Profiles In Design: Silas Amos

by Theresa Christine Johnson on 04/13/2020 | 5 Minute Read

Do you remember the first time you noticed the packaging design of a product, the first time an item jumped off the shelf and into your thoughts as something intriguing? 

For Silas Amos, Designer and Design Strategist at Silas Amos LTD, he can recall the moment clearly—he was around five years old, standing in a stationery shop. 

“I was admiring the Winsor & Newton ink packaging, which is still very similar to this day,” he recalled. “I remember it quite vividly. Each of the inks have different illustrations by, what at the time would have been the five star, top-class illustrators in the UK. And I just remember being fascinated by the little display. That's probably the first time I thought, ‘yeah, this is something that's more than art.’”

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Silas always felt a pull to draw and create art. Growing up, he lived in a remote part of rural England with no television, so he spent his Saturdays listening to Radio 4 (similar to something like PBS in the US) and drawing all day. Silas added that he has dyslexia, so he found himself focusing a lot of energy on his drawing.

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“I think dyslexia is common for designers, and it's probably not an accident,” he explained. “There's something about the ability to visualize things and think in pictures, which is a bit of a superpower for dyslexic people. So I've always felt quite blessed to be dyslexic because it led me to a slightly different thought process.” 

When it came time for Silas to select a career path, he decided on graphic design. He liked the world of art, but didn’t want to become a starving artist; this choice, he felt, balanced perfectly between the two.

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He enrolled in an Information Graphics course at Nottingham Trent University after doing a few different interviews around the UK for school. “They were the ones who seemed to like me, and at the age of eighteen, that was good enough for me,” Silas said. “Being somewhere I was wanted.” After completing college, he said the job-hunting process felt similar—he wrote letters to the agencies he liked, and the one most eager to hire him was the one where he took his first job.

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This studio was Brewer Jones Knowles, the precursor to global creative agency Jones Knowles Ritchie (JKR).

When he began as a founding employee, JKR focused heavily on packaging. It was a time when agencies believed “generalist” was a dirty word, and teams didn’t really have “strategists.” As marketing departments became more aware of the value of design, though, it meant every part of the project needed more careful consideration throughout. The art of the presentation became equally important as the art that gets presented, and Silas and some other employees at JKR pushed to do things beyond just packaging design.

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He would spend twenty-four years of his career at JKR, first as a designer, then the Creative Planner, and finally, their Strategic Director in the New York and London studios. Inevitably, Silas picked up skills that have helped him even today. His first lesson on the job, he said, was on drawing—with a fat pen always draw outside the line, not inside, of a sketch to make the image look thicker and more confident. He learned it was important to keep a bit of that feisty start-up mentality if you ever wanted to reach for the next best thing. And ultimately, JKR taught him that the job of a designer is not to please the clients.

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“JKR has a really strong backbone and integrity,” Silas explained. “You have to justify your work in a polite way and never be a people pleaser. You’re there in the best interest of the brand, their brand—not the clients sitting in front of you.”

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In 2014, Silas found himself in an odd position. Day to day, he was doing a lot of the same, and often his work involved flying back and forth to the United States for meetings. “I wasn’t really doing the thing I wanted to do when I was drawing at my kitchen table and listening to the radio when I was thirteen,” he said. “I wasn’t really drawing anymore, so I wanted to get my hands dirty again and use my capabilities to draw as well as write and speak.”

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He enjoyed his time at JKR but wanted to explore new opportunities popping up with digital printing and innovative tools—some of which he suspected he might have more fun doing on his own. So near the end of that year, he helped found Studio Minerva with creative partner Daniela Nunzi-Mihranian, but they soon discovered they weren’t an ideal creative pair. They amicably parted ways (he still contributes at the studio from time to time), and Silas branched off to start a studio of his own.

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“What I’m doing is connecting with loads of good people,” he admitted. “They’re all people from my twenty-five years of contacts. But instead of having a formal set-up, I call on the right talent at the right time for the right project. So sometimes I’m working with ten people, and sometimes it’s just me and my cat.”

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The best jobs—the ones he loves the most—are the ones where he can collaborate with good people and engage with brave clients. Projects that have heart, like the near-spiritual design for Humble Warrior, which Silas described as “an idea realized.” Partnering with creative consultancy Derek&Eric, the drink tonic brand came to life with elements like a calming mudra hand and vibrant, wholesome hues.

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“If I’m honest, though, it’s always the next job that excites me,” Silas confessed. He hasn’t updated his website in a year for this very reason. While proud of his past work, he's always focused on the next projects—which are, at the moment, an FMCG brand for Unilever as well as some startups.

“If I get the chance to come up with an idea that can get applied to lots of things,” he added, “and the people that I'm doing it with are enthusiastic about the power of design, and I'm working with some talented people to execute it, I’m in heaven.”

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