But despite the setbacks, these early projects helped the pair establish their style and cultivate a speciality in experimental typography. “Jon is very interested in type and his enthusiasm rubbed off on me,” says Gonzalez. “We landed a few identity projects and naturally began creating bespoke fonts for them. It was through these that we really began to focus on typography and creating type-led design.”
One such project saw the studio designing the promotional material for London-based music events company Be, which marked a turning point in Sawdust’s creative focus. “This started out as a very illustration-based project, which was a style we were trying to get away from at the time,” Gonzalez recalls. “It was very popular then to be doing that kind of vector-based artwork and we’d become a little pigeon-holed with that style, which we knew wasn’t sustainable. So we tried creating a decorative logo, with two swirls going through the ‘B’ and ‘e’.
“It was the first time that we’d really experimented with decorative type, and I realised that the nice thing with typography is its versatility and how you can apply it to many different projects, which just isn’t the case with the illustrative style we were working in.”
Soon the pair landed more identity commissions, which gave Sawdust the opportunity to further its experiments with typography. “We have one client, business media company CloserStill, which we created a type-based identity for,” Gonzalez tells us. “We made a nice, abstract form out of the letters ‘C’ and ‘S’ for the logo. It resembles a tulip, and the company liked that because it symbolises growth.” They also landed some prestigious clients, such as a T-shirt commission from Nike.
Gonzalez and Quainton have developed their flair for creative typography even further in recent work. For instance, their design and art direction for Belgian techno producer Fabrice Lig’s album Genesis of a Deep Sound includes a bespoke industrial-inspired typeface. “The album was inspired by the early Detroit techno sound and the design needed to reflect that,” says Quainton. “We discovered some photos of abandoned Detroit buildings by an artist called Andrew Moore and were inspired.
“Each building is in a state of disrepair, and we liked the idea of a build-up of chaotic layers as it also reflected the music. So the idea for the typeface came from the concept of having different elements building up different layers of the type,” he adds. Although the letterforms only use black and yellow, from a distance the narrow parallel black lines appear as a third colour – grey – thus creating an additional layer.
These projects caught the attention of HypeForType foundry, which commissioned Sawdust to create a bespoke display font, NewModern, in 2011. The studio has also created another, self-initiated font, Underground – constructed from the red circle and blue line featured in the London Underground logo. “I was sat on the Tube one day, looking at the symbol and began thinking how you could model it into different letterforms,” smiles Gonzalez. Unfortunately the pair are having trouble making it available for sale due to copyright issues with the iconic roundel symbol.
When tackling a brief, Gonzalez and Quainton don’t tend to stick to a set creative process each time: “We’ll discuss the brief together, talk through the requirements and what our initial thoughts are, and then start working on it separately before reviewing it again, so the other can look over it with fresh eyes,” explains Quainton. “If one person’s route seems to be working better, they’ll take on the role of lead designer and the other almost becomes the art director. But it does chop and change, as we’re usually concentrating on several projects at once.”
Working together so closely has meant the pair have reached the point where decisions can be made quickly, and ideas are swiftly rejected or approved to be worked on in more detail. Quainton says: “The longer you know someone, the more you can get a sense of their reaction – even just by looking at their face. Working in close quarters, both now and while studying, has definitely helped this process.”
It’s this swiftness and flexibility – gained from working together – that has convinced Gonzalez and Quainton not to expand their studio for a little while yet. “We want to stay small, nimble and adaptive,” explains Gonzalez. “And, obviously, we want to win more client commissions.”
As well as continuing to pursue their shared interest in typography, they don’t want to completely abandon the illustrative style that made up their early work: “While my passion for typography has definitely grown through Jon, in the early days I was more interested in illustration and image-making,” Gonzalez reflects. “I still am, and that’s something we’d like to marry up in our work a bit more.”