Paul talks through his recent work on Royal Mail's unique Remarkable Lives stamp series.

Royal Mail recently commissioned brand consultancy Purpose to create their Remarkable Lives set of stamps and associated products, which commemorates individuals whose centenaries of birth fall in 2014. These remarkable individuals come from the realms of sport, design, economics, heroism and the arts – all of whom have made a major contribution to British society.

Purpose’s Design Director, and YCN Professional Award winner for 2013, Paul Felton talks through his role in the creation of this unique collaboration.

What have you been up to since last Summer?

I’ve had quite a mixed bag on the go. I worked on a large event stand for one of Purpose’s biggest clients, National Apprenticeships Service, which included a big animated LED board as the centerpiece of the stand. I’ve also been working with the YCN Talent Agency team to get all of Purpose’s 35 members of staff drawn by different illustrators. There have been lots of smaller projects along the way to,  like beer labels, ripped posters about San Francisco and of course — stamps for the Royal Mail.

Tell us more about the work you did for the Royal Mail. How did this project come about?

Purpose have worked with Royal Mail for a number years and have produced several of their more historical commemorative pieces, including a similar Britons of Distinction set of stamps back in 2011. This naturally came off the back of those projects.

Stamp

What was your role in the project?

I was one of the two main designers involved with the creation of the stamps, first day covers, filler cards, presentation packs and cancellations stamps. These all required an intense amount of research — tasks like gathering materials, image sourcing, investigating and obtaining all the rights, which became equally as time consuming at the actual design itself.

Did you get to suggest any of the people featured?

Unfortunately not. Royal Mail chooses all the people based on quite a meticulous selection process that is always hotly contested upon launch, no easy task for them.

First Day Cover

You must have learnt about lots of interesting folk. Who stood out?

The research was certainly one of the most enjoyable aspects of the project as you get the opportunity to really delve into the lives of these amazing Britons, and each comes with an array of fascinating ephemera.

In terms of a favourite, we were lucky enough to feature one of my design heroes, Abram Games. I’ve been a huge admirer of his work since college. As part of the research I was fortunate enough to meet his daughter, Naomi, and she showed me some of his amazing efforts, including many pieces I hadn’t seen before. One was an unused concept for Winston Churchill’s death stamp.

What were the biggest challenges?

Without doubt trying to tell these incredibly rich stories in such a limited amount of space, just 35mm in fact. To merely show the person's face felt a real shame when their achievements were so abundant, so we had to find a way of doing both in a cohesive manner. We tirelessly hunted down images of each Briton within their working environment, applying their trade or in their attire to help suggest what it was that made them such prominent figures.

Filler card

What were the greatest learnings?

In the design of the presentation pack we wanted to show off all the wonderful material we'd discovered when researching the Britons, and to emulate an Edwardian display cabinet, traditionally used in old museums to display items of this nature. It was critically important to us, and Royal Mail, that we used all authentic items to tell the story of each person. 

So that meant sourcing 30 unique, often very rare objects, which was tricky in itself.  However, actually obtaining the rights to use those objects was particularly tough, especially as a lot of the rights-holders were companies from 40 or 50 years ago, now long gone. We didn't quite appreciate just how many hours would go into this. The moral of the story being to leave much more time for such undertakings in future.

Presentation Pack

Did the project bring you into contact with any new collaborators?

With this project having so much knowledge and background attached to it we did almost everything in-house on this occasion. However we collaborated with an absolutely brilliant retoucher called Richard Green from Loop Corp, who has worked on previous Royal Mail projects with us, and helped get the portraits looking stunning, ready for their big appearance on a postage stamp.

What's coming up next?

We've just started working for a brand new cancer charity, helping them set-up from scratch and start raising awareness for their cause. I am also running an all-day typography event at Pick Me Up at Somerset House in May, which I am really excited about. Hopefully some more exciting Royal Mail projects are coming up too.

Share your favourite recent creative work — into categories for Brand Identity, Design for Print, Digital Design, Illustration, Photography and Animation — as part of the 2014 YCN Professional Awards by 21st of May. Find out how to do so here.