Two of Us is a design and branding practice formed by Ash O’Brien and Ian Caulkett.
Why did you both decide to start the studio?
Having been friends for years, we had a mutual appreciation of each other’s work and an understanding that we were both in similar positions: we felt neither of us were fulfilling our potential, or were particularly inspired by the output at the agencies we were working for. After a few small collaborations we felt the chemistry really worked, so we started to think about setting up our own design practice.
Tell us about the studio’s personal branding, what is the meaning behind it?
At the forefront of our ethos is honesty, and the name reflects that transparency. We’re not pretending to be bigger than we are, we’re about relationships: our working relationship and the relationships we build with the people we work with — both clients and collaborators. The name is direct and to the point. Our brand is a simple system based on two ever-changing complementary colours, reflecting our different personalities and working styles that come together to form Two of Us. Our logotype — often split — also mirrors this, whilst appearing bold to demonstrate our pride in our offering and ethos.
“At the forefront of our ethos is honesty, and the name reflects that transparency.”
How important do you think it is for a studio to have a strong brand identity? Some studios choose an almost unbranded approach.
For us it was important from the start. We wanted to show personality and use our branding as a calling card to prospective clients. By making the decision not to show our previous work, we had to communicate ourselves in a visual sense with the brand, to back up how we speak to clients. We talk a lot about business differentiation when it comes to branding, and about not just looking to the forerunners of the competition, but creating something bespoke and personal. A larger, more established studio or agency can trade off the back of their portfolio and case studies, and an almost unbranded approach allows the work to do the talking and be at the forefront of their communication. There’s no right or wrong approach, each is dependent on the individual ethos.
Why have you chosen not to show work on your current website?
The simple answer is that we felt trading off previous work — created individually or as part of a wider team — wasn’t honest to our approach. Two of Us projects are a product of both of us, and as such we didn’t want to dilute this. It wasn’t necessarily the easiest approach, but positives that have come from this are being able to communicate our skill set through dialogue, building trust with the client, and the client not having a pre-determined idea of how we might approach a project.
“A lot of the posts are experiments, which we hope we can develop in the future for brand focused prints and material, perhaps leading into collaborations at some point.”
As a young studio, how important has social media been in raising awareness of what you guys are about and what you do?
As a new and relatively unknown studio, our social media following is modest, but building as we grow. We do place a lot of importance on our social media, especially our Instagram account. In the absence of a portfolio, we use it as a visual playground to develop our own brand, our two-colour theme and to show some of our work in progress for live clients. A lot of the posts are experiments, which we hope we can develop in the future for brand focused prints and material, perhaps leading into collaborations at some point.
How important do you think it is to involve your clients in the creative process throughout a project?
This is a really important aspect of how we work, and is built into our process. Client involvement not only involves them in what we are doing, it builds our relationship and adds value to the development and final outcome — an outcome both parties have contributed to, and can be proud of.
“We often turn to music, art, fashion, literature, photography and films for inspiration.”
Which studios or designers inspire you?
Whilst it’s important to be aware of the industry we work in and we do occasionally look at design blogs and have a healthy collection of design books, we try not to be heavily influenced by what’s already been done. We often turn to music, art, fashion, literature, photography and films for inspiration.
A lot of Ian’s early visual inspiration came from music, the tactile form of the record and the accompanying artwork: Stanley Donwood’s ongoing collaboration with Radiohead, and Peter Saville with Factory Records. One individual that really helped Ash to understand and grow to love conceptual design was Daniel Eatock.
Is the plan for the studio to always be the two of you, or would you like to expand in the future?
The studio is just the two of us, but we collaborate with specialists in other fields such as web developers, copywriters and photographers. We feel it is important to choose the right fit for each job, and not to be restricted to work with the people immediately available to us like an all-purpose studio might have to. At the core of Two of Us is two designers and two personalities that are involved in every aspect of the work, so future scalability would probably result in a new studio with a new ethos.