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SFi by Charles Wilkin

Vita *

Name: Charles Wilkin

Profession: Artist, Designer, Beekeeper

Did you know?

Bees don’t hibernated during the winter they cluster in a ball, keeping the center around the queen a cozy 98 degrees at all times.


What generally bothers me most about design culture is the idea that personal expression somehow has no place in the creative process. Design must be logical and the line between art and design is clearly defined and must not be crossed, ever. This is what many designers have been taught, but isn’t this idea of using personal experiences really what form follows function and branding are all about?

I mean great design always seems to feel right. Why?

Because it’s communicating something beyond the intended message, connecting with the viewer on an emotive level. For me this simple observation seems to always get dismissed and ultimately became the reason I started Automatic over 15 years ago. Since then, my studio has become a design laboratory of sorts, experimenting with various ways to achieve a synergy between personal expression and commercial application.

I rely on instinct rather than expectations as a means to find solutions. Sure it’s unconventional but isn’t this really how most people operate? We trust our instincts when buying goods, meeting people and assessing our environment. Seems logical to me and applicable to design.

For me, Automatic has never been about following trends or being in annuals, but about finding a new and innovative ways to solve common problems. Sometimes design is not just black and white but more of an experience, something I believe all designers strive for regardless of style or method.

I hope my work challenges people to see things differently and inspire them to change their world. A lofty goal for sure but one that I truly believe is possible through design.

10 Works / projects










3 questions

Biggest hurdle overcomed?

For me knowing when to say when, is almost impossible. While I truly admire simplicity and strive for clarity, when it comes to my own work there always seem to be room for one more layer, one more narrative or level of complexity. I’m almost certain my lack of self-editing is the result of the spontaneous techniques I employ.

I never really know where I’m going until I get there and a piece doesn’t feel finished unless I’ve exhausted every option or experienced at least one happy accident. This intuitive process is definitely more difficult and somewhat unpredictable but the results can be magical and unexpected.

I revel in the excitement of uninhibited discovery and love to challenge myself. Which is why the idea of applying some type of filter just seems limiting to me, even though I know using restraint effectively is key to great design.

I’m sure every creative person struggles with this problem, it’s definitely one project that is always a work in progress.


Greatest moment?

When I started Automatic in ‘94 my main objective was to try make design more personal by connecting with people on some emotive level. Over the years it’s been difficult to sort out exactly what that means, how it works and when I’m putting too much of myself into the work. I’ve been lucky to find clients who see the value in my unconventional approach and are willing to support it.

So when Michael Bierut from Pentagram asked me to work on a library mural for PS 186 in the Bronx, I thought for sure reach I’d reached an all time career high. It was truly an honor and pleasure to work with him but the shining moment came at the ribbon cutting ceremony when the kids, most of them disabled, performed a rap song they’d gleefully written about and dedicated to my mural.

It was one of those moments you never forget, seeing their excitement for the mural and knowing in some small way, it inspired them. For the first time, this thing I’d been chasing for 15 years, design as an emotive conduit, became real. It was an overwhelming and rewarding experience; the problem now is that every project moving forward will be held to this gold standard.


What next?

I recently started a new division of Automatic with my partner Martin Higgins called Automatic PR. With the addition of public relations and event planning Automatic now provides an innovative range of fully integrated branding services, essential for any client looking to develop and launch a new product or to refresh their brand image.

On a personal level I’m currently developing new techniques and working on a solo gallery show opening June 2011. I also have a new book and an e-book version of my 2003 monograph Index-A in the works.

In general, I think its always important to keep moving forward, set goals and take advantage of unexpected opportunities that come along, especially if you want to keep your work fresh and stay relevant.


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