Why did you decide to start Studio Blackburn?
Between 2006 and 2011 I was Creative and Managing Director of an agency called Greenspace, delivering projects in the areas of brand identity, brand experience, campaigns, events, advertising and film. I realised that I’d drifted from the core disciplines that I enjoy – graphic design and branding – and I wanted to create an agency focussed on doing one specific thing extremely well. I set-up Studio Blackburn in 2011, with my wife Susie, to enable me to focus on creating high quality graphic design.
How have you seen the studio evolve since you started?
In purely practical terms the studio has evolved from myself co-ordinating a handful of freelancers from my home, through a period in the incubation programme at Ravensbourne College to what we have now which is a team of six full-time employed people in a very nice space in Shoreditch. Creatively we’ve honed the type of work we do, and have become comfortable working in a modernist style which I believe has enabled us to move to a position where large clients like Trainline feel very comfortable commissioning an agency of our size. As a team we’ve remained pretty constant for most of our existence. My two business partners – Sam Moffat (Creative Director) and Rebecca Cole (Director of Production) run all the projects and designers Jack Brown and Anna Berbiela support them.
“The t-symbol suggests routes or crossing-points.”
What’s the concept behind your branding of Trainline?
We developed a logotype and look and feel that adopts a new typeface to ensure that the Trainline wordmark and all Trainline communications are instantly recognisable. The t-symbol suggests routes or crossing-points – the meeting point of smart technology and the romance or convenience of a real world travel experience.
Based on the growth in mobile, we made the decision to drop the ‘.com’ and highlight Trainline’s multi-channel offering. As a distillation of the brand promise, the t-symbol will become short-hand for Trainline – and for smarter journeys. The t-symbol is also provided as a typographic glyph within the corporate typeface that it is set in, a smart design solution ensuring that the typeface and logotype work together seamlessly and reinforce the unity of the design solution.
What are your studio essentials?
A Vitsoe shelving system and a bunch of people that I both like personally and respect professionally. All of which I have.
Who or what are the biggest influences on your work?
There are four main influences:
Total Design. I love this quote from Crouwel, “Do your best work with a sound, balanced attitude and for reasonable renumeration.” When I look at their work it makes me feel optimistic and reminds me that it’s possible to create beautiful work despite the pressures of the corporate structures we work within.
Otl Aicher. “Aicher’s extensive practical and theoretical work represents an expanded and refined structural functionalism, and demonstrates a holistic and rational approach to visual communication on the basis of its social relevance.” Imagine saying that today. I wish more agencies would.
Kenya Hara. I love Hara because he asks important questions about design and life, rather than waiting around for clients to ask boring ones about their products, “We work in all possible media and fields. Whether graphic design, architecture, products, websites, books, exhibitions, hotel direction, urban systems or navigation design, we provide solid, quality solutions.” I also think he does minimal in a very meaningful way, he reduces work so that only the essentials are left present.
Sean Perkins / North. I did a year’s freelance work at North around 2005 and it helped me think about how I’d develop a blueprint for how I’d like to structure a studio. Firstly, walking into their studio was like walking into the workspace you’ve always wanted, a place that is all about great graphic design. And that’s exactly what Sean is about – without any of the nonsense. He’s also got a very unusual approach to the way that he hires, he’s not afraid to put designers into the mix who bring a whole other flavour to the work. It creates creative tension – a mixture of hard core graphic design and off the wall creativity. If Sean was a football team manager it would be the one to provide maximum entertainment, even if it didn’t win all the trophies.
Can you describe the creative process behind your logotype for Positive News?
The final logotype and brand identity had to embody positive values and contain an element of future focus. The logotype also needed to work as a masthead. To achieve this in the design, the forward arrow shape within the capital ‘P’ serves to differentiate it and give it a sense of purpose. The word Positive was amplified and News reduced in size to work as a lockup. The dot of the ‘i’ also doubles as the dot of the url in positive.news.
Our creative insight was to give a viewer’s sense of a light being switched on. This is reflected literally in the two table-lamp symbols we developed along with the line ‘switch the light on’. As an enlightening news source with an enlightened approach to journalism, the design of the brand and the magazine needed to reflect this.
Responding to a brief to be brave in the design approach, we chose a serious and sombre blue as the base colour, supported by two brights – turquoise and coral red. Three fonts were chosen – Neuzeit, Miller and Colchis, with a refreshed and modified version of Colchis being supplied by Seb McLauchlan.
The process of designing the UCL font was very much collaborative – we approached him with the idea of a display font based on the idea of the ‘disruptive’ research undertaken at UCL SoM. The challenge was to make the font appear disordered and irregular without affecting the legiblity and rigour – it still needed to look slick for a serious business institution. We sketched the initial characters which Michael tweaked and refined. The initial characters went back and forth several times until we were happy with the number and amount of alterations. From here, we formed a logic as to how the characters should be affected. Michael could then extrapolate the alterations on the remaining character set.
“The challenge was to make the font appear disordered and irregular without affecting the legiblity and rigour.”
How has the impact of the digital world affected the way you work compared to when there was more of an emphasis on print?
There’s been a huge impact obviously. Marketeers have now realised that what they need are graphic designers that design ‘in digital’ rather than in print. They’re salivating over people that can do that. Personally, I like working with Digital Designers like The Workers who complement our skills and are in it for the right reasons.
What’s your dream project?
Having done brand identity projects that reflect my love of both architecture and sport – Zaha Hadid Architects, One Pro Cycling and the Professional Squash Association – the only thing missing is my love of music so my dream project would be to design the ultimate Mod album for Paul Weller.
What does Studio Blackburn get up to outside of the studio?
Each summer we have a two week studio workation to Tarifa in Spain where we hire a small studio to work from, do graphic design, swim at lunchtime, eat and drink in the evenings and visit beach bars at weekends. Not a bad life really. And of course everyone except me seems to be into throwing pots these days. Shoreditch innit.