Family Affair

In today's Industry People we meet Paul Hewitt of Generation Press, a family business based just outside of Brighton that's beloved by the design community for their creative, collaborative approach to the printer's craft...

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What's the history of Generation Press?
Four Generations of printing—I started Generation Press out of my Dad’s business. I was one of the last to be trained in what might have been known as the traditional way. At the same time as doing my apprenticeship, I was teaching myself on a new-fangled Apple Mac…there was a generational shift happening, and the desktop publishing revolution was coming in. I was probably too young, but it was the right time to take over and take the business in the direction I believed we needed to go. I wanted to focus on design-led print and work with people that understood the power of print. I wanted to create print that was relevant, beautifully printed and to do it in the most environmentally friendly way we could. Fourth Generation Press was born and it continues the family printing business.

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Describe a typical working day...
On a nice day, it’s a cycle ride out of Brighton over the South Downs to our beautiful Sussex barn in Poynings, nestled at the foot of the National Park. A quick walk around to catch up with everyone, see what’s going on, take in what work is ongoing, and feel motivated we have been entrusted with such amazing work, then I’ll grab a coffee on the way to the studio. We’ll discuss various schedules between everyone, and talk with designers about future projects or ongoing jobs. A quick check on how many trees we have planted to date (for the record, 3477). Hear stories from Anand, our resident enthusiast, mainly about print, bikes and design (to be honest, it can cover just about any topic). Then I’ll choose a cycle route home, mostly dependent on how much daylight is left, get home and encourage the fifth generation to get a much better education than I had!

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How much of a role does experimentation play in what you do at Generation Press?
It is in everything we do; you could say that every job is in some form an experiment. Will the ink combine with that paper to get the desired result? Will that fluorescent ink overprint that Pantone colour or will it be opaque? Will the foil go down on the specified material? Everything is changing but the desired result is always the same: beautiful print that exceeds expectation.

Tell us about Generation Press HQ — where are you based, how long have you been there, and are there any advantages or disadvantages to your location?
We are in a 16th-century barn — well, some of it is, the rest is 17th century! We are based on a family owned farm run by two brothers, and we have been here for over twenty years. I grew up in a village nearby. The location is great, and we even keep bees on the farm – Generation Press Honey is not far off. We are not far north of Brighton, and not far from London where the majority of our work comes from. We have trains direct to London very close by, we have the M23 within a couple of minutes, and Gatwick airport is twenty minutes away. The only disadvantage I can see is it can get a bit muddy when I cycle home.

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What are the biggest changes you've witnessed in the world of print in recent years?
The biggest change I can see is that people now want to feel and appreciate the different processes in printing, with special finishes like foiling or letterpress. It's not unusual for us to combine digital print with beautiful tactile papers like Colorplan and to then foil, duplex and colour edge, or to thread-sew a book rather than perfect bind. To be able to see the craft that goes into making a printed item is now a much more important factor.

For us though, it’s the environmental side of the business that is always evolving; it’s incredibly important to us and has led to many unseen changes. We have been forensic with our business, learning what we can about everything we use or waste, and applying what we learn to our printing has seen our quality improve year on year. We were shortlisted for the Queen’s award last year and have secured our fifth EMAS this year, the highest environmental standard a company can reach. We don’t sing from the trees about it, but we are incredibly proud of our achievements and the changes it brings to the way we do business and how we create the print we do – it’s fundamental to the development of Generation Press. Maybe, more importantly, what are the biggest changes we can hope for in upcoming years? For me, it would be for the whole of the print and supplying industries to make more progress in this area.

What's the team dynamic like at Generation Press and do you share any extra-curricular interests or activities?
Teamwork is the defining principle of how we work, and the ideas that flow between everyone are an exciting part of what we do. Pushing the boundaries of print is what allows us to develop, allowing everyone autonomy to be the best they can within a very flat structure that gives everyone the opportunity to move the business forward.
Being where we are geographically allows us the opportunity to ride our bikes often, and we have tonnes of lanes or trails to some of the best cycling in Sussex (and indeed the country). We have grown a grassroots cycling community and race team called GPCC and are now racing road bikes, mountain bikes and Cyclo-Cross bikes (my favourite) at regular local events and even some national events. We have our own kit, designed by BCMH. We do not have sponsors, we have supporters, who were selected by the quality of their logos (and are also some of our friends and riding buddies): Build, Colophon and BCMH.

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What makes for a successful designer-printer relationship and how do you go about building one?
Honesty and trust! It’s about getting behind the ideas or concepts and interpreting them into print, and being upfront and committed to finding the right solution for a project. Over time you can build more and more trust where the designer respects your point of view, weighs it up and comes to a considered decision on the best way forward for their project. It's important the designer and printer at the start of any project share the same goal and both work as a team to complete it. This process becomes easier the more you work with the designer, as you gain an understanding of how they think and what their particular priorities are. For the designer it’s about finding a printer that gets what they are about and how they work, in order to interpret their ideas onto paper. The better the relationship gets, the less time they have to set aside for managing print, so there’s more time for designing. Win win!

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Tell us about your ongoing work with Build on your identity and company literature — how did that relationship come about and how has it evolved over the years?
Michael (C. Place, of Build) had been following our progress for years and thought when he grew up he would like to work with Generation Press…of course, that’s not how it really happened. We had mutual friends and were aware of each other and our respective work, and we met socially first. We quickly realised a simple equation: he has all the talent and ideas and I have the printing presses.

Michael is incredibly generous, he definitely inspires people and gets the best out of those he works with. I found this to be the case with us and I have always enjoyed working with him – we soon found that pies and good beer are the start of most great ideas.

It's interesting to think how our relationship has grown over the years. Michael’s designs have always fascinated me, he always hits the button, but never in the way you thought he would – there is always an unexpected twist and I think that’s what I have appreciated the most in his work. Asking him if he would do the GP branding just seems like the most natural thing in the world. The relationship has evolved over the last ten years, and we have always tried to go about what we do with a sense of fun but with a steely determination to create the most satisfying and challenging work we can. More recently we have begun a series of books, using all the different processes we have in-house. We want to give designers an idea of how to use them – not necessarily to say ‘look what we can do’, but more ‘look at what you could do’, by giving them the tools to inspire us to create great print.

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What are your ambitions for the coming year?
To win a bike race!  

Of course that is my priority, but another ambition is to find a way to communicate all the great things we do in the background: our ethical sourcing commitments and all the great work to improve our environmental impact, our tree initiatives, solar power, recycling (97.6%) converting our lights to be LED…I could go on and on. I have always found it hard to communicate the level of commitment we have to this side of our business. I feel it would easily undermine what we all do by saying too much, so I find myself saying less so as not to sound like it's greenwash or people thinking it is a gimmick. Our ethical sourcing and environmental activity is fundamental to how we operate, it runs equally alongside the quality we strive for. One informs the other, simple! Listen, I sound like a raging activist!

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