"I've avoided print projects for a while. I used to get pre-press phobia. I bloody hate it," says TILT Design's creative director, Annabel Dundas. "It's not that I don't like print design, I love it, it's just that it's so stressful."
And it's not an uncommon view. You might expect that after hundreds of years of evolution, print production would get easier, however, with proofing, prefl ighting and the 'one-shot' nature of the process, print projects will always be tricky to negotiate.
But despite this, TILT was willing to really test the limits of modern print processes as part of a recent commission for architecture and design firm Woods Bagot. TILT is a small, multi-disciplinary agency, which combines in-house staff with teams selected for each project. When Woods Bagot first approached TILT, the agency was already busy working on a very different assignment. "We were frantic," says Dundas. "We had just worked on the on-air graphics for the 2006 FIFA World Cup."
TILT looked to the talents of Jeff Knowles and Ben Reece (resident designers at Neville Brody's world-renowned Research Studios) to help them with the Woods Bagot undertaking. "TILT brought Ben and Jeff onboard, not as suppliers but as collaborators on the project," explains Dundas. "The projects we do vary so much from commission to commission that we customise teams of designers for each one."
Woods Bagot wanted to create a brochure that would showcase their work, but that would also tackle much broader topics of modern lifestyles. Managing director of Woods Bagot, Stephan Reinke, says the firm's work is influenced by "the collision of lifestyle with the migratory patterns of business, the arts, urbanism, technology, culture and, most importantly, design."
"Lifestyle is such a subjective thing," says Dundas. "The idea was to talk to all the people that Woods Bagot has a relationship with and all the people who we really respect in the design industry and pull them together to get their views on it."
TILT commissioned Henrietta Thomas, the editor-at-large of architecture bible Blueprint, to interview a range of artists and designers for the project. Thomas brought together people as diverse as high-end fashion designer Preen, pop-art painter David Spiller and landscape designer Martha Schwarz. "We interpreted what the contributors were saying and put that into the designs," says Dundas. "This eclectic mix of skill sets led TILT to develop the theme of 'Pollination' - the idea that society is made up by the cross-pollination of various creative ideas."
TILT wanted the pollination theme to run throughout the design of the brochure, consistent with the bee-related metaphor and so it enlisted the help of 3D specialists Supernatural Studios to create a series of organic 3D designs for the brochure that would contrast with the often angular architectural illustrations. The designs were created in Maya, a 3D graphics application normally associated with film and TV.
Knowles and Reece worked on the page layout designs developing templates for typography, layouts and creating vector graphics that fit around Supernatural Studios designs. Because the print run was limited, TILT had a generous budget for each brochure, which afforded the use of a range of some lavish print treatments, including spot varnishes on the cover and silver print throughout.
"The whole idea was that it was a design-led product, so we wanted to push the boat out with it," says Dundas. "We looked at the 3D images and thought it would be great to do them in silver."
"We worked very closely with the printers to get the metallics absolutely right," Knowles explains. "It was kind of a duotone thing. We had to set up the Photoshop files in a certain way so we could print the black and the silver at the same time without them clashing, because we could have ended up having registration problems otherwise.
The time spent working on the print techniques and developing the 3D seems to have paid off. The final product is a lavish but coherent production combining strong editorial with design that elegantly illustrates its lifestyle theme. What the project ultimately demonstrates is the ability of a small agency to turn its hand to a specialised area through enlisting help from dedicated experts while retaining overall control over a project's style.
"Woods Bagot loves it so much it has commissioned us to do a part two," says Dundas. "I would have loved a few more specials in there, but budget limits force you to be more creative with what you can or can't do. If you have an endless budget you can end up going over the top."