evolving landscape of graphic design. This manifesto is a call to arms, urging creative minds to embrace the symbiosis of imagination, ingenuity, empathy, divergent thinking, and the power to manifest.

Malcolm Garrett fronting the Buzzcocks "Orgasm Addict" record sleeve that he co-designed with British artist Linder Sterling.


Design, at its core, is a voyage into the uncharted realms of imagination. Garrett beckons designers to embark on this journey with the curiosity of a child, to see the unseen and conjure magic from the mundane. Immerse yourself in the creative process, he advises, allowing ideas to germinate organically. Malcolm Garrett's methodology transcends the conventional, urging creators to let their daydreams and imagination flourish into tangible works of art.

"There are two stages to my approach. Firstly, I will begin to consider the problem in detail but think about it in the background while doing something else, such as going for a walk, watching a film, or reading a book. Often strange connections start to form, and by stepping away from the problem, new ideas present themselves and solutions become clearer. Secondly, don't waste too much time before you start drawing. Because once you do start, all of those things you've thought about and the odd connections you'd considered while doing other stuff start to influence the directions your drawings take."

Malcolm's design for the front cover of Buzzcocks "What Do I Get?"

2 Do-It-Yourself

Fearlessly breaking barriers, Garrett champions a DIY ethos that resonates in every stroke of his designs. He advocates for independence, adaptability, and resilience, urging designers to carve their path. Reject the banal, challenge the status quo, and cultivate an authentic voice. To Garrett, luck is a product of seizing opportunities, not happenstance.

"I've always been instinctive and put myself forward to try things out. For example, many people have told me I was lucky to work with the Buzzcocks when I was still at college. Yes, I was, but there were 50 other students in my class who could have been just as lucky, however they weren't because they weren't looking in the same direction that i was and didn't seize the opportunity. So, in that respect, I believe you make your own luck."

Malcolm's design for the back cover of Buzzcocks "What Do I Get?"


Beyond aesthetics, Garrett champions a socially conscious design that holds itself accountable for its impact on the world. Authentic designers, in his view, must care deeply about the environment, inclusivity, and the betterment of society. Design is not a solitary endeavor; it's a bridge connecting messages to audiences.

"I've come to understand that what I do is actually never really work that belongs to me. If you are designing, you are by default trying to communicate something for somebody else, to somebody else, by conveying information that belongs to a particular environment, to the people that need to experience it. For example, if you are designing a record sleeve, you're trying to convey the sense of the music, attitude, tone, voice, and style of the musician and the sounds they make, and translating that in such a way as to connect with an audience that wants to hear, or may not yet know that they want to hear those sounds. The better you do your job, the more invisible you as a designer become, because if the audience focuses on the design first, then that's interrupting the communications process. It's a distraction that confuses the messenger with the message."

A youthful Malcolm at work.


In the realm of creative thinking, Garrett exhorts designers to approach problems in unconventional ways. Think fluidly, be spontaneous, and generate multiple solutions. The beauty of creativity lies in the unexpected connections, the lateral leaps that redefine the problem and its solutions.

"If you're struggling when looking for an idea, don't agonize over trying to find it. It often helps to go and do something else, and an idea will find you – an unpredictable idea that is likely to be

random, but unique."

"What Do I Get?: 40 years of Buzzcocks and the art of Malcolm Garrett." poster for an exhibition celebrating Malcolm's distinct artwork at the Noho Showrooms in London.


Design is not just about aesthetics; it's a manifestation of the designer's inner world. Garrett emphasizes the power of connections, urging designers to draw inspiration from diverse sources. By weaving past and present, disparate ideas coalesce into innovative solutions.

"It's all about making connections. I've learned over time that I'm as much a connector as a designer. To my mind, designing is about connecting. I connect people to information, people to people, designers to designers, and clients to clients. I like to find connections between things and people. My design work and design solutions are typically a combination of two or more seemingly disconnected ideas or thoughts that appear to me could be brought together to create a third thing."

Malcolm's design for Simple Minds' critically acclaimed album, "New Gold Dream."

In the grand mosaic of design, Malcolm Garrett's manifesto serves as a beacon, guiding designers to navigate the intricate interplay of art and science. As we embark on this journey, let imagination be our compass, empathy our anchor, and divergent thinking our vehicle toward a future shaped by design's transformative power.

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Music composed and performed by Iain Mutch

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Instagram @beingmalcolmgarrett

Design Manchester


Roy Sharples

Founder and CEO of Unknown Origins Creative Studios, is in the fight against unoriginality by unleashing creative bravery. Author of "Creativity Without Frontiers: How to make the invisible visible by lighting the way into the future."

Photo credit: Brian Smale

Attitude. Imagination. Execution.

Unknown Origins Creative Studios. All rights reserved © copyright 2021


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