Interview: Binary & The Brain

Binary & The Brain is Nils Davey and Simon Dovar out of Los Angeles and London, UK Respectively. They are a design studio/duo that effectively runs 24/7 in different timezones.

Where did you go to school or get your training and inspiration to get into design?

Nils Davey: Both myself and Simon studied at The Surrey Institute of Art and Design University College for a bachelors degree in Graphic Design with various illustration and new media modules. This was back in 1997. We first met each other two days before the University course started as flatmates.

Binary & The Brain is a fairly unique name, what is the story behind that?

ND: For nearly five years we ran the studio under the name Jawa & Midwich which was something of a placeholder. This winter we felt that we had progressed beyond our early work and wanted a name that would reflect what we did more accurately. We did some painful brainstorming for a week or so and managed to come up with Binary & The Brain.

Simon Dovar: The name derives from our utilization of modern computer technology with old fashioned hand crafted techniques that have a human touch and a real brain behind them.

Do you find that using a design pseudonym has helped you in your career, what do you think about using just a name to define a design practice? (Any Pros/Cons etc.)

ND: I think it’s important for a name to reflect at least something about the design company. If nothing else it shows you have a creative mind for copy writing as well as design. I don’t think a pseudonym has helped us but it hasn’t hindered us either.

You are extremely unique as a duo, not only operating in different cities, but different countries and extremely different time zones. Explain the communication dynamic and design process of Binary & The Brain.

ND: When we first started our company up as Jawa & Midwich we didn’t have a studio and both worked from our different homes in London so the company began in a similar way to how it’s run now. After a year or so we moved into a studio in Old Street (East End of London) which really helped us develop our unique style and techniques. It’s also pleasant to sit next to your best friend and one of the designers you respect the most for work everyday. Family matters made me move to Los Angeles and we felt it might be a good way to develop our business. In a sense having a studio in Los Angeles is like starting over and finding clients is a slow and laborious process. Communication is pretty easy though. When you’ve known and worked with someone as long as we have you tend to understand what each other means with few words. When I wake up in the morning Simon is finishing work. When I go to bed Simon is getting started. We run a 24 hour practice. There’s not many people who can say that!

Focusing on printed media, have you started to feel the pinch of a society moving digital wherever possible? How does London compare to LA in this aspect?

ND: I think there will always be a need for good print design and the techniques and composition in good print design is applicable to digital design as well. We have felt a few areas where projects have been scaled back such as record labels etc but we apply our print design skills to digital projects. We are moving with the times but holding onto the craft of our job.

Many people are aware that the Los Angeles design industry is saturated with entertainment work provided by Hollywood (lots of motion work, packaging, etc.), is there anything in London similar to that? If not, what type of work is most prominent?

SD: I wouldn’t say that any particular area is saturated as it is in Los Angeles. There are a lot of small design companies all trying to make their mark, which in a way is good for creativity. Work for the advertising, music and publishing industries are much sought after as these all provide hi-profile and often exciting projects.

Describe the process you take on personal projects as opposed to client-driven projects?

ND: Personal projects are always a lot more fun and organic to work on though they require a lot of motivation. We are now on our forth run of posters which have really developed a following. We tend to talk things through, share concepts, but leave each other up to our own crazy ideas. It’s a good balance of input and support. During client driven projects we tend to work in a similar way, only including the client in the process all be it in a lower capacity. Simon is one of the few designers who’s opinion I actually respect so it all boils down to that communication.

SD: I find the work we produce for personal and client-driven projects are conceived and executed in a similar way. Having established the brief it is then usually all about finding the most appropriate technique for the outcome, from a historically accurate typeface, obsessively researched content to suitable printing technique.

What is your biggest success/failure as a studio?

ND: I think our biggest success is to still be producing work after so long. Most studios fail within the first year or so but we have managed our resources very carefully. On the other hand our biggest failure is probably our lack of dominance. We should be ruling the world by now.

What/Who are your major influences?

ND: This is always a hard question. I pick up influences from everywhere in life although i try to avoid looking at other peoples design work as a rule. I don’t have much interest in what is currently fashionable but more of an interest in good design, good techniques, and good skills. We tend to influence each other and share as much interesting information as we can.

SD: I am always curious to see what is happening in the graphic design industry and also in other areas such as illustration, architecture, product design and fine art. Although there are some key figures from graphics backgrounds who inspire me, I feel greater influence has been taken from artists such as Rachel Whiteread and cornelia Parker who are both heavily concept driven and utilise objects with real purpose and meaning.

What is your favorite piece of print design?

ND: I think my favorite is still probably Tomato’s Process: A Tomato Project

SD: Ordnance Survey maps.

Many students’ process starts directly on the computer, do you see this as a negative or simply utilizing the advancement in technology?

ND: The computer is just another extremely versatile tool. To limit yourself to just the computer is as foolish as limiting yourself just to using a pencil. We like to use as many tools as possible, create experiments, learn new crafts, and then apply it to our design work.

What are your thoughts on a do-it-all designer versus a designer that is focused on one or two mediums of design?

ND: I think the saying ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ is fairly accurate. I don’t think we could handle learning Maya or After Effects and still keep up our high quality of output. It would take up too much of our time. That being said we could always hire in a Maya genius should the occasion arise. That’s why its good to work in a team rather than on your own. Simon brings different skills to the company than me and vice versa.

What do you think is wrong within the curriculum of your school?

ND: Its been a long time since we graduated in 2000 so its hard to remember what was specifically wrong with it. At a guess I would say we weren’t prepared for the reality of the industry particularly well. Since being in America i get the impression that there is a big difference between education styles between the UK and USA. Our degree course basically left us to our own devices giving us a brief but no restrictions in how we answered it. All work was judged on the idea of the solution rather than the technique used in reaching it. I have a feeling that technique and technical skills are more important in American education than creative thought. This makes American design graduates excellent employees for large companies but less so when some creative and critical thinking are needed to lead a project.

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