‘North had such a great reputation that we could have easily continued to live under it. There just comes a point when it was a natural evolution to leave.’ Ben Parker and Paul Austin are referring to their breakaway move when, exactly a year and a month ago, they left design group North to set up their own group Made Thought. Both Austin and Parker had been with North since the beginning, when Sean Perkins and Simon Browning had set it up in 1996.
‘I met Perkins when he came to give a lecture at Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication where we both were doing our degree,’ says Austin. ‘It was instant respect.’ Perkins had just left Cartlidge Levene and was working at Imagination. Austin applied for two weeks’ work experience with him, which then turned into six months. When Perkins left Imagination to set up North, Austin went with him. Meanwhile, Parker was struggling to integrate his ‘Swiss school typographic approach’ within the more eclectic and theory-led masters degree course at Central St Martins School of Art & Design. Within three months he had joined up with Austin at North.
Asked how they feel about North’s distinguishing visual trademark, Austin and Parker explain. ‘That style was developed together over the four years we were there. It was very well received. Then, of course, people started catching up with it with similar renditions, so even North was pushing it forward.’ Made Thought has certainly moved forward. With new client fashion label Sonneti under its belt, it has set about to produce an impressive multidisciplinary body of work, from brochures, posters, books, website and even a branded series of clothing. For the Sonneti showroom, it created the in-store graphics and produced short films for the video towers, collaborating with the interiors and furniture design group Barber Osgerby.
Last spring, Edward Booth-Clibborn commissioned Made Thought for the Barbican Jam exhibition book, a project that it had to complete in four weeks. A collection of 42 artists from Japan and London, it features a wildly diverse selection of work. Bound together by its typographic treatment, the book’s diagonal text cuts through the pages, the Preset-f typeface giving it an early typewriter feel. ‘All the stepping was done manually with the space bar,’ explains Austin of the laborious procedure. ‘Each line has a letter knocked off. It’s a navigation system, which led to the book acquiring an accidental beauty.’ Despite the schedule shortcomings of the first book, Made Thought is working on two other Booth-Clibborn Editions titles, including one on food and design. ‘Booth-Clibborn respects design,’ says Austin. ‘It’s not that he gives a free brief, but all eff
orts are creatively appreciated.’
A departure point for Made Thought was last August with the launch of a series of on-screen idents created with the Mill’s interactive division Mill/ Lab for MTV Base, the hip hop, R ‘n’ B digital channel. ‘That whole music genre usually invests a lot of money in its promos, promoting the gloss and the “glamma” of that world,’ says Parker. The brief was to create the image of ‘an exclusive boutique’. Made Thought produced 27 idents, featuring smooth and seductive images coupled with the restraint of Avantgarde type. ‘We know we can do print, but this job opened up a new set of parameters,’ says Parker. ‘There is a lot of TV stuff out there without the good quality of print. For us, this is an area where we can do something which isn’t the norm.’ On the back of the on-screens and off-screen material, Made Thought also produced for the channel’s new identity, and is hoping to attract further similar clients.
Ultimately, a print approach informs most of Made Thought’s work. Its website for Simon Dance, www.simondance.com, a furniture and interior designer who previously worked for John Pawson, also displays its signature restrained, clean approach. Unsurprisingly, Austin admits to having learnt most of the HTML needed to build the website pages from a manual. As with the MTV job, it seems new technologies and mediums can only help their mission for clear, well thought out work. e