We chatted with David from Melbourne’s Studio Constantine. He gave us an insight into the process behind their beautiful minimalist work.
Can you tell us a bit about how Studio Constantine came to be?
Sure thing. Being partners in life, Hannah and I (David) always had the intention to work together in a creative practice at some point. After some years working in London (David in an innovation consultancy and Hannah in publishing), working crazy hours, commuting and living for the weekends, we decided to take the plunge and head back to Melbourne to start our own thing.
It was also about working out who we wanted to work with long term. London was great and we worked with the biggest brands and companies in the world, but inevitably we ended up dealing with clients that were only interested in projects so far as it advanced their climb within their own companies. Very few people cared about what they were doing or selling, let alone why.
We have two main criteria for vetting potential clients. 1. Are they as passionate about what they do as we are about what we do? and 2. Do they desire difference? Beyond that, we work for clients in many sectors from multinationals to one person shows – as long as it is engaging.
Very few people cared about what they were doing or selling,
let alone why.
Your website reads manualelectric.com. Why Manual Electric, what does it mean?
The idea was that the URL describes our process, or design approach. ‘Manual’ is about making things in the real world. Understanding that the smallest details are what makes the bigger picture. We take time to build relationships with great paper merchants, printers, developers in order to let production opportunities inform our design process. ‘Electric’ is about the idea. Thinking always comes first, and even small executional work is always sweated over to fit into the bigger idea. These two words act as a safety net on every project, to hold ourselves to account.
What is the studio dynamic like?
In our time since we founded in 2012, we’ve had ups and downs, but learnt a whole heap too. We’ve always been about building the business slowly and sustainably. This is something we want to be doing for decades, not just a couple of years, so making sure that each job is at a standard we are happy to put out to the world is always front of mind. We work with Hannah and myself as two principals, between us covering the roles of a managing director and creative director. We have a network of collaborators like photographers, illustrators and developers, and bring in freelance designers as we need capacity. We also often have a student with us on placement from a local uni.
Tell us a little about your design process
Our process is inherently strategically led – most briefs begin with a lot of questions, before we get anywhere near answers. We spend a lot of time helping our clients articulate what they have to say and who they want to say it to, before getting near how to say it. Research is key.
Our practice is about identity. We work in a multidisciplinary way, from visual identity systems and applications to campaign work, digital, packaging, interiors and environmental graphics, and publishing. At the heart of every project though is our work with clients on how to express what is unique or interesting or inspiring about them. If we get that bit right, the execution is usually really obvious.
We see a sophisticated minimal aesthetic as a common thread through your projects, and typography always plays a big role in your work – do you find this happens naturally or is it something you strive to achieve?
I think it is the result of a desire to take things away, and to rigorously rationalise what is left. We always push to see how little you really need to communicate an idea. It’s also a statement on how very often it is all the high context cues that make a piece of communication (particularly a physical object) memorable or desirable. Materials and processes are really important to all the work we make.
Simple has an appeal, because it is difficult
— but we also think it is beautiful.
How do you stay inspired?
By continually challenging ourselves to slow down, make room to think and to remember why we started in the first place. Enjoying time doing simple things. Trying to find the simplest solution. Trying to do it with less. Trying to observe better.
Books to recommend?
Recent favourites: Monocle guide to good business. Rethinking the Modular – USM project50. Statement and counter statement – Notes on Experimental Jetset. Some posters from the NGV.
Classic: Josef Müller-Brockmann, Rolf Müller, Helmut Schmid
Contemporary: Experimental Jetset, Kasper Florio, Spasky Fischer
By no means the full list!