How do Barbican’s designers operate in-house?


1 How do Barbican’s designers operate in-house?1.1 How does the team work?1.2 What’s the process like?1.3 What’s the schedule like?1.4 How do different types of designers interact? How do Barbican’s designers operate in-house? Design Week hears from William Allen that […]

How do Barbican’s designers operate in-house?

Design Week hears from William Allen that he designs socks one day and campaigns for buses the next. “You never know what you might find.”

Allen makes up one quarter of Barbican’s inhouse design team. This team was established in 2011 but is now based at the Brutalist arts center. The arts centre, which was opened in 1982, is a beloved London landmark, renowned for its architecture and creative programs. It hosts performances and exhibitions on all major arts forms, including film, theatre, music and visuals. It hosts over a million people annually, though this year is probably an exception. The centre also boasts three cinemas and a conservatory.

The Barbican’s design team is responsible for creating most of the visual material online and offline. This includes campaign work, merchandise design and visuals for the Barbican’s offsite collaboration programs, such as the Walthamstow Garden Party or Leytonstone Film Festival. Allen states, “It is our job to make all art forms look good.”

How does the team work?

The core team consists of four designers: Claudia Toia, Liam Johnstone (who tend to be more digitally-focused), William Allen and Peter Hope–Parry (who prefer print work). This core design team is part of the larger campaigns team. This team is split into Barbican’s main sectors, which include art galleries, theatres concert halls, cinemas, and catering. It is responsible for booking design jobs, writing briefs, and proofing.

The Barbican’s design team is responsible for approving any work done externally. They also ensure that they conform to the Barbican brand guidelines. Allen says, “We are constantly talking and we’re always conscious of each other’s activities.”

What’s the process like?

Allen states that the work can take many forms and there is nothing “terribly formal” about the day to-to-day process. For larger projects, however, Allen says that all four designers are briefed together. This means that digital considerations are incorporated into the process right from the beginning. If it is an exhibition project, the team will work together on their ideas, present them to marketing and create the best visuals for the curators. It’s mostly concept work, such as digital treatment of print.

They will then work according to the briefs, and present a final set to the interested groups. Allen says, “We create routes individually and then present them all together. This is great and makes it more flexible.”


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What’s the schedule like?

Allen states that the workload is “hectic” and constant, and that each project’s timelines can vary greatly. While work can be completed in a matter of days, other projects take longer. Campaign work began in January for Michael Clark: Cosmic dancer, the October exhibition. The marketing team will create a brief with curators to agree on set images for the campaign. Next, they will speak to designers.

How do different types of designers interact?

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