Studiographica; A digital archive of work by design studios that sadly no longer exist
Paul Bailey and Mike Sullivan explain how and why they're archiving the work of some of our most-missed graphic design agencies.
It's this kind of forward-thinking that prompted Paul Bailey, brand strategy director at Halo and Mike Sullivan, creative director at Mister, to set up a home for some of the greatest design and branding studios who are no longer with us.
"The inspiration for Studiographica came from an afternoon in the Halo studio, talking to the designers here about an old agency called Attik," Paul explains. "None of them had heard of Attik. So Nick Ellis, one of Halo's founders, and I started listing all these amazing agencies we had grown up admiring."
It turned out the designers hadn't heard of any of them. So the kernel of an idea was formed – what if there was an online archive of all the best design and branding agencies who were no longer around?
Initially, the website was intended to be an online resource for design students. But as it grew, they realised that designers of all ages could learn from the work of these ex-agencies.
"I hope to bring to people's attention different approaches to the design and branding process," says Paul. "What 300 million produced is different to what the Ministry of Sound produced, but that's not to say one is better than the other.
"I hope that people learn that there are many ways we can approach a project and that many of them are just as good as another," he adds. "What really matters is the outcome that we are trying to achieve. What are we trying to encourage people to think, feel, or do with our design."
One big learning came when Paul sent a callout on Twitter. "I asked people for agencies people wished were still around, but that had closed. Many of them were the ones I would have listed, but there were many others I'd simply never heard of. Twitter isn't geographically specific, so there were agencies from the USA, Australia, Europe, Asia, and basically all over the world.
"And this made me think: not only could this website be a resource for students to find out about old agencies, but it could also be a place for anyone to find out about the amazing history of design work across the globe."
On the downside, this also brings into play issues Paul hadn't originally considered. "For example, if I've not heard of the agency, how do I know whether it has the credentials to be included? This is why, as we grow, we might need to partner with people in different geographies to advise on agencies.
"I am also very aware of the danger of being the 'arbiter of a great agency'," he adds. "Who am I to decide who should and shouldn't be included on the site? If the site grows, we might need to put a structure in place for this too."
Following the Twitter call out, Mike Sullivan said he was interested in working together on the project, so Paul passed design duties over to him. "With Mike's design skills and Halo's build and curation skills, we landed on a great team for the project," says Paul.
Reasons for the decline
One of the most intriguing aspects of Studiographica is seeing amazing design work from agencies no longer exist. So why, we wondered, did they fail? "Who knows," replies Paul. "Agencies fail for many reasons. But I'd suggest that it might be that some of them didn't 'fail' at all. Agencies, and all businesses, don't last forever. They often have a period of growth, a period of success, and a period of decline."
And he offers an example of this dynamic that's very close to home. "I co-founded an agency in 2002 called 1977 Design," Paul remembers. "We did well, won big-name clients, and did great work. The other co-founder and I 'grew apart' in our working lives, with myself heading more towards brand and strategy and him going more towards illustration and book design.
"Eventually, we decided to downsize the agency and then decided to close. It wasn't a failure: it was a process of decisions we made, looking at where we each wanted to go next. And sometimes, to get to where you want to go next, you need to change the form of your work. But this isn't failure; it's progress."
Essentially what Paul and Mike are trying to create is an online resource so that today's designers can be inspired by the work of yesterday's best designers. But what has Paul himself learned from this project so far?
"What's become clear to me is that the design or the branding process is very similar across the board," he replies. "We all follow a very similar process, but where our ways of working take us can be very different. You can look at agencies' work and see which ones are strategically led against those very stylistically focused. Form might be said to follow function, but form is everything for some agencies. Or at least it is the lead element.
"I often explain that I believe designers all sit somewhere along a scale, which has at one end communication and the other end craft," he adds. "Maybe unsurprisingly, back when I was a designer, I was all about what was being communicated – what am I trying to encourage people to think, feel or do through my work. But that's not to say that designers all about the craft are doing design wrong. That's the point – there are many approaches to design, and I wanted to use this platform to show some of the best designers and design and branding agencies that ever existed."
If you're a founder of an ex-agency and want to be included, then Paul would love you to email him through the website. "We don't require much for an entry," he says. "All we would need supplying is the following: studio name, studio logo, founder's names, dates active, location and five projects that best represent the studio – images and text." You can visit the Studiographica website at studiographica.org.
Written by: Tom May