BE­HIND THE SCENES

Computer Arts Collection - - Contents - Words: Ju­lia Sa­gar Pho­tog­ra­phy: Rob Monk

Meet Jonathan Quain­ton and Rob Gon­za­lez, the tal­ented pair re­spon­si­ble for the beau­ti­ful rib­bon-based nu­mer­als and pro­gres­sive be­spoke let­ter­ing run­ning through­out our in­au­gu­ral Graphic De­sign An­nual

The first thing you need to know about the im­age at the front of this an­nual (page 3) is that those el­e­gant nu­mer­als were made by hand. The sec­ond is that they were crafted by Saw­dust, aka Lon­don-based de­sign­ers Rob Gon­za­lez and Jonathan Quain­ton – and this level of at­ten­tion to de­tail is far from un­usual for the duo.

You’ll be able to find Saw­dust’s hand­i­work laced through­out our new an­nual. Gon­za­lez and Quain­ton also de­signed the at­ten­tion-grab­bing cus­tom type­face found through­out these pages as well as the slick di­viders that are mark­ing the start of each new sec­tion.

Fresh from the global suc­cess of their Shang­hai Rank­ing book project, the pair have played an in­te­gral part in shap­ing the in­au­gu­ral Com­puter Arts Collection graphic de­sign an­nual. In-be­tween hec­tic last-minute ad­just­ments we man­aged to catch five min­utes with the pair to find out more about their me­te­oric jour­ney over the past 12 months...

What was your most suc­cess­ful project of 2013, and why?

Rob: The book de­sign and nu­mer­als for Shang­hai Rank­ing has been a ma­jor suc­cess for the client, which is the driv­ing force be­hind ev­ery project we un­der­take, so in that re­spect we feel it has been suc­cess­ful. Our def­i­ni­tion of a suc­cess­ful project is en­sur­ing the client is happy and the work is good. Strik­ing that bal­ance isn’t al­ways easy but it’s some­thing that we strive for in our work. Jon: A big part of the book’s suc­cess came from land­ing the right client at the right time. Work­ing with a client that has an open mind – and hav­ing their full sup­port dur­ing the de­sign process – en­abled us to ap­proach the project from a dif­fer­ent an­gle.

“If you move on too quickly, it doesn’t al­low time for ideas or styles to grow into some­thing dif­fer­ent and ex­cit­ing”

Shang­hai Rank­ing has gen­er­ated a lot of in­dus­try at­ten­tion – how suc­cess­ful has the project been in rais­ing your pro­file as a stu­dio?

Rob: We al­ways find it grat­i­fy­ing when work re­ceives praise from our peers – that won’t change. It’s also hugely re­ward­ing to work with a client who is as open-minded and for­ward-think­ing as Alis­dair [Jones, the client] was for the Shang­hai Rank­ing work.

Most, if not all, of our work comes from project re­fer­rals, so there has been some in­ter­est in the nu­mer­als de­vel­oped for Shang­hai Rank­ing. We spend hours and hours, weeks and weeks work­ing at some­thing in the hope it will be no­ticed, picked up and even­tu­ally lead to more work. The de­sign press and ex­po­sure is a mas­sive part of what forms the lifeblood for us to be a suc­cess­ful stu­dio.

Jon: It’s hum­bling to have at­ten­tion placed upon Saw­dust from de­sign pub­li­ca­tions like Com­puter Arts Collection as it re­in­forces what we do and helps drive us for­ward to make bet­ter work. Rob and I both know that you can’t rest on your lau­rels af­ter a suc­cess­ful project. It’s im­por­tant to fo­cus on the next job in front of you.

The rib­bon nu­mer­als you de­vel­oped for Shang­hai Rank­ing are re­ally beau­ti­ful – where did you get your in­spi­ra­tion from and how did you cre­ate them?

Rob: We had been ex­plor­ing themes based around light and shadow in our work when this project came to us, so it was a de­vel­op­ment and pro­gres­sion that even­tu­ally led to the ex­e­cu­tion. We spent a great deal of time pho­tograph­ing strips of paper to un­der­stand how the shad­ows fell across the page. It was about mag­ni­fy­ing those de­tails – the shad­ows – and mak­ing them the hero. We watched a bril­liant short film – men­tioned dur­ing our talk in Porto for Plug & Play – based on [Ger­man de­signer] Inge Druck­rey called Teach­ing To See. It touches on the sub­ject of not al­ways be­ing able to see what’s right in front of us – a skill that can be learnt as a de­signer or artist. We like to think the idea of ac­cen­tu­at­ing the shad­ows for the nu­mer­als may have been in­spired by this short film. The re­al­ity is that in­spi­ra­tion can come from every­where. It’s more to do with be­ing able to recog­nise it.

How did you progress these nu­mer­als for our an­nual, and where did you want to go with the new di­rec­tion?

Rob: It’s im­por­tant for us not to move away from ideas or vis­ual styles too

quickly, which was the case with the Shang­hai Rank­ing num­bers. If you move on too quickly it doesn’t al­low time for it to grow into some­thing dif­fer­ent and ex­cit­ing.

We liked the idea of sim­pli­fy­ing the num­bers by re­mov­ing the black stripes leav­ing just the paper and the shad­ows. Tak­ing this a stage fur­ther, we cut out the black stripes, en­abling light to shine through the gaps to cre­ate in­ter­est­ing new shad­ows.

What was the big­gest chal­lenge in de­vel­op­ing the nu­mer­als for us?

Rob: The re­sult of cut­ting away the stripes from the paper meant that the thin­ner parts be­came flimsy and harder to work with. To solve this prob­lem we had to re­in­force it with trans­par­ent sticky tape dur­ing light­ing and pho­tog­ra­phy.

We also love the cus­tom type de­signed for our an­nual – what was your start­ing point for this, and how did you de­velop your ideas?

Rob: Com­puter Arts Collection’s sans serif type­face is called Sim­plo – we like how it’s clean and con­tem­po­rary, but wanted to ex­plore whether we could make it more ex­pres­sive and vis­ually en­gag­ing. Jon: We went through many ren­di­tions of the let­ter­forms be­fore we set­tled on the fi­nal de­sign. There is a fine bal­ance be­tween or­nate and min­i­mal that af­fects the read­abil­ity of cer­tain let­ter com­bi­na­tions. Over­all, we were look­ing to pro­duce a set of ti­tles that were en­er­getic and had move­ment through­out.

What’s your favourite part of the cus­tom let­ter­ing and why?

Rob: When we asked a few people for feed­back dur­ing the de­vel­op­ment stage, they said: “The ‘N’ looks like an ‘X’” – we found this to be amus­ing, as they had in­ad­ver­tently pointed out that

“You can’t please ev­ery­body, but noth­ing new or in­ter­est­ing ever came from pro­duc­ing things that people ex­pect”

it was an ‘N’ be­fore say­ing it looks like an ‘X’. In the con­text of a head­line or a word, an am­bigu­ous let­ter­form like the N, be­comes iden­ti­fi­able through other letters around it. Jon: The change in scale used for the ‘U’, ‘C’ and ‘O’ cre­ates a vis­ual rhythm that plays with the neg­a­tive space. The con­trast be­tween the smaller and larger let­ter­forms make for en­gag­ing and un­usual com­po­si­tions.

We’ve been see­ing a lot of re­ally strong type work com­ing out of Saw­dust re­cently. What is it about ty­pog­ra­phy that in­ter­ests you most?

Rob: There is a beauty in be­ing able to say some­thing us­ing let­ter­forms, but in an ex­pres­sive and artis­tic way, which I find cap­ti­vat­ing. Jon: For me the thrill comes from mak­ing some­thing that is unique. It’s the process of in­vent­ing some­thing new by con­struct­ing forms that, when fused to­gether, cre­ate pro­gres­sive, ex­pres­sive, en­gag­ing let­ter­forms.

In your opin­ions, how im­por­tant is leg­i­bil­ity ver­sus cre­ativ­ity?

Rob: We’re of­ten as­so­ci­ated with mak­ing type that’s chal­leng­ing and pro­gres­sive, but we’ve re­cently been ex­plor­ing type de­sign that has a wider commercial ap­peal whilst re­tain­ing some of our ex­pres­sive val­ues. Jon: Leg­i­bil­ity is im­por­tant in cer­tain sce­nar­ios, where there is a need for di­rect com­mu­ni­ca­tion and the mes­sage is of the ut­most im­por­tance, but there are no rules. It’s ul­ti­mately up to the de­signer to de­cide what is nec­es­sary for each job. You can’t please ev­ery­body, but noth­ing new or in­ter­est­ing ever came from pro­duc­ing things that people ex­pect.

On that note – what do you have com­ing up for 2014?

Rob: 2013 has been a very en­joy­able year and we’re just hop­ing to build on that in 2014. We have some projects that we can’t show un­til next year so we’re look­ing for­ward to that. Jon: We’ve just re­leased our sec­ond exclusive type­face for the HypeForType foundry called Lunetta. Rob: There’s also talk of a Shang­hai Rank­ing top 500 book, which is ex­cit­ing, and we have some type­face re­leases that will be avail­able for pur­chase prob­a­bly in the early part of next year. The am­bi­tion is al­ways to make good work whilst clients con­tinue to put their trust in us.

Jonathan Quain­ton worked as an il­lus­tra­tor af­ter gain­ing his HND in graphic de­sign. He co-founded Saw­dust with Gon­za­lez in 2006 Af­ter study­ing graphic de­sign at Bath Spa Univer­sity, Rob Gon­za­lez

worked at dig­i­tal agency Meme be­fore set­ting up Saw­dust

Lunetta is a dy­namic dis­play type­face cre­ated by Saw­dust from a se­ries of ty­po­graph­i­cal ex­per­i­ments

Re­cent poster de­sign for AIGA San Fran­cisco’s In­side Out event

Saw­dust’s beau­ti­ful rib­bon nu­mer­als for the Shang­hai Rank­ing book. See more on page 58

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