Conor & David rank among our foremost design agencies in Ireland – from designing maps for Pivot Dublin, to creating ceiling installations for UCD, from reference books to lightwalls, their work has grown in ambition as their designs have become known for their refined attention to detail. Conor Nolan and David Wall have now embarked on a new relationship with the Roads Luxury Group, a company run by Danielle Ryan that proposes to spread across film, publishing and fragrances. In September they launched the first part of the project with the release of Classics – a collection of elegant literary classics whose covers were designed by Conor & David. Here David tells us about their process, their ambitions, and where they buy those rather fetching shirts they wear…
Explain your approach to design – you’ve been referred to as ‘design scientists.’
We love making things and that is at the heart of our approach. Figuring out the best way to make something with a client is also a great way to determine what matters to them, and how best to articulate their values and vision. The outcome of our work is usually something very tangible — like a book, a website or an identity — but it’s equally important for us that the process is tangible. We work to help clients think clearly because that allows us to articulate clearly on their behalf. We’d blush at the though of being called scientists — while we want to be rigorous, and we love experimenting, we don’t use the scientific method in our work.
You stress functionality and practicality as much as you do excellence in craft and design – how did this process come about?
It’s vital for us for our work to be seen, understood and used by people — for us that is often the measurement of success. Functional and practical design is more useful by definition, but craft and beauty have a really important functional role too. They have a sort of magnetism that can be used to draw people in and engage them. We like to challenge our own assumptions (as well as those of our clients) about what should be either useful or beautiful. There are often opportunities for innovation when the balance between them shifts.
How did the two of you meet and begin working together?
We met in college. We both studied in the National College of Art and Design, and we managed to find the only two fully-functional Macs in the computer room, which happened to be beside each other! We inevitably started comparing notes, which turned into bouncing ideas off each other and then into working together on a few projects. On graduating we worked in other studios, with a never-spoken but mutually held view that we would end up working together in the future. The opportunity presented itself in 2006 so we decided to go for it.
Where do you buy your shirts?
Indigo & Cloth opposite the Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar is my go-to place for most clothing, shirts included. I suspect they may be dressing half the graphic designers in Dublin. Menswear in Brown Thomas is also great so there are a few items in the wardrobe from there. Conor tends to veer toward shirts from Norse Projects or Folk which he also gets in Indigo & Cloth, or simple classic Levi’s shirts. He runs the online-shopping gauntlet every now and then too.
You worked with Oliver Jeffers on a really wonderful monograph – it’s the type of work that one would imagine you’d relish. What was it like coming up with a vision for the project for someone like Jeffers, who already has a very clear concept of how he wants things to look and appear?
Oliver is an incredible talent and a lovely guy, so it was a dream job to work on. He has a very strong visual sense, so we set out to create a book that would frame the work rather than dominate it. We wanted people who picked it up to come away with an impression about the work and about Oliver, rather than the design of the book. It was also important for us not to raid his palette for type and colour cues, so the layout reflects and compliments what he does rather than mimicking it.
Talk about your work for the Roads Luxury Group. Talk about the vision you had for that just came out. How did you end up working for Danielle Ryan on Roads?
We met Danielle via JP Keating — he produced an amazing photo essay about the foundation of the Lir Academy, and we worked with Danielle and himself on making it into a book.
The design for the Classics series was determined by the need to create a framework that would be elegant enough to extend as the list of titles grows — we are already working on the next twelve which will be launched during 2014. Each of the titles has a place in our shared culture, and the illustrations reflect that rather than picking a definitive narrative moment or well-known scene. They are all books that are on everyone’s ‘must read’ list, so it was great to have the impetus to read them. It was also an opportunity to focus on image making, and to have fun exploring a very wide range of techniques during that process.
Working on Roads is exciting because they have a clear and ambitious view of what they want to achieve, and the way that things look, feel and work is central to it. In a way, all of our clients have this — a vision of what they want to achieve and an understanding of the importance of design in reaching their goals.
Here’s a little video that Roads did…
1. Wuthering Heights // 2. The Scarlet Letter // 3. Heart Of Darkness // 4. The Great Gatsby // 5. Frankenstein // 6. The Hound Of The Baskervilles // 7. To The Lighthouse // 8. The Picture Of Dorian Grey
Roisin Agnew @Roxeenna