Made Thought + Design Miami/

Boutique creative agency Made Thought on partnership, seduction, and losing control.

Made Thought, who’s worked with Design Miami/ since 2006, has been an integral partner in developing the fair’s brand aesthetic, designing much of the ephemera of the fair itself. Kapila Chase, Design Miami’s Director of Marketing, spoke with Ben Parker and Paul Austin, the founding partners of Made Thought, who gave some insight into their design process and how they turn thoughts into realities.

Design Miami/  Why Made Thought? Does the studio’s name reflect a specific design approach?

Made Thought/  We liked the idea of design being a marriage of ‘making’ and ‘thinking’ — two key facets to design. It created an unusual juxtaposition of words which became memorable. Most importantly, the URL was available!

DM/ You have a wide range of clients, from David Beckham to Jamie Oliver to GF Smith. What’s the common denominator? Why do you think your clients seek out Made Thought?

MT/ Hopefully because they can see we believe in creating something unexpected. We have never been interested in replicating the latest graphic or sylistic trends — we’d much rather be seen to have an effortless and relevant approach. This allows our work to possess a timeless character which makes our work resonate with a broader range of clients across many different sectors. As the design is not caught up in its own stylistic veneer, this means the communication needs to really engage in an appropriate and intelligent way.

We also place a great deal of importance on our design looking or feeling ‘beautiful’ — this is the ultimate seducer as it will give the design a compelling quality and always engage the viewer.

DM/ How would you describe Made Thought’s creative process in three words?

MT/ Collaborative. Intelligent. Conviction.

But the creative process really can’t be distilled down into three words. There are a number of factors which we feel need to be played out in any creative process — underlying narrative; balancing concept, style and function; good relationships (you’re only as good as your client); conviction as ‘editors’; and a search for a timeless aesthetic -all of which combine to create an over-arching approach and philosophy to the way we try and work.

DM/ You started working with Design Miami/ when we were logo-less, developing the brand from the ground up. Any highlights? 

MT/ Having a blank canvas to build a brand around is always a highlight. The show’s vision and ambition was great, so we needed to step up and create something special.

Our aim is to inspire and excite people before they get to the venue. It’s our job to reinvent the story each season, with an exciting visual hook that captures people’s imagination.

The brand uses a simple ‘divide line’ which is the defining element of the identity. This line represents the geographic duality of the show’s locations (e.g. Design Miami ‘in’ Basel) and manifests itself both graphically and physically through all facets of the brand. For the first campaign (2006) we applied this line into the physical environment of each location. This opened up a number of ideas and reintepretations of this theme.

We are in the fortunate position to be able to create communications which need to speak to a highly, visually literate and design aware audience — this allows us to be fairly esoteric and playful with the brand. For example, the ‘dipped’ cocktail invite (2009).

DM/ You develop a new identity for each Design Miami/ show. How are your designs inspired by the fair?

MT/ For the Design Miami (December 2010) way-finding signage, our aim was to create an obvious visual link and extension of the tent aesthetic. Shrink-wrapping seemed like an ideal and exciting mechanism as both the colour and material tied-in perfectly with the structure. By wrapping iconic pieces of furniture (tables, chairs, sideboards, sofas, floor standing lamps) we not only created interesting sculptural compositions, but mirrored the show’s temporary home for the furniture galleries exhibiting within it.

DM/ Do you approach designing for the Basel and Miami fairs differently? If so, why?

MT/ Yes, we try and respond appropriately to the cultural zeitgeist of each location. With Basel, which can often be perceived as a conservative setting, we try and be as expressive as possible —to create an intentional juxtaposition to what is expected. In contrast with Miami, we try and be a bit more controlled and disciplined. Of course, it doesn’t always work like this, but this is our outline approach.

DM/ Will you tell us a bit about the Design Miami/ Basel 2013 identity?

MT/ This season’s identity is about creating a conscious tension and contrast between an elegant and refined aesthetic and a disruptive layer — the graphic tape. The tape is then over-written with an exciting set of dynamic messages and calls to action. As it now stands confidently against Art Basel, we wanted to ensure its playful spirit isn’t lost. It’s all about subverting the beautiful with sometimes ephemereal that has an energy.

DM/ You’re a fairly small studio, on the boutique side, which must limit the number of clients you can take on. Is this an important part of your practice or do you plan on expanding?

MT/ We seem to have a natural resistance for expansion. We are scared of losing control of the quality and type of work that we take on. The idea of having to take on projects that we aren’t in love with just to feed the ‘machine’ is something neither of us desire. We spoke with a new business developer recently who argued that we weren’t being ambitious by being a small studio, but why do we need to be big? We are very proud of our creative output, love the clients we work with and are financially secure. Why would we upset this balance?

Also the type of work we take on is very much about brand creation and is often for creatively led organistions, who often don’t want a thousand pieces of communication. They tend to want a few pieces of communication done extremely well. /

Interview by Kapila Chase

Ben Parker and Paul Austin are the founding partners of Made Thought