Since its inception in 2006, this young London studio has been leading the way with experimental typography and clean, clear communication
“We’ve definitely got a tendency towards clean, graphic forms,” remarks Sawdust’s Rob Gonzalez on his and co-founder Jonathan Quainton’s shared passion for typography. “I find it interesting how you can take an ‘A’, experiment with it loads and it’ll still be universally recognisable.”
This love of experimentation, particularly with type – combined with a penchant for clean, clear communication – has won the small Shoreditch-based studio clients on the scale of Sony Music and Nike, and also led to an invitation to design its first working typeface: NewModern.
Although founded in 2006, the studio had been a distant dream since the pair met while studying for national diplomas in graphic design as teenagers. “It was always a pipe dream at college,” recalls Quainton. “We often ended up working together on projects – we had some kind of creative connection, I guess. We parted ways when we went to uni but kept in touch, and it was just a matter of right time, right place.”
While Quainton went on to study a higher national diploma in Banbury, Gonzalez took the graphic design course at Bath Spa University before embarking on a number of internships, including one at iconic studio Airside. He then found himself a permanent role as a designer at digital agency Meme. But after bagging that much-coveted first job, things didn’t pan out as expected.
“I felt a little bit restricted,” admits Gonzalez. “I was employed as the sole designer, plus it was a digital agency, which wasn’t really where I wanted to be. I was interested in illustration and image-making, and also typography, and I began to realise that finding a job that housed all of these was going to be tricky at the best of times.”
In a twist of luck, Quainton had moved to London at around the same time and was crashing on Gonzalez’s floor. “I was doing a bit of freelance illustration work, then a joint project designing T-shirts for the fashion label Worn By came up and we took it on together,” Quainton explains. “We began thinking: if there isn’t a job out there that you’re happy with, why not create your own? So we made the jump and set up Sawdust.”
They picked the studio name because of its associations with carpentry and craftsmanship: “It’s about creating something beautiful through skill and effort,” says Quainton. “Sawdust is what’s left over at the end of a great project.”
But despite their clear vision of the type of studio they wanted to be, getting there proved a little more difficult. “At the start we had pretty much no clients apart from Worn By,” laughs Gonzalez. “But we kept at it and more began to come through, mostly through contacts at my old workplace and internships. The only problem was that, again, it was mostly digital work, so we were constantly trying to steer things in the direction we wanted to go.”
Their relative inexperience also landed the pair in some rather embarrassing situations: “There was one pitch we did for a women’s lingerie brand that was just horrible,” laughs Quainton. “We were completely the wrong match for them. They were looking for a strategy to move the brand forward, and we arrived with a bunch of logo designs. They knew as soon as we turned up that they were wasting their time. However, on the plus side, they did really like our designs – it was just the complete opposite of what they wanted.”