Where to start when building a new studio

Never mind the books, locating that box full of records is the first priority when setting up a new design studio

Boxes, so many boxes. In them, a reconstituted arboretum, a jigsaw of wood pulp, a library of dense, unwieldy design matter. Acres of inky loveliness, essential fuel to keep the old creative engine running. Or, as the hungover removal man referred to them, “oh good, more big books”.

I’ve moved house, you see, from down that road there to up that road there. As well as a host of new service providers, bin collection times and spiders, I’ve also gained a smashing new studio. I say studio, but it’s in the attic, so I think technically it’s a garret. Or maybe an atelier. Right now, it’s an atelier of boxes. I’ve yet to figure out how to Tetris all of their contents onto the few shelves I have, so for now they’re just going to sit there, looking all mean and boxular.

Despite what the sweaty, burly man mumbled, some of them contain things that aren’t books. One of them contains something other, a collection amassed with even more love and consideration. This one. This is a box of delights. This is the box with the records in it.

Ant Music to Zooropa, wonderful vinyl, begging for a dust-off and a spin. The dragon boat drums that keep me working, soundtracks to my labour. I’m sure it’s the same in every studio up and down the land – who doesn’t like working to music? If you don’t have at least one fairly serious air-drumming injury to your name, you can’t call yourself a designer. Them’s the rules.

On a big diagram of creative pursuits that has yet to be drawn, design and music are clearly seen to be opposite poles, complementary forms. Distinct enough to avoid one pastiching or disturbing the other, but similar enough to inspire and influence. They may work on different senses, but they share an underlying language of repetition and rhythm, colour and shape.

This is especially true when it comes to LPs, a tidy containedness that neatly reflects the defined boundaries of a design. I grew up with C30, C60, C90, so I’m hard-wired to appreciate music in neatly defined albumular shapes, pre-sequenced packages, structures within structures. The freeform shuffle of iTunes and Spotify has its place, but I’m not going to get any work done tossing coins into an infinite jukebox. Once you’ve picked your LP, you put it on, and it plays. No more distracting decisions to be made.

LPs have beginnings and ends, but most importantly, they have middles. Middles that demand attention. The necessity to get up and walk across the room to flip the disc offers a welcome break from the staring and clicking repetition. That brilliant idea isn’t going to magically appear on the desk you’ve been hunched over for five hours. Observe the silence of the album, start again, reset your brain, get out of a thinking-rut. Stretch your legs, pore over some liner notes and stroke that sleeve art. But most of all, play the music.

Fast and slow, quiet and loud, every good record holds valuable lessons that can be applied abstractly to whatever you’re working on. A conversation between black circle and white rectangle. When you’re elbow-deep in grids and guidelines, a mire of technical considerations and constraints, music reminds you that design should be alive and vibrating.

Warren Zevon’s hairy-handed gent who ran amok in Kent; Michael Hutchence shouting “trumpet!” to introduce a saxophone solo; Eddie Vedder making those Eddie Vedder noises. A single nugget of pure silliness or joy or truth nestled in the middle of a song can breathe life back into whatever you’re working on. When it happens, when it kicks in, my computer ceases to be a tool, it becomes percussion. Drumming with fingers, peddling with feet, lots of finger-clicking … and productivity through the roof.

There’s a theory that recorded voices can be drawn from the surface of ancient ceramic vases, having picked up vibrations while their clay was still fresh. Like grooves in vinyl. It’s probably a load of baloney, but it’s a nice idea. Along those lines, I’d like to think that each of my projects has a bit of music in it – the rhythms of the grid subconsciously translated from whatever was playing when I worked on it. Fanciful, yes. I like fanciful.

Anyway, that’s quite enough dancing about architecture for now. Time to get busy, empty some boxes. Time to put on Kings of the Wild Frontier and build me a fort.

Daniel Benneworth-Gray is a designer based in York. See danielgray.com, @gray

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