NEW YORK NY
With his background as a printmaker and renowned street artist, John co-founded Vault49 in 2002 with business partner Jonathan Kenyon. Leaning into his roots, John instills a crafted process throughout the Vault49 team and leads the creative vision for the agency: to integrate brand strategy with image-making to deliver bold artistic solutions that disrupt everyday experiences and delight consumers.
John is an active voice within the design community for driving greater cultural diversity within the industry. He spearheads a Vault49 initiative giving students from low-income backgrounds the opportunity to work on projects and broaden their networks, and is a partner on a cultural and creative exchange program alongside Question Media Group, Obama Foundation’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, Jay Z’s Shawn Carter Foundation, and Ravensbourne University London to provide opportunities for young people from minority backgrounds.
With studios in London and New York, Vault49 unite diverse creative minds to deliver ownable, crafted brand experience and packaging design that cuts through and connects with people. A collective of strategists, designers and artists with a deep understanding of cultures, technologies and trends, Vault49 works with some of the world’s most recognizable brands.
Counting PepsiCo, Diageo and EA Games amongst their clients, the agency’s work has been recognized by the likes of Cannes Lions, DBA Design Effectiveness, D&AD, Design Week Awards, Clio Awards, Dieline Awards, and Pentawards.
Looking forward to 2023, are you optimistic about the role and impact of Graphic Design and Visual Communication in Business? Culture? Causes?
I am very optimistic about the role of design in 2023. Why? 2022 was a year of educating the industry on two important changes that need to happen: Sustainability and Racial Diversity. These topics were discussed everywhere — in talks and panel sessions at every creative and marketing conference, in countless articles across industry media, all firmly promoting the role that design can play in tackling these challenges, and highlighting the positive impact that brands and their agencies can make if we are all brave enough this year to make the changes needed within our companies.
I noticed a shift towards the end of 2022 where some of our key clients had sustainability baked into project briefs from the offset. Previously the subject of sustainability would more likely come up towards the end of a project, if it was even considered at all.
In terms of racial diversity, being one of few black people to co-found and run a design agency, a lot of our clients reached out last year to learn more about how we have built diversity into our business, and also about the work we do with young black and brown creatives.
It’s been great to see these conversations inspire many of them to collaborate with diversity programs, and even create new internal initiatives and implement behavioral changes within their businesses with a goal of making their teams more diverse.
Have the events and disruptions of the past few years changed the role or trajectory of Graphic Design?
I bloody hope so! My concern is that diversity and sustainability end up being trends, especially racial diversity. For me, it feels like there is more noise around sustainability, perhaps as it’s an easier conversation to have. Diversity and inclusion can be an uncomfortable topic to talk about. It’s not easy to put your hands up and say, “The structure of our business is wrong and we need to do better.” There is a lot of work that needs to be done to make real change across both of these heavy topics, and this will take time, patience, and commitment from everyone involved.