In 1985, the inaugural Australian Formula One Grand Prix was held in Adelaide, a globally significant sporting event which raised the international profile of South Australia. On the appointment of a visual identity partner, the Executive Director of the Grand Prix, Dr Mal Hemmerling, wrote ‘our immediate requirement was to find a designer who understands our needs; who could distil the totality of the Grand Prix Board’s business into one clear design’. Ian Kidd would prove to be that designer, and Hemmerling’s words neatly capture a commitment to clarity and effectiveness which Kidd maintained across a most substantial and decorated design career.
Ian Kidd’s professional journey began in the late 1950s with a stint at the Myer Advertising Department in Adelaide. His first advertisement for the Myer Food Hall included a headline which read ‘2 pounds of mice’ instead of ‘mince’. Proof-reading aside, he soon attracted the interest of the Clem Taylor Agency where he worked as a Junior Account Executive. Kidd expanded his skill set to include conceptualising layouts, and these diverse early experiences proved the foundation for a simple mantra: ‘You had to solve a problem and you had to turn what you did into sales at the cash register’.
In 1961, Kidd departed for London. He was twenty-one and, like many young Australians, keen to broaden his view of the world. He found work with the large Polytechnic organisation where he designed brochures for their travel division. After 12 months in the UK, Kidd boarded the Queen Elizabeth on one of its last Transatlantic voyages. Stopping briefly in New York, he headed for Canada and, after a brief stint at Ottawa’s only advertising agency, he became an in-house designer at the Campeau Corporation, the largest privately-owned property developer in the country. Kidd described his seven years there as a ‘time he came of age’. He worked on the firm’s advertising, brochures, corporate identity and ‘just about everything else’, collaborating closely with architects, engineers, builders, planners, marketing consultants and management at every level. The quality of his work was recognised with three major US design awards, an unprecedented feat for a Canadian company.
Canada was experiencing a period of significant social and political change, including the introduction of a new flag, national anthem and bi-centennial celebrations. Kidd was also a witness to Expo 67, a showcase for the world’s leading architects and designers. The impressionable young Australian visited the Expo several times, observing and absorbing the benchmark quality on display.
By 1968 Kidd was ready to head for home. The time spent overseas had exposed him to an established design culture in the UK, and a rapidly developing one in Canada. Seeing Adelaide again through the lens of these experiences, he immediately recognised the opportunities available. ‘I knew that graphic design was so new here that I’d have to be an idiot not to make a success of it’. Biding his time, he returned to advertising, spending several years at George Patterson, where he played a key role in the agency’s prodigious growth. Shortly after he was appointed National Creative Director, the ambitious Kidd made the momentous decision to leave advertising and pursue design.
Amongst his first clients were the City of Monarto and project home builders Martens and Marshall, a client for whom he collaborated with fashion model and interior decorator Maggie Tabberer. Property developers were a rich source of work for Kidd, as he drew on his experiences with the Campeau Corporation.
For a brief period, Kidd joined forces with another iconic South Australian designer Barrie Tucker (AGDA HoF 2014), before returning to his own practice Ian Kidd Design (IKD). In 1979, Karin Seja, then a fourth-year design student at the University of South Australia, joined Tucker and Kidd. She reflects on that exciting time: ‘At this stage graphic design was a new discipline. Everyone knew about advertising agencies and promoted through television and radio. The value of a visual brand was not realised. This all changed in the early 1980s and businesses recognised they needed a logo. With only a few competitors in Adelaide, the business went ahead in leaps and bounds; Ian was known as Mr Logo’. Seja stayed with Kidd for almost three decades, progressing from a junior role to company director. In 2007 she ultimately bought the company from Kidd and started her own successful practise (KSD).
Seja speaks glowingly of Kidd’s all-round skills: ‘He had an amazing talent for analysing a person and their business. He quickly established a rapport which led to some loyal long-term clients, some over 40 years’. IKD’s client list grew to encompass many high profile local and national identity projects including The Bank of South Australia, QBE, Tasmanian Government, National Rail Corporation and Baulderstone Hornibrook. It is a testament to the enduring quality of the studio’s work that many of these identities are still in use today.
Wine industry clients were also an important factor in the studio’s development. Ian Kidd, alongside other significant South Australian designers of this period, including Barrie Tucker, continued a tradition of innovative and progressive design which began with the influential label designer Wytt Morro in the 1950s.
Seppelt Wines were the first of many wine clients for Kidd, and his portfolio documents the evolution from label design in isolation to an all-encompassing holistic approach to brand identity. The Peter Lehmann Queen of Hearts label from the mid-1990s, for example, proved an important strategic shift in positioning for the stagnant business, engaging with diverse new audiences with one of the first examples of an often replicated ‘art wine label’ series.
Matt Remphrey from Parallax Design is a contemporary Adelaide practitioner who continues the rich legacy of Morro, Tucker and Kidd. He joined IKD in 1994 and recalls Kidd’s philosophy that ‘the labels only help sell the first bottle – after that, the wine must do the heavy lifting’. He acknowledges the crucial mentoring role Kidd played for him, and others: ‘From him I learned how to be a better designer, how to lead projects, how to work with clients, how to get my ideas across, and how to run a profitable business’.
Scribblings was a regular promotional newsletter published by IKD to inform colleagues and clients of the studio’s activities. The publication provides valuable insight into a vibrant culture where work and play coalesced. Kidd’s straight-forward, generous approach to his professional and personal life are neatly captured in this reflection from Scribblings 30: ‘During subsequent years, IKD won almost anything worth doing at the big end of town, gradually expanding interstate and, eventually, offshore; always with a group of consummate professionals who knew that working at IKD meant hard yakka, long hours and the achievement of excellence and fun’.
AGDA Hall of Fame Committee
Content for this biography came from various sources, including On the Shoulders of Giants – a Tribute to 13 Graphic Designers, Ian Kidd Design, issues of Scribblings and interviews.