BEHIND THE SCENES
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