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InsightFeb 09, 2022

Career-View Mirror with Cliff Smith RGD Emeritus

Written by Wycliffe Smith
Wycliffe Smith RGD Emeritus on a pile of books designed and art directed by him for different publishers in North America Photo by Nigel Dickson

In this new series, RGD Emeritus Members take a look back at their career journey prior to retirement and share their experiences working in the Canadian design industry. First up, Wycliff Smith RGD Emeritus

As the former Design Director at Greey De Pencier Books, Art Director at Owl and Chickadee magazines, Associate Art Director at Chatelaine and as Founder and Design Director at Wycliffe Smith Design Inc., Cliff Smith RGD Emeritus is the design mind behind many award-winning children's books, magazines and more. Today, Cliff runs  Augustus Jones Inc., a furniture distribution company. 

How many years did you work as a designer and what was the most exciting part?

I worked in the industry from 1975 to 2010 primarily in the field of magazine design, children’s book publishing and educational text book design in both Canada and the US, winning awards in both countries for my contributions. 

What do you miss the most about being a practicing designer?

I miss going through the design process, especially meeting the clients, understanding their requirements and then finding them the perfect solution that encompasses all their needs. Sometimes, even surprising them by going an extra mile. 

black and white digital scan

What are any outlets for your creativity and skills now that you’re retired?

For me it wasn’t so much a retirement as moving on to something else because the work I did primarily as a book designer had ceased to be interesting. Clients started to use software to design their own materials or used offshore companies to do the production and so the work had more to do with getting a faster turnaround than with design.  

I currently own and run a furniture distribution company, Augustus Jones Inc., where we work primarily with interior designers and architects. My graphic design skills get used from time to time in presentations to clients as well as in designing catalogues and other sales and promotional materials for the company.

Do you still keep an eye on graphic design trends and are you in touch with any practising designers?

Only a casual eye, but I am always excited to see something that works wonderfully. I do stay in touch with some illustrators and photographers that I used to work with.

A collection of books designed and art directed by Cliff Photo by Hal Roth. A series of books designed and art directed by Cliff while he was the Director of Art and Design at Holt Rhinehart and Winston, a publishing company that was owned by CBS. Most of the illustrators working on the series had never worked in educational publishing at that time and for some it was their first professional job. An image from this series was later used on the CBS Corporate Annual Report for that year and Cliff also received a job offer from Lou Dorfsman the then head of design at CBS in New York.

How has your retirement from design been different from that of your friends and acquaintances in other professions?

I haven’t spent time looking at what others are doing. Most of my time is spent around the people I am currently working with and they are almost all younger than I am. 

What do you think is the future of design in Canada?

The more we welcome minorities and new immigrants into the industry the brighter the future of the Canadian design industry will be. More diversity in Canadian design would be refreshing. Think of the barrier-breaking influence the late Virgil Abloh had on all areas of design. 

Digital black and white scan Image source: ADCC Archive

Design has changed in many ways since you started. How are you handling the digital world right now?

I am handling it by using an outdated software that still works on some old Mac computers! I run to my old Mac whenever I need anything done

This is a hard one. When you look back, is there one piece of your work that you are most proud of?

I am really proud of all of the work I did. I have received some awards from the Advertising & Design Club of Canada (erstwhile Art Directors' Club of Toronto), our work was published in the Italian graphic design magazine Linea Grafica which was featuring work by Canadian Graphic Designers and most recently we were recognized with an award from the Black Designers of Canada.


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