Michael C. Place, Build Design – Interview

(interview originally published at twohundredby200 magazine)

Michael C. Place was born in North Yorkshire, England in 1969. He graduated from Newcastle College in 1990. He then went on to work at Bite It!, London with Trevor Jackson working on mainly record covers for Champion Records, Gee Street Records for artists such as The Stereo MC’s etc.

He started work at The Designers Republic, Sheffield in 1992 where he worked for 9 years, on a diverse range of work from R&S Records, Satoshi Tomiie, Warp Records, Sun Electric to the Wipeout series for the Playstation to the book 3D>2D Adventures In + Out of Architecture. He left tDR to go travelling in 2000. On September 17th, 2001 he started his own design company “Build”, which is based in London. Build specialises mainly in design for print.

I recently had the chance to interview him for twohundredby200 magazine. Here’s the transcript of the interview.

KK001 – Tell me a little about your background… were you a creative little kid? Were you playing with shapes and color before you knew designer was a ‘real job’?

I’m the son of a Farmer, and a Nurse, I was brought up in the rolling hills of North Yorkshire where I went to York College [graphic design] then up to Newcastle for my final 2 years studying graphic design [which I failed]. As a child I had always enjoyed drawing and from a very early age I wanted to be an Architect [I still have a strong interest in Architecture].

KK002 – How have you pushed yourself artistically and creatively? Have you been mentored and pulled forward or are you internally driven?

I’ve always just done my own thing, and have been fortunate to be able to explore my take on design throughout my career [first at Bite It!, then tDR]. I tend not to look/read design books, I prefer to get inspiration from less ‘designed’ objects.

KK003 – What do you see as the role of formal training and design education in the development of young designers? Do you continue to further your education in a formal way?

I think college for me was the natural thing to do [I graduated in 1990], the course I was on was geared to be very practical which I enjoyed, but at the same time I didn’t want to be designing wine labels and nappie packaging. I wanted to design record covers, so I did a work placement at I-D magazine, then The Designers Republic I got on well at tDR and Ian later offered me a job.

I think that young designers in education should be given all the opportunities to take whatever path they want to take. The course I was on didn’t really understand the whole ‘sleeve design’ thing and was more geared to advertising graphics. It was a constant struggle for me, I just used to do personal projects and scrape through the course work.

I would really like to do some part time lecturing; I think I would have something different to offer the students, that’s about it for my formal design education. I hope I have managed to keep my work at Build interesting, I love design and so I hope this shows in the work we produce.

KK004 – I’ve heard you say in the past, “The computer is a tool. Full stop.” I also know you tend to focus primarily on print design. What is your relationship to technology and your computer and how do you

I still subscribe to that way of thinking. I love the whole process of design and don’t want to get bogged down in the whole technical side of things. Print is great because it requires real discipline to do well, and I love the print process. I wouldn’t like to be seen as a ‘Jack of all trades’.

My relationship with my computer is simply this, I switch computer on, it works, the end. I was fortunate enough to be one of the last generation of designers that learned to do artwork by hand, using overlays, PMT cameras, making up type/colour etc.. This has helped me to have a really good knowledge of how the print process works. It’s invaluable to me.

KK005 – What are you working on right now? Are there any techniques, themes or threads that are currently dominant in your design?

I have just completed my first motion piece, I’m working on a magazine redesign, just finished a Build edition for Refill Magazine, I’m working on a few corporate ID’s, a book, 2 record sleeves etc. I’m getting into serif fonts at the moment [honest!] which is nice, I still enjoy designing fonts. I’m starting to use photography a bit more, taking my own pictures.

KK006 – What is a dream client to you?

My dream client is anyone who lets me do my thing… and has a large print budget! I have recently got an agent [This is Real Art]. They are really good and are helping me get bigger jobs. I think that the general public are a lot more design savvy and I believe that I can do the same level of creative work for an independent record label as I can for a multi-national corporation.

KK007 – Do you have formal or informal relationships with your clients?

I have different types of relationships with different clients. They range from the very informal [clients that have become friends etc.], to very formal [which is quite rare], due to the nature of the businesses that hire me to design for them they tend to be a bit more ‘un-business-like’ which suits me!

KK008 – Do you have a design business tip to share with other people trying to make it on their own?

My Build Design tip is to believe in yourself, try not to compromise the work you produce, in the end people will have more respect for you.

KK009 – How has the Build experience been? How has it differed from your time at The Designers Republic?

The Build experience has been the best thing I have ever done, I couldn’t go back and work for someone else now. It’s the best feeling. Build differs from The Designers Republic in a lot of ways, for one [and the best] it’s my baby! tDR was great, Build is better!

KK010 – The Computerlove International Graphic Design Exhibition in Brussels was amazing. What did you do in your role as curator? Do you plan to do collaborative exhibitions like this again in the future?

Thanks. I really enjoyed doing that with the Computerlove crew, they are such a brilliant people to work with, so much enthusiasm for the design community [I have made some good friends from my involvement with that project]. My role was to design the identity/feel of the space, and as guest artist. I feel very proud of this exhibition, it was the first time that I was asked to exhibit our work as Build so it will always have a special place in my heart.

I would love to do something similar for someone else, I enjoyed designing for a space rather that for an area of paper, it throws up it’s own challenges and presents itself with some interesting opportunities.

KK011 – Do you see yourself walking a fine line between ‘fine artist’ and ‘applied artists’? If so which side of that line would you say you are on?

I would say that I am on the side of the ‘applied artist’, I never lose sight of the fact that I am designing ‘for someone’, that’s the bottom line. As I said before I have been very fortunate to have the clients I have, who have been kind enough to let me loose on their products.

KK012 – Tell me Two Things about Michael Place.

The Two Things about Michael C. Place:
1) I would like to open a shop that sells only Crisps [Chips, from around the World], the shop is called ‘Crisp’.

2) The ‘C’ stands for Christopher.

***Minutia: At the moment, what’s your favorite…

Pantone color: 414.
Paper stock: Yupo.
Software application: FreeHand MX.
Hip-hop album: Vaudeville Villain by Viktor Vaughn.
Author/writer: Paul Auster.
Video game: Don’t know.
Clothing color: Yellow.
Food/Restaurant: The India Club, The Strand London.
Beer: Any/All from Belgium!
Movie/DVD/Show: Star Wars[tm]/Jurassic Park[tm] trilogy/The Royle family.
Fictional character: R2D2[tm]
Quotation: “I like what I say, and I say what I bloody well like” – G. Whitebread, Yorkshire.
Other: I wish my Eczema would f**k off.