What year did you guys graduate?
KB: I was late going to university. I initially studied graphic design at H&D, then worked in publishing for a few years and came back to study at undergraduate level, and later do an MA, graduating in 2010.
LS: I must have graduated in 2011 then. You still did freelance stuff while doing your MA didn’t you?
Started up the studio a year or two after then.
How did the studio start then? What about the name?
KB: Well, the idea was always to be a small studio – mainly us two working together with a network of specialists that we call in when we need.
LS: We’re not businesspeople and did not have specific business aims or targets, we just wanted to work together and be in control of what we design.
You just wanted to make things?
LS: Yeah yeah, exactly. Most importantly we want to be the people designing and not managing the people doing the design for us, and we don’t want get out of that.
KB: So, the name came from the idea that we would have to always draft other designers with different skills to improve our skillset on a specific project. We have a network of animators, graphic designers, architects, model makers amongst others that help us out regularly.
In terms of the creative industry is there a noticeable difference between living and working in London and in Bristol?
KB: Our network hasn’t really changed, you retain contacts no matter where you go – but we have made new friends and colleagues since moving too. Actually our first connection was with Jono Lewarne from City Editions Studio – you probably know Jono I think he teaches at the university from time to time; Lucy has made some local connections through the development of her web based work.
LS: I think the reason for there being no drastic change is probably due to us keeping the same client base we had back in London. So we still get to travel back there often.
On your website you mention that you are a base for collaborations – do you reckon you could still run the studio without your network and collaborations?
KB: Yeah, definitely some projects like ummm… Actually, no nothing without printers, and copywriters etc.
LS: There are definitely some jobs – most web based projects start and end with us.
KB: Yeah until it gets too technical and geeky, even for you.
LS: There are tasks or components to projects that we could do ourselves, but we outsource. Like motion design – Ken has the skills to do that, but it would consume time that can otherwise be dedicated to other tasks so we draft in other designers to help. It allows you to save time and money, and also hand over something better to the client that was produced by an expert in that specific field of work.
How often do you collaborate then?
KB: I’d say maybe about 75% of projects will involve us working with someone else.
LS: A copywriter and proof-reader are essential.
KB: If we’re working on environmental design schemes then we consult with our close friend who is an architect, he might not be involved in the specifics of the project but its useful to consult someone else with a different skillset that is relevant to a specific project. We usually trade skills with him.
LS: Yeah technically we don’t always really hire him, its more of an exchange. We do small bits of graphic design work for him and he helps us out on large scale or 3D projects.
KB: The culture of collaboration was huge when we studied at UCA – it’s a university solely for creative and design courses and all the courses are in one big campus, so you see people who are doing really different things, in the workshops seeing people from other courses using techniques and materials that you’d never really thought of before.
LS: Yeah it’s was a great place to make connections.
How do you distribute the work between the two of yourselves?
LS: We have different skills
KB: yeah Lucy does a lot of the Admin
LS: Ken fakes being bad at it (laughs) so he doesn’t have to do it. But it does depend on how busy each of us is, if I’m busy it will fall to Ken. But project based work really depends on who’s skills are most suited to it. If its print design work it’s Ken and if it’s digital it’d be me, anything to do with camera I’ll set it up and ken will take the shot as I think he’s got a better eye.
KB: We mostly start projects together – brainstorming ideas and concepts and once we have a direction it goes to whoever is best suited for what it needs.
So, how do you start a project; do you imagine the end product and work backwards or?
KB: We start with a response to the brief and loads of research. A while ago we asked some architects in our network how they get briefs for complex build projects to see if we can try pull some methodology as that, in comparison to what we do, seems like a massive task. If we don’t get one to start with, we give our clients a brief document to help them write a brief – ask lots of questions so that we can help them formulate a sound and detailed brief. Some clients sometimes struggle when it comes to writing specifics in a brief because they’re too busy, and to them it can seem like an unnecessary step, but to us it’s vital.
LS: Yeah it’s definitely an essential step, if they don’t brief us properly and we produce something that is not grounded on mutual agreement and shared vision they may not necessarily be on board with the concept and may not support the outcome.
Do you ever do more passion projects?
KB: Yeah we recently finished a small project for FCB Studios and Long Live Southbank, to create a small zine called Undergrowth supporting their restoration project of the Southbank Undercroft skatepark, it was a great project and we wanted to be involved in it, so design budget was not really important to us this time. It was a lot of late nights and early mornings, as it was a ridiculously short deadline! The collaboration was more important to us than the value of project from a monetary perspective.
Do you still get sick of your projects while your working on them?
LS: It depends on the project. In some cases, particularly with web projects you go back to a client with a concept and at first they love it. Then as a project develops and you go back again for another run and they ask you to change bits or fit elements in retrospectively – and you think, no that’s going to compromise the concept. You can get very protective of your ideas and concepts and these exchanges can drag on but with time you learn how to deal with conflicting feedback.
KB: Rationalising design decisions, backing up why you have done things the way you have in the first place is an essential skill.
Is that something you think comes with time and experience?
LS: Also having the reason in the first place.
KB: Rather than designing something then rationalising it – having a rationale to a design concept before you do it is better in my eyes, because you have a better chance of convincing someone it’s the right idea because you believe in it yourself. Sometimes I see designers rationalising design decisions and its evident that it’s an afterthought, that its bullshit.
LS: We try not to do that, you just have to be honest, you don’t win every time. Clients have valuable ideas that can contribute even to the smallest of design details and you have to learn to know how to include that within your own vision of the project, but also stand up for your own design principles if you think its in the best interest of the audience viewing the project.
KB: I suffer from massive imposter syndrome – I wake up sometimes and think I’m such a shit designer. That doesn’t quite help when you need to be the biggest believer of a concept you need to pitch to a client!
LS: You do, do that.
KB: You’re always unsure about what you’re doing, even when the client is really happy, or a project that is out in the public gets a good response. I don’t think it ever goes away.
LS: I think it can also come from when you look at something for too long.
Interview by Louis Brookman Prins, Seb Lansdowne and Theo Edkins
Studio Mothership are a Bristol based design partnership company comprised of Ken Borg and Lucy Sloss. Covering a range of mediums from print to web to environmental design, the basis of their company is creating a hub from which to work with and collaborate with artists and specialists from other disciplines to create polished and diverse outcomes. Studio Mothership serves as a platform for skills and methods to be traded and shared in order for creators to come together and produce refined and concise work.