New Shakespeare Stamps Put The Bard’s Drama Onto Teeny Stage

How do you create a sense of dynamism in such a tiny space?

New Shakespeare Stamps Put The Bard’s Drama Onto Teeny Stage


Professional designers learn early to work within constraints: time, budget, materials, price. But the team at the London graphic arts firm hat-trick design has a special knack for a particularly daunting creative challenge: delivering big design on a tiny canvas.

Today in the U.K., the Royal Mail will release the shop’s latest handiwork — two sets of postage stamps commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

The design brief was to make the sets in distinctly different styles.

The design brief, says hat-trick co-creative director Jim Sutherland, was to make the sets in distinctly different styles. And, by jove, they’ve done it. The first set combines dramatic photos from famous productions with illustrator Marion Deuchar’s distinctive hand-lettered typography. The second features characters from the plays on a mini stage set that hat-trick built with illustrator Rebecca Sutherland based Stratford-on-Avon’s four main theaters.



The mini stage set is based Stratford-on-Avon’s four main theaters.

In some ways stamp design is like nothing else,” Sutherland says. “You have to sum up complex ideas in a space that is a few centimeters wide. ” Make that precisely 35mm square. For their latest series, Sutherland says they thought of the stamps like mini posters, using words and images to reflect the plays. “A lot of the best poster design is incredibly simple,” Sutherland says, and stamp design is like that, only you stick your artwork on envelopes instead of walls. “It’s a unique challenge to make type work at such an intimate scale,” Deuchars says. “But we also knew it would create a distinct and engagingly graphic depiction of a very well known subject.”

Hat-trick, which was named top shop in London’s Design Week Creative Survey in 2010, showcased a sampling of its robust portfolio of stamp designs — 43 in all — ranging from a poignant series “Lest We Forget” commemorating the fallen in WWI, to a mesmerizing series on rescues at sea to a charming series on Darwin, at Design Indaba, Africa’s pre-eminent design conference, in February.

Creating image-based stamps is a lot like logo design, Sutherland says. “They’re the distillation of an idea into an iconic piece of communication” — albeit one that folks who still use snail mail can use to express their own sentiments. But unlike logo design, stamps don’t have to convey esoteric corporate concepts: the negative space between the “E” and the “X” in FedEx signifies forward motion! BP’s Helios logo is like sunflowers or sunshine (please disregard those oil-slicked pelicans).

Sutherland, who also designs his share of logos, appreciates stamps’ simpler appeal. “Besides, they’re something you can show your mum, and she understands what you do,” he says.

About the author

Linda Tischler writes about the intersection of design and business for Fast Company.