Stu­dio Sutherl& is famed for strip­ping back an idea to its very essence, with im­pres­sive re­sults. Rosie Hilder dis­cov­ers how the team of two do it

Computer Arts - - Contents -

Stu­dio Sutherl& re­veal how to keep de­sign sim­ple yet ef­fec­tive

Stu­dio Sutherl& has a knack for com­ing up with ideas so sim­ple, you won­der why no one thought of them be­fore. But it takes a lot of work and in­ge­nu­ity to cre­ate such beau­ti­ful sim­plic­ity, and the award-win­ning stu­dio – voted num­ber one in the UK Stu­dio Rank­ings last year – con­sists of just two peo­ple.

Re­cent projects in­clude re­brand­ing longestab­lished chil­dren’s brand Start-rite shoes, (which won a D&AD Wooden Pen­cil), re­work­ing the iden­tity of Agatha Christie Ltd (short­listed for a Brand Im­pact Award 2018), and cre­at­ing a visual iden­tity for the new Mu­seum + Gallery in St Al­bans. But how does such a small stu­dio man­age to out­shine the heavy­weights, and pro­duce work that’s so con­sis­tently out­stand­ing? We spoke to founder Jim Suther­land and de­signer Rosey Trick­ett to find out…

How did you start work­ing to­gether?

RT: It was a case of per­fect tim­ing re­ally. I was try­ing to work out what my next step should be and I met Jim to get some ad­vice. The week we ended up meet­ing Jim’s only de­signer had just gone free­lance. We had a great chat and he gave me a lot of help­ful ad­vice on my port­fo­lio and what sort of stu­dios might be right for me. Then a day or two later he got in touch and men­tioned that he was look­ing for a new de­signer and if that was of any in­ter­est we could talk about it more. Of course, I jumped at the chance, and it was in­cred­i­ble when he kindly of­fered me a job.

JS: It was beau­ti­ful serendip­ity.

What dif­fer­ent skills do you bring to the ta­ble and how do you work to­gether in prac­tice?

JS: We both work on all the projects, we talk a lot and dis­cuss ideas back and forth. We both of­ten work on a num­ber of projects con­cur­rently and in tan­dem, it’s very open and col­lab­o­ra­tive. With so many projects on, I feel it’s a ques­tion of bal­ance be­tween fo­cus and dis­trac­tion – where pos­si­ble I of­ten go off and start new things in the midst of the cur­rent project.

RT: I made a ca­reer change to graphic de­sign from photography so have some dif­fer­ent ref­er­ence points to bring in, which I think af­fects my work in some ways too. I love street photography so I carry a cam­era with me all the time and this has helped me to make in­ter­est­ing lit­tle ob­ser­va­tions I may not have oth­er­wise

As Jim says, we both work on all projects and we are al­ways work­ing on and dis­cussing mul­ti­ple projects at the same time. When I started, I found it tricky to ad­just to this level of mul­ti­task­ing but now I re­ally en­joy it. I think talk­ing about lots of projects at the same time is great as the learn­ings from one feed into an­other. Plus, it keeps it in­ter­est­ing as there are al­ways things to be done so when you need a break from one project you can move on to an­other one for a bit, then come back to it with fresh eyes.

Do you of­ten dis­agree on work? If so, how do you deal with that?

RT: We agreed from the off that it was best to be com­pletely hon­est, so we have very open dis­cus­sions. If we dis­agree, we will say so and then dis­cuss it and try both ways out, but more of­ten than not we tend to agree on projects.

JS: Most of the time, we de­velop

ideas and thoughts to­gether – and we gen­er­ally dis­cuss them as we go. So by the time we come to re­ally de­bate the fi­nal routes and op­tions, we seem to be very aligned in our think­ing.

You work on an aw­ful lot of projects. How do you man­age your work­flow?

RT: It can get pretty in­tense as there’s only two of us and mul­ti­ple projects go­ing on at the same time that need a lot of care and at­ten­tion. I think we hit a max­i­mum work­load ear­lier on in the year where it got a bit crazy, but it all even­tu­ally bal­anced out.

JS: I find this the hard­est part of the stu­dio. We nearly al­ways have too much on – mainly be­cause I say ‘yes’ too much. I get very ex­cited about the po­ten­tial of al­most any project, but I just need to con­trol the flow a lit­tle bet­ter. The lovely thing about hav­ing so many things on is that they spill over into each other, and that makes all the projects more rich and in­ter­est­ing.

How do you keep com­ing up with new ideas? Do you ever worry about run­ning out?

JS: Of course you worry about keep­ing fresh and orig­i­nal – it’s a con­stant con­cern.

Of­ten the projects them­selves are unique so the so­lu­tion can be as well, and there are al­ways more ideas out there – it’s a ques­tion of find­ing them. That’s a ques­tion of know­ing where to look, and what paths to take. I think the best work oc­curs at the edges of the stu­dio, when you’re out and about, sit­ting in the pub, on a train, on a plane.

A lot of Stu­dio Sutherl&’s work fo­cuses on tac­tile prod­ucts that make in­ter­est­ing use of print tech­niques. Can a solely dig­i­tal project have the same stand-out ap­peal?

JS: I do love tac­tile print, es­pe­cially in such a dig­i­tal age. But of course dig­i­tal projects can en­gage on an amaz­ing level. Ide­ally you want to work on projects that can do both. For ex­am­ple, the So­mos Brasil project is a lovely piece of phys­i­cal print, but it com­bines with an app where you scan the im­ages and the peo­ple start talk­ing to you in Por­tuguese – it’s mag­i­cal.

RT: I hadn’t done a huge amount of print be­fore work­ing at Stu­dio Sutherl& and it’s been such a joy to do more of it. There def­i­nitely is some­thing about the tac­til­ity that brings some­thing spe­cial. Plus, we get to work with Boss Print a lot and they do ev­ery­thing with so much care and en­thu­si­asm, which def­i­nitely helps. That said, I think you def­i­nitely can get the same re­sult dig­i­tally and it’s some­thing we’ve been talk­ing a lot about do­ing re­cently. It’s a bit out of our

com­fort zone but that’s ex­cit­ing and en­cour­ages us to do bet­ter with some­thing new.

Is recog­ni­tion in the de­sign in­dus­try im­por­tant to the both of you?

JS: Recog­ni­tion is lovely, ob­vi­ously, es­pe­cially when you work in a small iso­lated stu­dio, but fun­da­men­tally you need to con­cen­trate on the work it­self.

RT: I think the most im­por­tant thing is do­ing work that you feel proud of and if it gets recog­ni­tion and awards then that’s bril­liant, as it shows it’s made an im­pact on other peo­ple too.

You’ve de­signed over 50 stamps for the Royal Mail. There are clearly chal­lenges to work­ing in such a small for­mat, what are the ben­e­fits?

JS: It’s a dream project. You have to try and dis­til a sub­ject and idea down to the sim­plest and small­est of el­e­ments. It’s hard, but so re­ward­ing – and you get to post your­self let­ters with your own stamps on.

Do you know im­me­di­ately when you’ve found that sweet spot of sim­plic­ity or do you need to take a step back?

JS: I love cre­at­ing work that looks ef­fort­less. Of­ten it’s a ques­tion of re­mov­ing lay­ers un­til you’re left with the fun­da­men­tal idea. I think it’s the ques­tion of a sim­ple idea – even though the ex­e­cu­tion it­self may be lay­ered and com­plex.

RT: Work­ing with Jim is a mas­ter­class in say­ing more with less. I love the chal­lenge of keep­ing things sim­ple. It’s al­ways tempt­ing to keep adding but it takes real self-de­ter­mi­na­tion and con­fi­dence to strip things away.

Your ethos is to ‘find the joy in each project’. Do you think it would show in the work if you didn’t en­joy a project?

JS: I be­lieve that the more joy you put into a project, the more joy that comes out the other end for the au­di­ence. In the same way as when you hear a piece of fab­u­lous mu­sic where you can tell the mu­si­cians have en­joyed the play­ing. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to work ex­tremely hard, but then I don’t view it as ‘work’. Life is too short to spend any time not en­joy­ing what you do. We are so priv­i­leged to work in this sphere.

You only work for peo­ple you like. How can you tell this at the be­gin­ning of a project?

JS: I do think you get a gut feel when you meet peo­ple: do I want to spend time and en­ergy with this per­son? Do they want to do an amaz­ing job? I think it’s es­sen­tial that you work for the per­son in charge and build a trust and rap­port with

them di­rectly. In do­ing this, it’s far eas­ier to learn what’s de­sired and meet those ex­pec­ta­tions.

What’s next for Stu­dio Sutherl&?

JS: I’m de­lighted with the stu­dio and how it’s de­vel­op­ing and we have no plans to ex­pand. I don’t think you’re ever where you want to be, but as long as you’re go­ing in the right di­rec­tion, and en­joy­ing the jour­ney, then all is well.

I would like to keep flex­i­ble and nim­ble. For me, small is beau­ti­ful. And then we can build teams for spe­cific projects. I’d like to do more three-di­men­sional work, such as sig­nage and ex­hi­bi­tions. I’d also love to do an amaz­ing dig­i­tal project of some kind.

Fi­nally, do you have any ad­vice for small stu­dios who’d like to up their game and work with more high-pro­file clients?

JS: Do ev­ery project in front of you su­perbly – that’s the best new busi­ness I know. For me it’s the work it­self that is the key, ev­ery­thing else comes from that. Im­merse your­self in the visual world and feed your brain – it comes out in the work. And fi­nally, work in­cred­i­bly hard and never do it for the money.

Above: Stu­dio Sutherl& cre­ated a new iden­tity for Agatha Christie Ltd, which uses a ‘c’ and ‘?’ to form a new ‘a’ mono­gram.Be­low: So­mos Brasil book spread: a col­lab­o­ra­tion with photographer Mar­cus Lyon. The project maps the ancestral DNA and sto­ries of over 100 Brazil­ians via a book and dig­i­tal app.Op­po­site, above: A new iden­tity cre­ated for St Al­bans Mu­seum + Gallery com­bines sim­ple yet ef­fec­tive im­ages with an equally tasteful word­mark.Op­po­site, be­low: Re­brand of 230-year-old Start-Rite shoes, cre­ated us­ing a water­mark us­ing the feet of the brand’s iconic twins.

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