Computer Arts

Profile: Identikal

There's a lot more to the celebrated design studio headed by a pair of identical twins than fonts, discovers Ed Ricketts. But it took a move to New York to really demonstrate that fact.

"Our versatility has remained our strength over the years," believes Adam Hayes, one half of design studio Identikal. "We've had a business plan from day one and followed those points right through. It's almost like a battle plan. We're not even halfway though it now, so we're still looking forward."

Looking forward is very much a mantra for Hayes brothers Nick and Adam, the identical twins who make up the studio. While they're happy to reflect on 10 years in the business - at least for a short while - it's the present and future that's preoccupying them.

The aforementioned battle plan is an almost forensically detailed approach to mastering every aspect of graphic design. Having so far conquered, to their satisfaction, typography, graphic design and illustration, the next stage involves pure photography and film. "We've done moving image before but it was basic stuff - some of it was just animation for music clients and so on," explains Nick. "So we haven't really touched doing motion graphics with actors and a full set-up, and that's where we're really pushing into now."

"The first stage that was easiest to break was the type world, which led to illustration and design, and now on to art direction," Adam adds. "Photography is a logical progression of that, too. People outside looking in on us might think we're a bit crazy to take it on, but there's method in our madness. It's all logical, it all leads to the final goal."

Indeed, it was typography that first brought the Hayes brothers into the limelight, with numerous well-received font designs such as Maxim magazine's Loxley dominating their output. However, even at this stage they were branching out into graphic design and illustration, with stints on Lowdown magazine and a one-off magazine for the launch of the PlayStation 2. "We did everything on that: design, fonts, photography, illustrations," says Nick. "I think that was one of the things that really opened the doors and made people realise we could do it all."

Whatever the form they're tackling, Identikal's methods of working remain the same. Everything - whether it's a font, a photoshoot or a brand identity - begins as a hand-drawn sketch, which the client can understand and approve before a single penny is spent. Each brother then concentrates on their specialist design area, working separately but closely.

"I've always been good with the vector side of things, the illustration and typographic styles," explains Nick. "Adam's more or less a pixel guy, so he pushes our photography and retouching. There are definitely roles we've got, and it's always been like that since we started. I think that's helped, because if we were both really good at the same thing I don't think we'd be as [well] recognised as we are. We can both get on with what we do best and meet in the middle."

The pair share responsibility for the creative direction of their projects, calling on a regular team of freelancers and collaborators for specialist areas such as programming and the logistics of events such as remote photoshoots.

Nick believes this ability to demonstrate their versatility was only really made possible by the studio's move from their native London to New York, nearly five years ago. "One of our first clients out here was Ecko, and once they realised we could do pretty much everything, they said, 'Great - here's the money you need, get on with it,'" he remembers. "Not one person stood in our way, which is unbelievable. That's why we decided to move here permanently. It's the land of milk and honey for us."

It was the polar opposite of their experiences in the UK, which the brothers found restrictively old-fashioned when it came to the idea of a multidisciplinary studio. "People just didn't understand it. They were saying, 'Well, you can't do that, it's not allowed.' It was like being a naughty schoolboy," says Nick. "It really annoyed me. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with Britain at all! it's just that the opportunities were very slim and people are set in their ways there."

As an example of the more US-centric way of thinking, he cites the case of EnerNOC, a global 'energy management solution provider' that has commissioned Identikal to design branding, ad concepts and more for an energy-saving system. "I did ask them, 'Why did you approach us?' This is a corporate brand and we're used to working with PlayStation and brands like that. And they said that they wanted a young, forward-thinking company that will make [them] look and appear like a young, forward-thinking company. So that's what we offer - we're not massive; we don't have huge overheads; we can get in there and get out and get people what they want."

As well as the campaign for a Norwegian cologne, the brothers have also won a contract for the US launch of a well-known UK clothing brand - complete with branding and T-shirt designs - that Nick is eager to discuss but can't at the moment. In the meantime, with a few IPA awards under their belt, they're continuing with the push into photography.

"Photography has taught me that it isn't just the concept, it's how you capture that moment, how you direct the whole thing," says Adam. "We've been building sets and working on location. Some of the photoshoots we've been on look like movie sets. So that's a whole new discipline to us and involves everything we've learnt on the way."

And, in case either of them gets bored, there's a three-part graphic novel on the way, with the first part aimed for launch at next year's Comic-Con. "We've been planning that for the last eight years. That, to us, is quite exciting because it's a new arena but it brings everything together: the photography, the illustration, the graphic design and typography."

Onwards, upwards, bigger-better-more, then. And the next 10 years? "Well, I don't want to give away our plans," says Adam, "but I would say we're reaching for the stars."

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