Passport is an independent branding and print design studio based in Leeds. We had some questions for Founders, Jonathan Finch and Rosalind Stoughton.
Tell us about your background and why you decided to start Passport?
We both graduated from Leeds College of Art’s BA Graphic Design course in 2012, and decided to set up our own studio straight away. We are both quietly stubborn characters with a very clear sense of the work we like, and the work we want to produce – so it was a very natural decision for us to work for ourselves. With next to no experience in business, it was very much a leap of faith but we decided to just go all in, and work as hard as we could to make it a success. It’s been a very steep but fulfilling learning curve, and we’re still growing and adapting every day.
What is the design culture like in Leeds?
The best of the design culture in Leeds can be found amongst the smaller, independent businesses who are highly skilled and specialised. There’s a really exciting community covering every creative field, turning out work for some huge, global names, while everyone is genuinely passionate about supporting each other and collaborating. With the overall design scene perhaps being a little less crowded than that of some other UK cities, it feels like we’re really playing an active part in Leeds’ design culture.
“Everything we designed was layered with subtle details and hidden symbols born out of extensive research.”
Can you describe the concept behind your identity for The Wood Beneath The World?
This was such an exciting project for us, working with our super talented friends Lord Whitney. The Wood Beneath the World was an immersive, interactive and visually stunning environment designed to encourage exploration, imagination and creativity. The idea was that, for decades, a mysterious wood had been growing silently underneath Leeds Town Hall; the roots and trees had burst through the floors and walls and taken over.
Passport developed an identity for the event to reflect the detailed concept and brief whereby the aesthetic communicated a formal, official tone of voice to reflect the Council setting, but with a hint of magic and mystery. Everything we designed was layered with subtle details and hidden symbols born out of extensive research into trees, folklore and ancient alphabets; mirroring the experience itself, where the more inquisitive the viewer is, the more they can discover.
Just as one example – the two keys in the logo contain symbols from the Ogham Alphabet which represent Beech & Oak trees; in folklore these symbolise magic & ancient knowlegde and discovering hidden truths respectively, which were both themes of the performance. Explanations of these symbols and their meanings were then included in various places in the set design for participants to either discover, or remain a mystery hidden in plain view…
“This was definitely the least straight forward print job we’ve undertaken.”
Can you talk us through one of your favourite projects that has been brought to life through print?
The projects that we enjoy the most are the ones where we can go a little crazy. We initially designed the brand identity for Pure Design Consultancy, and these design principles were then transferred into two opposing customer profile books. With the identity focusing heavily on the concept of pure elements and minerals, it manifested itself through a signature chalky ‘Alabaster’ paper stock, copper detailing, and pure black and white.
This was a job where we were able to work with a client with a real sense of openness towards our creative process and concepts. We get excited by ideas and new ways of pushing print boundaries, which can be challenging for our printer, and this project was the perfect storm in that regard! We like to work closely alongside the printers throughout the whole process to fully realise the potential of some of our more eccentric ideas. The books featured an unusually high level of hand-crafted finishing and included multiple paper stocks, a combination of digital and metallic screen printing, foil-blocking, triplexed board covers, central throw-outs, solid black ink on copper paper and hand-sprayed customised binding screws! This was definitely the least straight forward print job we’ve undertaken, but the results, in our opinion, were well worth the effort from everyone involved.
Do you have a process when it comes to approaching new briefs as a studio?
Because there are only two of us, we have the freedom to be quite flexible in our approach to each job. Some people already have a very specific idea of what they’re after, while some are completely alien to the design world and want a lot more guidance throughout the process. However, we do have some basic stages of our working process that we stick to for every job. We always start with research, strategy and idea generation, followed by gathering points of visual reference. By doing all of this before we start any actual design work it allows us and the client to be in complete agreement about the direction the project will take and what they can expect from us so that we can end up at the most appropriate resolution for them in the most efficient way!
“Having a flexible system of assets to work with gives you so many creative options and injects a dynamic energy.”
Your identity for B|D Landscape Architects is a great example of one of many modular identity systems you’ve created. What do you think is effective about this approach?
It’s probably the flexibility that it generates for the identity. Consistency is everything in branding, but remaining consistent without being predictable is much more engaging. Having a flexible system of assets to work with gives you so many creative options and injects a dynamic energy.
Can you describe Passport’s studio environment?
We recently moved into a new studio space within Duke Studios; a coworking environment in the centre of Leeds occupying a renovated belt factory, with a café downstairs as well as an event space, themed meeting rooms, photography studio and a communal kitchen and “Yarden” – everything we need!
The studio itself is a light, relaxed space with white wood-panelling and stripped floorboards. We have a colourful wall of prints and we’re surrounded by stacks of samples and books of inspiration, as well as some all important plants. We also have a big armchair for clients, and the centrepiece has to be our magic carpet!
What do you feel sets Passport’s work apart?
I think we are very lucky to currently sit in a middle ground between being a young, small creative duo, and at the same time being able to take on bigger agency type work. In the past few years we’ve worked on everything from a low budget black & white zine about Ukrainian street dogs, to rebranding a superyacht company in Monaco.
In an industry where print is very often proclaimed to be dead, we are choosing to keep this at our core, as more design start ups focus on digital. This is gradually leaving a nice gap in the market, which we think we can help to fill with a genuine thirst to keep pushing creative print forwards.
What are your plans for the studio moving forward in 2016?
We have actually got some very exciting plans for Passport as a business in the pipeline, and we’re really excited for this year! We’ll be extending our range of services soon and focussing more on growth. At the moment we want to keep things a little under wraps, but definitely watch this space…