Build’s Blood, Sweat and 11 Years exhibition

London-based design studio Build celebrates its 11th birthday this year and is marking the occasion with an exhibition in London. We asked Build founder Michael C Place to tell us more about the show…

London-based design studio Build celebrates its 11th birthday this year and is marking the occasion with an exhibition in London. We asked Build founder Michael C Place to tell us more about the show…

Early Build work: Build vs DERUSH, 200

Creative Review: Eleven years…

Michael C. Place: Yes, 11 years since we came back from a trip around the world forgetting that the design world even existed and just enjoying ourselves. In that time Build has moved from Camden to Fulham to Clapham and finally to our home in the Olympic borough of Waltham Forest, home to East 17, and the now defunct dog track of Walthamstow.

CR: That trip around the world was a break that marked the end of working for other people and starting your own practice?

MP: That’s right, nine years service at The Designers Republic in Sheffield done. I had been thinking about leaving and setting up on my own for about a year, and my wife Nicky and I both quit our respective jobs and travelled around the world for ten months. We both saw it as an opportunity not to miss, to clear our minds a little and start afresh. I didn’t really have an idea of where I would start Build – I had a name for it and a laptop (Ian from tDR very kindly promised me a laptop upon my return to the UK, he made good on his promise) but had little else. We landed shell-shocked in London and stayed with friends and started thinking about what to do…

Peace and Love, 2003

CR: How did Build get going at the very start?

MP: Well, it was just me at the beginning, very much funded by Nicky who had a good job at Sony PlayStation. I made the decision very early on to not show or create a portfolio of work I’d done at The Designers Republic, it just didn’t feel right. Luckily, though the tDR name alone opened a few doors and I started to do small commissions. Then in September 2006 Nicky quit Sony and started full-time working with Build.

CR: How many people make up Build today?

MP: There are currently four of us full-time, Nicky (business director), me (creative director), Joe Luxton (designer) and Sophie James (studio assistant). Joe has been with us for over a year, and Sophie started in January. We also moved to a new space in January this year which is quite big and we would like to ideally get one more senior designer at some stage, but at the moment it feels right.

Poster for Build’s Print with Love exhibition at Magma in Manchester, 2004

CR: The last 11 years has seen the rise and rise of of blogging and social media and in that time Build has found its fans, but also, through places such as the comments boxes of blogs like this one, Build has also had a fair amount of stick / backlash / criticism. How have you dealt with this at Build – and what do you think about this new age in which everyone can see everyone else’s work and have their say?

MP: I always think that we are doing something right if people talk about our work, and that means both positive and negative conversation. Discussion is a good thing, constructive criticism we can deal with. However, comments like ‘That’s shit’, bring absolutely nothing to the table, add ‘That’s shit’ to a comment that’s posted anonymously and I lose no sleep over it. It used to bother me a lot more, but you can’t have your work out there and be offended if someone doesn’t like it. It’s very easy to be negative, and much harder to be positive.

CR: Tell us about the exhibition.

MP: The exhibition is called Blood, Sweat & 11 Years and it’s a selection of prints and posters created during Build’s 11 years. It will showcase work created for clients, friends, and self initiated work, starting in 2001 with our first piece of work, TRVL, for IDEA Magazine in Japan, to one of our most recently completed works, After Harry, our response to a show by Vaughan Oliver and Jonathan Barnbrook: Fit: Alternative Olympics posters by contemporary British graphic designers.

It was quite hard to select what we were going to show, we wanted at least one piece of work from each year of the studio’s lifespan, but we found that some years we were more prolific than others. 2002, for example, was a tricky year to find a piece of work to show. In terms of the look of the exhibition, it is in The Dray Walk Gallery is just off Brick Lane, a few doors from Rough Trade East record shop. It’s a lovely minimal space, nice and open. We didn’t want to change the space in any way by putting up extra walls so in some ways the show fits the space.

CR: What about the exhibits, will the show just be print on paper – or will you show examples of packaging or physical products etc that you’ve worked on? Will there be prints for sale?

MP: It’s all ink on paper. All the pieces we are showing are posters and prints. As a studio we design for all mediums and, in fact, nowadays we are more likely to be designing for the screen. But we have a rich heritage of design for print and we thought this would be best to show, it feels very much Build.

A lot of the pieces will be for sale, and we have done a series of reprints of pieces that aren’t available anymore. We’ve also produced a catalogue for the show which compiles a lot more pieces that we couldn’t fit into the space, it has a foreword specially written by Adrian Shaughnessy (which we are very humbled by), introductions by both Nicky and myself, and a beautiful photo essay of the places Build has operated from by Benjamin Grillon. All beautifully printed & produced by Scrub and his team at Generation Press. The catalogue is the first publication by G/B/P a joint publishing venture between Build + Generation Press.

CR: Generation Press is just one of several companies and individuals that you’ve formed fruitful relationships with over the years – has looking back through Build’s work since day dot made you reconsider or revalue these relationships?

MP: Looking back at the pieces has been funny, I would have thought I wouldn’t still like the early work but it’s great to see it all in chronological order, which is how we’ve hung the show. We’ve worked with a lot of collaborators over the years, and a lot we have become good friends with, Jerome Franck (Bureau347) and Frederic della Faille (Bureau347/Checkthis), Timothy Saccenti, Jason Tozer, Scrub/Generation Press. These are all people at the top of their game, people whose input and character has been invaluable in the way Build has grown as a studio.

I’ve always admired designers such as Vaughan Oliver and Peter Saville for their obvious deign sensibility but more for the consistency of work for key clients, 4AD for Vaughan and Factory Records with Mr Saville. I think its invaluable to have clients/collaborators that really buy into and appreciate the value of a singular vision. For us it’s been people like Jerome and Fred with Bureau347 and Checkthis, Will Saul with Simple Records/AUS Music, and also Scrub with Generation Press.

CR: If you had to choose one piece of Build work as your favourite, what would it be and why?

MP: Tough question. I really like the Scale Series posters (shown above). I like the simplicity of the idea, and the simplicity of the execution. Not For Commercial Use is also one of my personal favourites. Working with Generation Press (who we did this with) is always a great experience and this just started off by producing the posters, then we did a catalogue, a short film in London and then another in NYC. A really great fun project.

One of several posters designed by Build and produced by Generation Press in their collaborative Not For Commercial Use project

CR: Does looking back through your work also give you a sense of a personal learning curve? Do you feel that you’re now in a position to work on projects you could never have dreamed about 11 years ago?

MP: Absolutely, a curve not only creatively but as a steep curve in running the studio as a business. We’ve learned so many lessons over the eleven years and still do every day, some we’ve learned the hard way and others have just been common sense problems to overcome. I look at the work with immense pride, bringing back some great memories. Most of the work includes someone else in the process, be it client, collaborator or printer each person adding to the piece making it much more than just about the design. I’ve always enjoyed the whole design process, not just the design aspect and I feel that the show embodies just that.

It’s taken 11 years but we seem to be winning bigger projects, and of course being more than just one person helps! We’ve built up a body of work now that hopefully shows people we do more than just record sleeves and posters. Working with a good network of core collaborators definitely helps. We’ve always worked with talented people, in fields that we are not experts in, rather than trying to wear loads of different hats. We collaborate with people who regularly blow us away in their respective fields, from photography, to coding, to print.

We’ve recently finished the branding for a [Ukranian children’s] TV channel (teasers, above) which I would never have thought we would do when I started Build. It’s all about trust, you can have great work but people need assurance you can complete the project and a part of that is the size of the studio. Size does matter. People have always assumed (and still do) that we are a studio of at least ten people, we work incredibly hard to produce the work we do for the amazing clients we work with. A lot of blood, sweat and tears go into the work we produce, hence the title of the show. We’ve met and worked with some incredible people over the years and so partly we’re putting on the show because we wanted to also give those people a thank you.

Build: Blood, Sweat & 11 Years runs until September 16 at the Dray Walk Gallery, Old Truman Brewery, Dray Walk, London E1 6QL.

Opening times: Tues 10am-3pm / Weds-Fri 10am-9pm / Sat 10am-10pm / Sun 10am-6pm

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