DETAIL | Studio Visit

Front : Leonie Henson, Sally Caulwell, Holly Brennan & Brian Nolan. Back: Paul McBride, Keith Bryne, Jura Afanasjevs, James Delaney & Eoin Cummins

OFFSET 2014 speakers Detail are celebrating ten years in business (or as they would put it ‘tin’ years) and a gold bell at this year’s ICAD awards for their work on the recent Science Stamps for An Post.

Following this we decided to make the short journey across the cobblestones here in Smithfield for a more detailed discussion about the design studio and their working environment.


Enamel tumbler to mark Detail’s tenth birthday


How would you describe what Detail do?
Design work in general but today that can cover a multitude of sins. We love identity projects as they tend to encompass a wide set of deliverables from designing a logo to developing an identity framework that can roll out across print and digital media. At the risk of sounding like generalists rather than specialists we’ve always liked to take on a wide range of projects from larger brand work to smaller niche cultural projects. This variation keeps things interesting and also we find learnings in one project can influence or feed something completely in an unrelated field.


How did Detail start?
We were working in Dynamo, which was a much larger studio and we found ourselves spending most of our time in management meetings and involved in longer term commercial projects. We wanted to get back to designing and to work on a wider variety of projects and to develop our core skills to include emerging digital areas. So we set Detail up with the idea of keeping things small, collaborative and varied with the focus on the quality of the work. So I suppose the name came out of that idea and an increasing realisation that the real value that we bring to our projects isn’t simply the visual output — it has a lot more to do with what is unseen — the research, understanding, strategy, experimentation and ultimately the final output.


Do you think clients come to you with a certain aesthetic in mind?
Possibly, we know some clients have come to us because they like our work for say Science Gallery or Inis Meáin but I think it’s mainly because of our experience in a particular sector rather than a specific style of design. As we’re a group of designers we wouldn’t see ourselves having a distinct style but maybe we’re too close to the work to see that!


What is your process when starting a job?
After meeting the client and outlining the brief, depending on the scale we’ll usually discuss the project at a group design meeting to get everybody thinking and to really get to know the particular area or subject – over the years the range and variety of areas we have worked in is huge – that’s what keeps it interesting.


We then allocate the project based on scheduling and necessary skills but usually a couple of people are working on each project and sometimes it’s the entire team. Then it’s a case of research, planning, concept development, internal reviews, then presentation, refinement based on feedback resulting, in an ideal world, final approval and roll out… ta daaa!

What work of yours stands out amongst all others, for each of you?
That’s a hard one! Comprehensive projects like the Design Partners or Merrion Square identity projects come to mind as they’re real team efforts, blending a range of skills from typography, illustration and photography across a wide range of deliverables for screen and print. It’s also nice to know that something as small as a stamp, which presents its own challenges can be recognised as important design.

Merrion Sq


How would you describe your workspace / studio?
We’re in the old Friary building on Bow Street, so high ceilings and lots of light. We’ve an open plan studio with two large work areas in one room and a ‘boardroom’ table in the other for meetings. We’ve grown from 4 of to 9 people in the last couple of years and the open plan kind of layout works well in that everyone is plugged into what’s going on even if they’re not directly working on a project. Also it’s a great way to learn… everything being transparent, phone conversations with clients, discussing budget, exchanging ideas or making smart arse comments… it’s all good.





You guys are heavily involved with the 100 Archive and your work also features in it, how important is that for yourselves and Irish design in general?
Very important, it is an opportunity to capture the breadth and landscape of Irish design, as much of an annual record as a way of seeing what is being produced by studios and individuals both here and abroad. The results of which are heartening and inspiring in equal measure.

The 100 archive gave out the 2014 certificates at OFFSET. Are you guys moving toward making the announcements more of an event?
There are lots of plans in the pipeline. We are currently working on expanding the platform and developments to the website are underway. A professional archivist is working on content for the Past archive to include significant work from previous decades. Events to coincide with design week in October are being planned. We feel the connection with OFFSET is an ideal partnership – we launched the Archive there three years ago and with the generous support of the Irish design community we have come a long way. There is still a huge amount of work to do and co-ordinating the yearly launch with OFFSET is a great opportunity.


Is there any personal project that you guys work on outside of work?  If so is there an easy balance? 
Never easy to get the balance right but we always try to have something on the go outside of client initiated projects … a healthy distraction from brief defined work. We have some pro bono projects that are very satisfying as well as some pet projects that we keep developing to stretch ourselves.  Most recently we’ve produced an enamel tumbler to mark our tenth birthday, which was great fun working through the limitations of the process and developing the packaging to suit. Another 10th anniversary project we completed recently was yet another update for Mr Whippy Soundsystem. I (Paul that is) have a tendency to obsessively catalogue things, whether that is the seasonal colour change of the tree outside out studio which I photographed for more than three years – until it was knocked over by some pretty poor parking which brought the project to an abrupt and sad end!. Currently it’s facefood which I see as a daily illustration challenge where the client is my daughter, Molly.



After their triumphant talk on the main stage we were able to sit down with the guys and talk to them about OFFSET and a small bit about their work as a whole.


Here’s a second chance to to have a look at Paul and Brian’s talk on the OFFSET main stage 2014.