In praise of Roger Dean, prog-rock artist and design visionary

In praise of Roger Dean, prog-rock artist and design visionary

Back in the 1970s, I was a long-haired schoolboy in flared trousers and platform shoes, listening to Bowie and prog rock and drooling over Japanese motorcycles as I nourished myself on fizzy-orange Spangles.

Unmoved by academia, I drew, painted and made things—or took them apart to see how they worked. There were no computers, let alone Google image search. My only exposure to the world of design was through dusty reference libraries, record covers and Athena posters. 

Then, one Christmas, all that changed. As I unwrapped a boring-looking present from my parents, I was slowly revealing something that made an immediate and lasting impression. 

It was a large-format book with a vivid red border framing a red dragon ridden by a Samurai spaceman, accompanied by a pair of rabid lizard-hounds, all galloping up a treacherous mountain path toward an impossible structure of 12th-century Cappadocian dwellings and intricate walkways. Floating boldly in the foreground of this giddying medley, in psychedelic hand-drawn letters… 

For me, growing up in a world of science-fiction novels and fantasy films, this incredible book somehow encapsulated all my childhood passions, from aero-modelling and kite-making to motorcycle mechanics and reclaimed-timber treehouses. It set my destiny to be a designer, but also made me aspire to so much more than that. Roger Dean instantly became my idol, and I slavishly modelled myself on him—in the wholesale and naïve way that impressionable young boys do. 

Several years later, while studying fine art on my pre-degree foundation course, Views still held pride of place on my bookshelf. In the days before Photoshop and Illustrator, it was my go-to for inspiration on colour, oil and water paint effects, airbrushing, pen lines and watercolour techniques. Dean, perhaps best known for the album art he produced for the English rock bands Yes and Asia, unapologetically combined graphic typography with fantasy fine art, and morphed mechanical engineering with organic natural forms to create the genre of biotech design—and he approached product design and architectural themes with a human-centric approach that is still as relevant today as it was pioneering then. 

Years later, with my graphics degree and a determination to conquer the world of consumer product design, I realized I owed much of my commitment to multi-disciplinary approaches—and my rejection of conventional design roles—to his courage and vision.

Now more than ever, brand owners are embracing the idea of manifesting the consumer experience across all aspects of their brand and realizing it requires a truly multi-disciplinary approach.

This is something I've encouraged in all the design agencies I've run. Roger Dean was (and still is) a fantasist and dreamer, but I see him as a genuine design visionary with multiple talents and no self-imposed restrictions on where to apply them. Views packaged it all up in a book that captivated this impressionable schoolboy in ways no career teacher or well-meaning parent ever could.
Article published in Muse by Clio | July 2019 Original article available here:
Bic Bicknell

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