FFF Podcast #05: Dave Sedgwick on pushing a brief
FFF Podcast #05: Dave Sedgwick on pushing a brief
In this 5th episode of our podcast Dave talks about side projects, the process behind the 30×30 project, how he pushed the brief from a set of posters to a book, set of postcards and a website.
Music by Back Back Forward Punch
Glenn Garriock: So, how about we kick things off and you could just tell us a little bit about yourself. That’s always an easy intro.
Dave Sedgwick: Sure. My name’s Dave Sedgwick. I’m a designer working in Manchester. I have a small studio called Studio DBD, small practice. I’ve been working under the name of Studio DBD since 2011. Previous to that, I worked for a variety of different design studios in Manchester and I work with a variety of clients really both large and small. I work with small startups such as cafés, bars, restaurants, that kind of thing to some slightly larger clients, larger breweries and ticket companies such as Skiddle. I also organize design events, seminars, lectures, exhibitions and I also do a little bit teaching as well at university. So, I teach at Huddersfield where I’ve been for the last four years and a little bit of work with my old university which is Manchester School of Art.
Glenn: So, today we’re going to talk about 30×30 which I’m sure some of our readers will have already seen and we’ll share lots of pictures in the article that goes with this episode. But tell us a little bit about 30×30, who the project is for and what the brief was.
Dave: Sure. Well, 30×30 is a project that I created for my client Foilco. I’ve been working with Foilco for a couple of years really. We started working with them in 2016 on an event that they run called Multiplicity. Now multiplicity is a series of talks that Foilco arrange around the country. So, we started in Glasgow back in 2016 and we also visited Leeds and Brighton and we’re currently planning our next event in Manchester on November the 9th. So, that will be our fourth Multiplicity event. So, I’ve been working with those guys for a while both on the branding and design of the events but also organizing the speakers and helping with the logistics of putting a design event on.
And they asked me probably about a year ago if I would be interested in creating some posters for them, a series of posters to be exhibited that Luxe Pack which is kind of a packaging and innovations exhibition that’s held in Monaco in October. They have had that done in the past by a couple of design studios and it’s something that they just always seem to want to do, just design some posters. So, I said yes, of course, because who doesn’t like designing posters and I went away and sort of sat on it for a while really. I didn’t really know what to do. I mean it was one of those typical difficult client briefs which was do whatever you want as long as you use our foils and sort of promote and showcase our foil. But I was finding it really hard without a brief as such, without any kind of direction or constraints.
I think that’s always difficult as a graphic designer. I’m used to sort of a specific brief. So, I really was struggling to think of exactly what to do and I started to talk to them about why they always did posters and the age-old answer was like well, that’s just what we’ve always done. So, we just want to do that again and I said well, posters are great. As a designer, obviously as a medium, they’re a fantastic kind of thing to design. I absolutely love them but I also have lots and lots of them rolled up in tubes, in brown sort of cardboard tubes behind my desk at work or in my house. So, if they pay a tremendous amount of money to produce these posters in foil and then they get rolled up and hidden behind desks, it’s defeating its objective.
Glenn: I hear you.
Dave: So, we talked a little bit more sort of trying to understand what they wanted to achieve and the main thing that Foilco wanted to achieve was they wanted to showcase their products to the creative agencies, the creative industries I should say and I said well, if you’re sort of like wanting to talk to creatives, then we need to produce something that creatives will be interested in. So, ironically, it was the 30th anniversary this year. They started the company in 1987 so they were already talking about doing something quite special to celebrate being 30 years old. So, it felt like all the stars suddenly became aligned and I was able to say well, actually, how about we do something a little bit different?
And we started to talk about creating a book, a hardback book, limited edition that would ask advice from creatives on what they would do or what they would tell themselves if they went back to when they started their career 30 years ago, a bit like Foilco. So, with the benefit of hindsight, what advice would they have told themselves and I was fortunate that a couple of years ago, I’d been asked to do a talk for an event in Manchester called Manchester in Mind which was highlighting the mental health in the creative industry and I did my talk, I showcased some work and that kind of thing. But I also asked a variety of high-profile creatives and designers in the world. I sent them emails and I said would you guys be interested in helping me put together some material for this talk? In particular, how do you keep a healthy mind whilst you’re being a creative and I got back some really interesting answers from a variety of people and I showcased them in the talk and everybody absolutely loved them.
But they never really did — they were part of the talk and that was it. No one ever really got to see them apart from that. So, I started to talk to Foilco about potentially reusing them in the book but I thought well, actually, let’s go back and ask a new question. Let’s talk about 30 years. Let’s try and tie it into the 30 years thing a little bit more. So, as I say, I already had some of the contacts from the Manchester in Mind talk. So, I approached some of those guys, got kind of an initial few answers and it started to kind of roll in from there, Glen, really. Once I got one or two answers back, more and more people were interested in taking part in the book.
So, the aim of the book really was to cement Foilco as the kind of go to guys for foil. So, a little bit like the paper industry where we would specify a job. If we’re doing a piece of print, we’d like to specify it on a certain type of paper. What Foilco want is they don’t want people to specify a foil just to the printer, just to say to a printer I want a black foil or a copper foil or a gold foil. They want the designers to specify a specific foil from Foilco and to treat foil in the same way that we treat every other element of prints. So, from the material to the binding to the size to consider every single element, not just to think of foil as the last thing in the chain and the best way to do that I think is to start to get Foilco immersed in the creative industry more. So, we do that via Multiplicity, the design event and this book is a kind of I suppose the cherry on the cake in terms of how do we get Foilco into the creative industry’s mind. So, it was a fantastic project and the whole idea as I say was to just really make people think of Foilco when they start thinking about putting foil on a piece of print.
Glenn: I think you definitely got that right.
Dave: Yeah, thank you.
Glenn: I think it’s a brilliant project especially you get people talking about, talking about the project itself on inadvertently the company behind it.
Glenn: So, what was it like to work with 30 different creatives on this project?
Dave: I suppose in a word difficult and not because — obviously I’m extremely grateful to everybody who supplied their words of wisdom and answered the question. Without the kind of 30 creatives, the book obviously wouldn’t happen. Originally when we started talking about a book, one of the ideas I had was to just create a timeline for Foilco, a kind of 1987 to 2017, what they’ve done over the years and we did sort of kick the idea around a little bit and to be honest we all agreed that it would probably be a little bit boring. So, when the idea of bringing creatives into the book and actually asking creatives some questions, if it’s a book for creatives why not use creatives to create the material? Without those guys, the book would just be just like — as Matt, one of the directors of a company says in his introduction, it would just be a fancy, very expensive notebook with blank pages.
So, I’m very grateful but of course, it’s very difficult. I mean the first thing to do is to try to get as many people involved as possible and I’m fortunate over the last few years I’ve made a few connections through projects and things that I’ve done. So, I had a sort of short list of between kind of seven and ten potential people that I could ask to sort of take part and I think it’s really good if you’ve got those initial people involved, then when you go to, you’re sort of beyond ten and you’re into 15 and 20 and 25, you can say well, these people are already taking part in the book and most designers, once they know there’s some sort of let’s say big names involved, they all want — people want to be part of it and they see the potential of the project and of course, I wasn’t asking too much. I mean a simple question and I said to the designers and the creatives I asked, feel free to keep it short and sweet. Don’t feel you need to elaborate too much. If you want to answer it in a sentence or a couple of words, that’s fine. If you want to write a few paragraphs, that’s absolutely fine as well. So, don’t feel this is a project you need to sort of look into the studio and spend hours thinking about. You could just what’s the first one that comes into your mind when I ask what advice would you give to your younger self and it was interesting as well, getting lots of different advice from lots of different people and that kind of thing. So, that was really good.
Glenn: So, did you intentionally try and find like a variety of disciplines and age groups and or did you just kind of go through your notebook of who would you like to see in the list?
Dave: That’s a good question. I think initially I probably thought well, I’m quite I’d say good friends with people like Anthony Burrill and Michael Place, the guys at Hey Studio and Lo Ciento in Barcelona. So, I had a few names I thought I’m going to ask these guys because hopefully they’ll be happy to help me out and then once the list started to kind of formulate, I realized I really wanted to try and get some advice from as you say a variety disciplines. So, people like Malika Favre, an illustrator as opposed to a design studio like Heydays and real contrast in terms of is the advice the same whether you’re a designer or an illustrator. I also wanted to make sure that I got a decent age range as well of designers and creatives because one of the ideas I had at the start was to ask the creative industries what advice would they give themselves if they could go back 30 years, the same as Foilco and it slowly dawned on me that maybe a lot of these people might not have been born 30 years ago.
So, I had to kind of tweet the question slightly and realize that I had to ask a more abstract question that would kind of hopefully gain more interesting answers and I wanted to also make sure there was a range of male and female, young and old, different disciplines and different parts of the world. So, I’m really grateful that we’ve got people from the UK, we’ve got people from America, Australia, Europe, Asia and it’s a wide range of answers from across the globe and I think that says that in the words and advice that they get given as well. It kind of comes across in the advice.
In terms of what it was like working, I obviously got ignored by a few people. Not naming any names but Si Scott, if you’re listening, I’m still waiting for your answer. Si Scott, he’s a friend of mine. I mean he said to me I’m definitely going to do it, Dave. Give me some time. It’s difficult. You don’t know how much to chase somebody. We’re all busy and it’s hard. You’re asking for help, you’re asking for advice, you’re asking for support and you don’t want to pester and you don’t want to kind of force people to feel like they’ve got to take part in the project. So, once you’ve sent the first email, if you don’t get a reply in a few days, I tend to kind of follow it up with another email. I’d probably try I think three times before I thought this is getting a little bit desperate. I need to kind of move on and find somebody else.
I also had a bit of difficulty because a few of the creatives actually wanted to design the page themselves. So, they were happy to take part in it but I know Eika König at Hort in Berlin, he was like this is a great project but can we design it and that would’ve been amazing but I think logistically, it would’ve been really difficult. Some would’ve wanted to do it, some might not, some would’ve taken weeks and months to do it, some would’ve done it really quickly. So, I had to sort of say look, we really want you to take part in it, Eika, however, do you mind if little old me designs your great words of wisdom instead of you? So, hopefully he’s happy with it to be honest.
Glenn: I guess this is like picking your favorite child but can you give us maybe a couple or one of your most memorable pieces of advice that you receive?
Dave: Like you just said, it is really hard to kind of choose a favorite quote. I think originally when the answer started to come back to me gradually over the course of a few weeks, I was really interested by some of the shorter ones, probably from a design point of view. From a design perspective, knowing that some of the shorter answers, I could be a have a bit more fun typographically with because obviously the book itself, I wanted each page to have that personality of the contributor and the words that they’re saying. So, I didn’t want to have a set of really sort of formulaic grid system that was extremely rigid. I wanted it to be quite flexible in terms of how the typography sat on the page. So, when I got some of the shorter answers from people like Morag Myerscough who just said love what you do. That was great because I was like right, I can see how I can make that work on the page.
But then some of the long ones are really poignant as well. People like Daniel Ayuso at Clase and Anthony Burrill, both gave me some really long answers and that was really nice as well to read them and they really took the time to think about what they were saying. It’s also quite interesting how some of the older creatives — I’m sure they won’t want to be called that — some of the more mature creatives are quite poignant about family and taking time out and having a break and realizing that graphic design is not really going to save you. I think Michael Place says that in his list, his kind of life list that he put together for me. Take time out, spend more time with your family, your parents, don’t just put everything into design. In fact, Michael emailed me a couple of days ago to thank me really for asking him to take part in the book because he’s almost created his own life manifesto and he sort of tries to stick to it now in terms of not only did he contribute to the book but I think he’s printed it out and he’s got it on his wall and he keeps trying to make sure that he does exactly what he said his advice would have been.
And I think the younger generation, they’re probably more talking about the work and design side of things. I got a couple of illustrators in there who have only really been working in the design industry for maybe two to three years and they’re sort of saying well, it’s more about the design side or more about the creative side. I really like Heydays’ response which is relax, it’s only work which I think we should all try to remember a little bit more and I like the humor in there as well. The guys at Bunch, Denis at Bunch said his advice would have been to buy more gold or to buy gold or Tim Beard from Bibliothéque said 30 years ago, I would’ve just told myself to sort my look out. He obviously feels a bit embarrassed about what he looked like 30 years ago. So, a real collection of different answers from different people and that’s what makes the book really special I think.
Glenn: Going back to the original brief of hey, how about we create some posters to commemorate 30 years, I mean I think a lot of people often are faced with this is the brief and you cleverly or — how did you convince the client to move in a different direction? Do you think it was just because it was a great idea and they agreed with you or did you have to work to convince them?
Dave: Oh, no. I certainly had to work really hard to convince them and they initially were not keen on the idea at all to be honest. They really wanted to do the posters and they couldn’t see the potential of the book at all. As I say, the first idea was to do the timeline or my first idea was to a timeline book, kind of a historical kind of collection of pictures and words about Foilco and they and myself realized quite quickly that it just wasn’t going to be enough interest for people. So, they kept going back to the posters. I remember a memorable meeting in the boardroom where they just kept saying we’re not doing a book, we’re not doing a book and I was like a dog with a bone. I was just like look, it’s a really good idea. Bear with me and I think it’s a creative’s job to try to push a client.
You could say well, look, I can do these posters for you. However, let’s ask why we’re doing it. Let’s ask what the purpose of the posters are. Let’s ask about the longevity of the project. So, the posters are great for Luxe Pack to put on the wall, to frame them. They look shiny and nice and bright and people are attracted to them. But once the poster has come down, as I say, the chances are that people may not see them again. Whereas a book, I know a book can go on a bookshelf but if you’re anything like me, I’m often taking books off the bookshelf books I haven’t seen for a while. I just feel that books have more longevity. They have more long-term use. My problem was I just wasn’t sure what to design for the posters. They didn’t really give me a brief. They didn’t say the feel is such and such a thing. They just said we want some posters and I just found that extremely hard.
I think if you’re in an illustrator maybe or an artist or you kind of work in that way, then you can use your style to create free beautiful posters. But I’m a graphic designer so I tend to answer briefs in a style dependent on the project. So, I just found it really, really hard and I also realized that this was 30 years for Foilco and in the printing and paper and foil industry, that’s a really long time to still be going and still be kind of making a living from what you do and I think it was important for those guys to celebrate turning 30 in a relevant and poignant way and to take stock over the last 30 years and to look back a little bit and think well, actually, where have we been over the last 30 years and where are we going and a book just felt like the right project.
So, I suppose it’s cliché but I worked with them, I spoke to them, I kept them involved in all conversations, I met with them. I didn’t just send them a few emails. I constantly drove over to see them. It’s only 30 minutes away and I just kept them involved in the project, kept talking to them about it, kept them informed. As I say, they really weren’t keen initially but started to slowly come round and now they’re really, really happy with the project.
Glenn: I was going to ask are they happy with the final outcome?
Dave: Well, I hope. They say they are. I hope they are. I think they are. I mean at the end of the day, they’re so happy with it that whilst the book was in production, we realized that from a budget point of view, we weren’t going to be able to produce a tremendous amount of these books. I think initially we were thinking around about 500. We were able to stretch to 750. So, it really is a limited edition and it’s a shame because it is such a beautiful book and it’s a shame that we’ve only done 750 but the cost of producing the book was quite high. I mean we were really grateful to GF Smith Papers to provide in the paper and for Precision, the printers in Leeds for helping out with the project but, of course, these things still cost money.
So, we knew we could only do 750. However, once my convincing got to a level that they were just listening to everything, I was able to say well, hey, why don’t we do a set of postcards as well? So, not only have we done 750 books but we’ve done 500 sets of 10 postcards. We’ve picked sort of 10 of our favorite quotes and we have produced those. Of course, on the back of the quotes is an example of foil. I’ve designed a series of numbers, number 30s to kind of commemorate their birthday. These are using different foiling techniques. So, of course, you can just put a standard foil down, you can overlay foils, you can use different textures to create foiling techniques. So, all the postcards and the books showcased that as well and finally, I was able to convince them that it would be a great idea to do a website as well.
So, they sort of listened for a while and I said well, 750 people will see the book, 500 people will see the postcards but thousands upon thousands of people may get the chance to see the website and the website features all the quotes exactly as they look like in the book but on the desktop they’re animated as well which is great and that 30×30 by Foilco.com is the website address. Yeah, anybody can go on there and if you haven’t had chance to see the book, then you can read some of the words from the creatives on there. So, it was a difficult one, Glenn, really but I think if everything was really easy then it would quite boring and I think that in the end, the fact that I had to convince the client or to discuss with the client and to persuade the client, I think the finished piece shows that. I think if it had just come easy, maybe it just wouldn’t have had the same level of quality that the finished outcome has.
Glenn: Yeah, I’m sure you’re right about that. So, let me ask you that if you were able to go back to the beginning of this project and you’d be able to give yourself some advice, what would you have learned? What you have you learned on this project?
Dave: Well, I suppose to be honest really, one of the biggest mistakes that I probably made — I mean I’m a designer. My world is creating graphic design. I don’t feel like a businessman or like a business and I think that’s a lot of my mistakes I make in my career in general because probably the biggest mistake I made was that they had a budget in mind to create free posters and at no point did I ever ask for any more money. So, they got a tremendous amount more work from me for the same budget as it would’ve been to do free posters and it certainly would’ve been a lot easier I think to do free posters than to produce this book. So, I think one big mistake was kind of sticking to the original budget and never mentioning money.
I think to be fair to Foilco though, after sort of convincing them to do the project, they’ve been really good allowing me creative freedom on the project. So, of course, it’s for Foilco. That’s first and foremost what the book’s for but it is an extension of me in terms of the work that’s in the book, my style, the things I like, the production levels and the print and the website and I think that for me, money is important. Of course it is. We have to put food on the table but I am grateful to Foilco for allowing me to produce something that I really, really like and I wanted to do. I think like any job, I probably could learn to plan more, plan properly, be prepared for people not replying and not replying on time. I think when you’re waiting on the answers from a number of people, it can be quite difficult and I think I probably should have had a bit of a backup plan on that and I think like all of us, procrastination is a problem.
I think I probably on each page, I probably did four or five options on the design or the layout for each page and was finding it quite hard because this book I knew is going out to designers. I think when you’re designing for designers, it’s really hard. You know that people are going to scrutinize every single bit of kerning or leading or typeface choice or whatever. So, I had to try and put that to the back of my mind a little bit and to try and think about what would I like to receive if I was getting this book and just focus on that really and what did Foilco want out of it and so, yeah, stop procrastinating, just get on with it. That’s my advice to myself if I could go back.
Glenn: Well, if it’s any help at all, I think you’ve done an amazing job on the project. It looks incredible. I’m sure you’re very proud of the final outcome even though it might have been more working than you expect. It definitely looks the part.
Dave: Thank you.
Glenn: I guess to finish us off you could tell us what’s next, like what are you working on now, anything exciting?
Dave: Yeah, I’m working on quite a few exciting projects. I’m looking at a branding job for a Scandinavian brewery that’s opening in a few months just on Oxford Road in Manchester, putting the finishing touches to some identity work for a music festival that’s taking place next year in Lancaster and also an exhibition on female contemporary Chinese art which is going to be happening across the UK in various sites across the UK in February next year. So, I’ve just created the brand identity for that. I’m working with the Chinese Art Center in the city to kind of put that on. So, some really, really good projects and also carrying on doing the teaching and yeah, just carrying on pestering people to get things done which is the motto, a motto for life really. Just pester people and you get somewhere. So, keeping busy to be honest.
Glenn: Yeah, you’re a busy man, Dave. Thanks very much for taking the time to talk to me today.
Dave: No problem.