Interview with Value & Service

So I went for a trip overseas a little while back (which I may have mentioned once or twice on here:) Anyway, I figured while I was over where ever I found myself, why not see if I could drop in and see a few designers whose work I admired? Easier said than done of course, many were asked, a few replied and some even said I could come and see them. London was particularly tough (maybe I shouldn’t have said I was Australian?) A few replied and very politely said they would be too busy or not in the studio when I would be there. Luckily one of the studios that I did really want to visit said yes, that being Value & Service. Value & Sevice was established by Directors Sean Murphy and Hazel Rattigan in late 2002. I know the term ‘thinking outside the box’ gets thrown around a lot, especially in design circles, but I had been really impressed by just how different the studios work was to just about everything else out there. They really take a considered approach to the use of materials and unique solutions to their projects in a real world setting, not just a design for design sake environment. I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I visited their studio is Shoreditch, what I found was a very down to earth group of designers pushing the boundaries of their profession but still dealing with the day to day challenges of running a professional studio. I spoke to director Sean Murphy.

Chris Bowden: What first inspired you to get into Graphic Design?

Sean Murphy: Believe it or not, there’s a program you might have heard of, a soap opera called Eastenders, there was a character in it called Colin who was a graphic designer and I quite liked the sound of the job, the term ‘graphic designer’ sounded quite interesting, I always wanted to be a TV camera man before I wanted to be a designer, so I wanted to be a graphic designer before I really knew what it was. I was always quite good at art and liked drawing. Rather than doing A-Levels which is what most people in the UK do, I went straight into a Btec in graphic design.

CB: From there you went onto further study at a University?

SM:I went from there to Central St Martins and that’s where I met Hazel, we worked together quite a bit at university, I left and Hazel went on to do an MA, I started working at North which is where I met our neighbours upstairs in Bibliotheque. I then went back to university to do my own MA as well, and about three and a half years ago, Hazel and I set up Value & Service.

CB: Your folio contains quite a bit of work for artists, galleries and arts organisations, was this a conscious effort on your part to work in that area?

SM: It’s not something we planned really and it’s probably something we’re trying to change a little bit, we’ve got that so well covered now, and it’s not an area that generally pays very well! So we want to change what we’re doing in some ways, we still enjoy that kind of work, of course, it depends and what you’re doing at any given time. We’ve just finished a book for an artist named Trevor Appleson, and in fact, we’re just about to start another one for him.

CB: Do you think that sort of work offers you a lot of freedom or do you feel restricted by working under the particular aesthetics of the artist?

SM: In some ways it’s actually more restrictive than more ‘corporate’ work in a weird sort of way. It depends who the client is though, we’ve worked with a curator called Tom Morton quite a bit, and he’s really good, he understands what we do and allows us to get on with it, he values it, he’s not one to stick his oar in in a sense. It’s a two way thing, the work always comes out of our conversation with him, rather than him dictating or us dictating. That’s a nice working relationship, when we first set up Value & Service, he got us to do some work on a one day art show he curated and he then went onto setup a one year temporary gallery and we were involved with that. He then went onto be the curator at a gallery called ‘Cubitt’ and he’s brought us along with him. We’ve been quite lucky in who we’ve worked with, because they’ve all been quite open to our input, they’ve not had that idea that they tell you what to do and you just do it.

CB: I guess the good thing about working in London is the amount of fine art related enterprises there are.

SM: There’s a multitude of galleries and artists, there’s always something going on in that area, like the Freize Art Fair which is quite a big deal, because we’ve done some work in that world, we’re beginning to understand that just about everyone wants work for free or at least to pay very little for it.

CB: Of all the projects you’ve worked on, do any stand out as being particularly memorable or enjoyable to work on?

SM: It changes all the time. Sometimes you’re really happy with something and other days you look at the same piece of work and see the faults in it. There’s a couple of things that I really like because of their simplicity, they tend to be some of the older stuff. We did a window for Selfridges that I think is very us. There was no brief essentially, the concept was a window display based on window displays. We photographed different things around London, bits form McDonalds, dry cleaners, just anything really that caught our interest. We then recreated it, mostly in vinyl and we used suckers and things you would find in windows. The project came about through Creative Review magazine, we were chosen as one of the design firms featured in their ‘Creative Futures’ annual feature. That year as part of it you got given a window to design. Another project that stands out is one we did again for Tom Morton. It was an invitation to a one day art show, it was a quick idea, we cut up copies of Vogue magazine and took the pages that were purely advertising on both sides and used that as our base and just laser printed information on top of them. It’s probably the lowest budget job we’ve ever produced, it cost about 30 quid to do, and it’s one of our favourites. Things like an identity we did for a one year temporary gallery, a set of business cards on a tear off pad, there’s just something about the feel of it we quite like. We were probably a bit more free with our design when we first started out, now we’ve got overheads to worry about!

CB: With those concerns, how do you keep yourself motivated and inspired?

SM: Depression?! It’s hard to pinpoint anything exactly, mainly just by observing the things around you.

CB: Do you draw any inspiration from any of the artists you work with?

SM: I don’t feel like the work that we do is directly influenced by any of the artists we have worked with. I think it’s more from things like our collection of old books, lots of typographic oddities and such. We find inspiration everywhere, not particularly in one place, we might find it by looking at someones photographic work or what not. Sometimes it’s a good idea to look backwards!

CB: You’ve mentioned that you’re looking to broaden your work outside of the arts, what sort of work would you like to do?

SM: More art direction. We feel there’s a bit more scope to do interesting things working with other people to create imagery, it’s the sort of work we enjoy doing. At the moment we feel as though we’ve been getting work that just needs to be ‘put together’.

CB: Would you have an ideal client you would like to work for?

SM: Comme des Garçons would be pretty ideal for us. Someone who does very interesting stuff that doesn’t just follow the conventional route.

CB: There’s a lot more opportunities to do that sort of work in London and Europe as a whole I guess?

SM: There’s a hell of a lot of designers here as well though and each year design companies sub-divide and designers split off and start their own firms, plus a plethora of students leaving university who are really good, there’s a lot of competition.

CB: What do you know about Australian Graphic Design?

I’ve seen bits. I’m not good with names, so I couldn’t name anyone in particular, but I’ve seen a few magazines that have come out of Sydney that have been quite interesting. There seems to be stuff going on in Australia now whereas you would never see anything, but now you do see quite a bit in magazines or whatever, mags like Grafik or Creative Review, you see Australian designers have submitted work. I think there’s some nice work coming out but I couldn’t tell you who did it though!

Thanks to both Sean and Hazel for sparing the time to talk to me and show me their studios and work. All the pieces discussed in the interview can be seen on the Value & Service. website, a nice piece of work in itself, along with the rest of their portfolio.