Phage Design Interview

From snowflakes to jewellery, furnishings to moose.. Celebrating their 10th anniversary Natasha and Danny from phage design have come to chat with us here at vulturehound about their newly published works of 2013 fresh from the shoot, the low down on industry and what’s to come during their next decade of design.

1. Hi Phage! Thanks for agreeing to chat with us! To start us off how did the Phage Design Company come about?


N : We first met at university but didn’t really work much together then. When we graduated, Danny ended up working in-house for Dyson out in the sticks in Wiltshire, and I ended up at a small branding studio in London. Eventually Danny ended up in London too and we started collaborating on a couple of personal projects and bits and pieces for friends. When the dotcom crash happened in 2000 and we both lost our ‘regular’ jobs, we decided to see if we could make Phage work as a business and it just took off from there.


D : We noticed that while it was nearly impossible as a junior to get someone to employ you — all the big design agencies were cutting costs and laying people off — there was still a demand for good quality design from clients who were looking to smaller agencies and freelancers to meet their needs in harder times.


2. Phage are obviously a dab hand when it comes to brand identity and coming up with concepts to suit the client. What would you say are your top 3 go-to questions you ask yourself when starting a new project?


N : What are the relevant facts, limitations, possibilities, audiences, and methods of delivery for this project?
N : What is the desired response?
D : How can we deliver something unexpected?


3. From discovering yourselves after picking up your ‘Turned out nice again’ snowflake poster I was really impressed by not only the design and quality of the final piece, but also the engineering of the conceptual side behind the project. Do you think you’ll work on another personal project like this again?


D : Yes! We’re really interested in the visual display of data and information and have plenty of ideas that we’d like to develop that don’t have an application within our commercial work at the moment. So far they’re works in progress but there are plans afoot to put some of these into production in the future.


N : There are also areas where our personal work feeds into our commercial work, for example, developing the visual identity for Chalet Janluke took a lot of research and working out to develop the snowflake fractal which then became part of the overall brand system, and in general, the thought process behind re-branding, say, an architect, is no less involved than designing something like Turned out Nice Again, perhaps even more so, although you wouldn’t necessarily see that in the end result!

OLD Turned Out Nice Again


4. As a little retrospective of your work, typography and alterations to the detail of the final medium of your projects (embossing, bespoke cut out edges etc) seem to be well at large in your new works with vector graphics at times taking a back seat, great comparisons of this are your existing works with Jill Scholes and new works with Sally Dernie both of whom are interior designers. Do you think that this clean, striking, non-clutter and on-trend design identity is something we will see from your brand for a while to come, or are there other projects using other un-known territories of visual concept we’ve yet to see?


N : Our work is always very much driven by the client; Jill’s and Sally’s visual identities are very different because their businesses are very different. We’ve always prided ourselves on the range of people we work with, from one-man set-ups, right up to big organisations like London 2012 and Villeroy & Boch, and when you’re working with such a diverse client base you can’t apply a ‘one style fits all’ approach.


D : I agree, although I think we’ll always have an illustrative element to our work because we both enjoy it, whether that’s applied to something like our greetings card designs for Decarbonice, a background pattern on some packaging, or the fine crafting of a logotype like in Sally’s case.

OLD Jill Scholes

NEW Sally Dernie


5. Although there is slight movement towards some other areas in branding techniques phage always seem to keep their personal stamp on work. What would you say is the key to this?


D : I think it comes down to the fact that we’re both very different in our creative approaches. We often have very different ideas and some of our best work comes from a combination of two very different concepts and how those ideas can be transformed into something that works.


N : People always comment on our use of colour too, although it’s not something we ever consciously set out to become known for, I guess we’re just naturally interested in colour.
Another big part of our style comes from different materials and production processes. I think this comes from the fact that we work with such a diverse range of clients and our belief that even on a small budget you can have something beautiful if you know how to spend your budget wisely. Over the years this has led us to experimenting with different processes and coming up new ways of using some less common materials.


6. Where did the name ‘Phage’ originate?


N : It’s a bit academic! When we set up our practice we wanted a name that reflected our approach; As designers we help our clients to communicate their brand messages to their customers in the most effective way possible, and we wanted a name that embodied that idea.
Back at university when we were studying communication theory there was a lot of discussion about how effective ideas spread like viruses, with individual messages competing for people’s attention and the most successful ones spreading. The ideas that communicate the best are the ones that persist. Translate that into commercial terms and when markets are competitive a compelling message and good communication sets you apart.
Our name comes from the part of a virus that contains the information, the bit responsible for passing the message on, or in design terms, the method by which a company or organisation communicates with its audience.
It’s always been a talking point (we’ve had quite a few funny pronunciations too!) and 10 years on it’s still relevant to the way that we approach our work.


7. Visual based jobs are usually problematic in-terms of survival in any type of economic crisis, and with this being a hot topic right now what would you say is your best advice to any freelancer, artist or start-up who’re trying to break into the industry as we speak?


D : Designers now need to be a lot more commercially aware. Clients are looking for good value and return on investment and it’s important to be able to deliver that without compromising creativity and quality. Try and gain as much knowledge of materials and production processes as you can so you know where you can make savings without compromising the end result, offer up solutions to clients rather than just going for the safe option, and expect to multi-task!


8. Where do you see the future of design heading?


N : More and more specialisation. As design becomes more commodified I think we will see a bigger divide develop between the low budget options and more premium design. We’re certainly seeing more high-end brands returning to good quality printed work.


D : I also think design is becoming more collaborative. One result of this economic downturn is that larger clients are again looking to smaller agencies in order to reduce costs, and have realised that they often get a better service! Design now encompasses so many more specialisms than when we first started out that I think this trend will continue, with networks of creatives working together to compete with traditional ‘all under one roof’ agencies.


9. And lastly, you’ve achieved 10 years in design now, what are your plans for the next decade?


N : It would be interesting to experiment in some new mediums; We’ve recently been working with the BBC on some conceptual development work, and the last year saw us completing two really beautiful packaging jobs, as well as our first stab at a video for Fedrigoni. It’d be great to work on some more collaborative projects with people in different disciplines too, perhaps furniture, or some more film work?


D : I’ve recently become really interested in processing and generative design and this is an area I’d like to explore more in the future. Coming from both a digital and a print background I find the potential for overlap between the two really inspiring — there are some great things being done programmatically now that end up having a print application. The way that code can be used to visualise data in new ways or to create one-off generative print pieces is really exciting and I think there are some great applications for this both in personal work, and commercially.


You can view all phage’s new works on their website:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.