Dublin-based design house Four5One have been creating the visual style of U2 since day one. Founder Steve Averill has known the band since school days - in fact it was he who came up with the name 'U2'.
'U2 was chosen as a band name simply because Adam had come to me and asked for a name similar to XTC.' recalls Steve. 'That was the brief and that's why the initials were chosen.'
Steve and his colleagues at Four5One, notably Shaughn McGrath, have been working to a brief from U2 - and many other clients - ever since. Much of their work is captured in the book, 'Stealing Hearts At A Travelling Show - The Graphic Design of U2'
but their most recent work with the band was the 'U218 Singles' campaign and the 'U2 by U2' book - and that's what we wanted to catch up with Steve and Shaughn about.
Interview below - slides how here
When did you begin work on the U2 by U2 book and what was the initial brief?
'The brief was to produce a world class book - 'The Beatles Anthology' was the benchmark in that respect. We began to work on the initial look way back in 2004 when we produced a BLAD (book layout and design) which dictated the look and feel, the size and shape, the logo, fonts, chapter openings and so forth.
Bookshops are rammed with music books and band biographies. Was one of your initial tasks to come up with a visual style that would make this one stand out from the rest?
'We were less conscious of that aspect and more concerned with remaining true to the visual language of U2, with producing a book that would be something that both the band and their fans would find true to U2's story.'
It was still being written up as you got into the design process, how did you work with the text when you didn't have it all?
'We had the initial draft of the first few chapters to begin the design process and after that it was a process of adapting the design as final edits arrived. This meant being flexible with structure and layout and, with the photography, it meant keeping it as close as possible to the narrative within the book.'
The book spans the entirety of the band's story, from the birth and family life of band members to the Vertigo Tour. The picture research must have been a challenge?
'The fact that we have had that long-term relationship with the band, something that very few bands maintain, meant we had a pretty good knowledge of the images and photography from all eras of their history. We tried to find as many photos as possible that had either not been seen or was not the shot that was most well known. So the picture research involved the band, ourselves and other researchers.'
Did you have to buttonhole relatives of the band and old schoolfriends to climb into their attics and revisit their yesterdays ? Did you have to track down photographers of the band in past decades for rare shots?
'We utilised every possible source, not just the band's own archieve but family and friends and the many photographers who worked with the band since the start. There was a lot of shots in various files that had no date or photographer credit and that proved difficult at times. Sometimes we couldn't track down particular photographers with any great ease - and some photos were incorrectly labelled to begin with. In terms of rare photographs there were some cases were the photographer's negatives were in storage and we had to use whatever prints were available.
Did the band come up with surprises - family album shots, memorabilia from the early days ?
Yes, Paul McGuinness gave us access to a lot of shots that he had taken himself on early trips abroad or at video shots. The scrapbooks of band members' families also had a lot of interesting shots and because each chapter only had a certain amount of space for a particular time frame we had more images available to us that we were able to use.
What role did the band play as the layout of the book emerged?
They were very involved at the beginning of the process and then again at the end - there was the small matter of a world tour in between. As a rule they are very much hands on with all aspects of the design process with us.
The 'U218 Singles' album was released in the same period as the book - were they two elements of one 'campaign'?
Not really. The Singles collection wasn't a consideration when the book project began but as the two were going to be released in such a close time-frame, the cover tie-in made sense.
Part of the challenge must have been moving from the strong branding you came up with for How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb?
'Well, each are different projects with separate sensibilities. The HTDAAB special CD/DVD packaging with its abstract graphics and stark colour scheme, really ended up defining the album campaign. We were able to create infinite variations on the packaging's chevrons and target symbols that ended up being seen throughout the series of single releases and as central motifs in the Vertigo tour.
The '18 Singles' collection is a packaging that we kept simple and elegant so that we could focus more on some of the band's most iconic photography throughout their career.'