Maddison Graphic on working with the public sector, and how it suits their creative backgrounds
Based in the heart of Norwich, brothers Alfie and Edward Maddison make up Maddison Graphic – a design studio creating socially-driven work to enliven community spaces and environments. Working with a range of like-minded clients, the pair have seen their practice span Norwich and beyond, from local heritage trails to London theatres. Reflecting on the studio’s history, Alfie recalls the pair’s creative upbringing, starting a studio together, and the impact of Norwich on their practice.
PT Hi Alfie, how is 2022 treating Maddison Graphic so far?
AM 2022 has been a busy year for us so far, which is great. We’ve had lots of interesting work on, and no quiet periods. When you are a small studio like us, it’s tricky to get that balance right. Earlier in the pandemic, we had some very dry spells. A lot of work was put on hold, and our public sector clients were forced to reassess their priorities. Things have picked up now and we’ve got some exciting new projects lined up for the future.
PT What’s life like at the studio at the moment?
AM At the end of last year we moved into a new studio in the centre of Norwich. It’s an old building with big sash windows that look out onto one of the city’s many medieval churches. We share the space with a really nice group of like-minded people. It’s the first time we’ve been in a shared office and it’s been a really positive experience. We’re all friends too and we socialise outside of the office.
PT Can you give us a summary of your creative backgrounds?
AM Our mum is an architect who spent her career restoring historic buildings and our dad is an art historian and artist. We spent our childhood being dragged around churches and art galleries. Both parents, and their work, have been a big influence on us, and we always feel that graphic design sits somewhere between their professions, and like them, it is in part, a marriage of creativity and practicality.
Edward had a traditional route to graphic design. Art was his only real enthusiasm at school and he consequently went on to study Design for Publishing at NUA (Norwich University of the Arts). I, on the other hand, started a degree in archaeology, dropped out and then ended up living and working in London for a few years.
PT What led you to start the studio together? And how has it evolved since then?
AM I think we were both at a point where we wanted a bit of a change. Edward had been working freelance since completing his degree and I was working in a marketing role for an architecture practice. We believed we had complementary skills and that as a company rather than individuals we would be able to take on bigger and more interesting work. Our structure has remained the same, we’ve moved about a bit and the kind of work we do has changed but the set-up is still the same.
I think there are lots of advantages to working with a family member.
What is it like working together as brothers? Do you balance out each other's skill sets?
We often get asked this, or told by people that they could never work with their sibling, but it works well for us. When we first started Maddison Graphic we lived together as well, that was certainly more challenging, but I think we have the right balance now. I think there are lots of advantages to working with a family member, there is an openness and honesty that takes a long time to achieve with other colleagues. And having a lot in common and shared experiences means you are likely to be aligned in your approach and ambitions. This does mean there is a risk that our work becomes quite insular, but we hope that collaboration with clients and appreciation of context produces a more varied output.
Edward is the primary designer and I manage our projects and am responsible for the running of the business. However, there is overlap and we both contribute in all areas. We also spend a lot of time discussing our approach to projects, so it feels very collaborative.
PT How do you like to organise the workload between you?
AM As discussed above, we have fairly distinct roles so there isn’t too much to organise. Though given there are only two of us, we have to be flexible. We both have young families and responsibilities outside of work, so we help each other out where we can. We’ve never really had the desire to scale up the business or take on employees. We haven’t completely ruled it out, but we like being nimble and as long as the workload is manageable we are happy as we are.
PT You’ve worked on several socially-driven projects for cultural institutions, communities and local authorities, can you tell us about why you choose to pursue this direction?
AM The public sector work really happened by chance. We were contacted by Oliver Goodhall and Holly Lewis from We Made That after they bought one of our Boats prints as a present. They invited us to work with them on the Streatham Street Manual. It was a great project and it opened a lot of doors for us. We still work with We Made That frequently and the work for local authorities and other public sector bodies has become our focus. The majority of this work relates to planning and architecture which is a good fit given our backgrounds. We are really happy to be doing this kind of work, the opportunity to contribute to projects that have an impact on people's lives and the spaces where they live is very exciting. Even though we got here by chance we can confidently say we wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.
We also prefer the process of working with public sector clients. Due to legislation for public procurement, briefs are usually very detailed and well thought out. So you have an approach that is agreed upon right from the start. Rarely are you subject to the whims of your client as can often be the case in commercial work. Instead, we feel we are working alongside our clients for the benefit of communities.
Not having so much pressure to earn allows you to be a bit more selective about the kind of work you do.
PT What do you enjoy about Norwich as a city to work in as a creative?
AM As designers, there is lots to be inspired by in Norwich. I think the built environment has always been an influence on our work, so we are lucky that Norwich is so rich in this area. Both the historic city centre and the more contemporary buildings at the University of East Anglia and Sainsbury Centre have featured in our projects. There is also beautiful countryside surrounding the city, and a long coastline with many lovely beaches.
Norwich is also a very easy place to live. You can walk everywhere, it has everything you need and the cost of living is pretty reasonable compared to London. I think not having so much pressure to earn allows you to be a bit more selective about the kind of work you do, and it gives you time to experiment and do your own thing. We found this really helpful when starting out and building our portfolio.
PT Do you think Norwich, or cities outside London in general, are underappreciated for their creative capabilities?
AM I think that’s a tricky question for us to answer. Our experience is unusual in that most of our projects and clients are based in London, and we’ve never found that living in Norwich has held us back. I think that is probably because our work is quite specialised and there aren’t so many people doing it. However, I’m sure lots of designers and other creatives who work in more crowded fields are overlooked because their work is considered local or provincial.
PT What are you both looking forward to, in the near future?
AM We’re currently working on a public realm improvement scheme for Turnpike Lane, similar to our projects in East Street and Burnt Oak. It was delayed due to COVID but is now at the stage where we will be designing the individual interventions, such as shop fronts and wayfinding.
We’re all going on holiday together to the Suffolk coast in July so that should be fun!