BRENDA MCMANUS AND NED DREW
IDA 2018 PRODUCT DESIGN OF THE YEAR WINNER
You have both lived and worked in the New York area for along time now. How is the city treating you?
Neither of us was born in NY; I am from northern NJ so not too far, and Ned is originally from the Washington, DC area. However, we have both been in NYC for over 20 years, so it is where we consider home. New York is a fascinating and fun place to live, and in terms of our profession, neither of us could imagine living anywhere else. The creative access, inspiration, and energy of the city are what drew us both here and the reason we both choose to stay. We love our city.
You and Ned work together at BRED graphic design studio. How and when did you start working together?
Ned and I have a long history of collaboration. We discovered early on in our creative relationship that we were very compatible in our work ethics and just different enough in our approaches that it worked well for us to work together. There was a shared respect and trust that we both believe is essential to a healthy and a fruitful partnership. In 2006 we formally launched our studio BRED. It was really about timing and choosing to prioritize our creative relationship. The goal was always to build a studio dedicated to the things we were most energized by. For us, that was self-initiated design research and the translation of our research and exploring its value to design education.
BRED is a graphic design studio with special focus on research and design education–a lot of different activities. What are the responsibilities? Who does what in the studio, and how do you distribute responsibilities?
Your question is excellent, and one that is always difficult to answer. Our work process is so fluid at this point that it is difficult to define specific roles and who is responsible for what. Because we are partners in both business and life, our design process is immersed in our daily lives and involves a constant dialogue. Our projects primarily evolve from casual conversation and observation. Most recently, inspired by our young son. Raising our son has opened us up to a whole new avenue of creative exploration. He is trying to understand the world around him. Like most children, he questions everything, and this forces us to challenge the status quo as well. It is through these conversations and questions that we often find great inspiration. It reminds us daily of the importance of vigilant curiosity.
When we begin a project, there is often a period in which we will work independently sketching and writing about what we are exploring. From this phase, we share our files and respond to each other’s observations, thoughts, and visuals. Through this process of visual and conceptual critique, we begin to define our direction. Given that we primarily work via letterpress, and the presses themselves have physical limitations, there is usually a set of defined parameters that help us clarify ourdesign direction, which means what we can and cannot do on the press. Working in the process of letterpress also demands a seamless collaboration. We mainly utilize two Vandercook Universal III presses in the production of our work. So we are printing in tandem and maintain a constant conversation throughout the process. It is the only way we can successfully achieve our shared expected outcome.
You examine how education influences the creative industry. What are the most important aspects of this relation?
I think one of the core beliefs both Ned and I share is the importance of making, perhaps most importantly in the sense of a process of exploration and discovery. We found in our work, as well as working with students, the physical act of making influences the experience and results of a project. When there is a physical engagement within the process, it forces the process to slow down. In turn, the physical process also requires a vigilant eye as there is no quick method, such as “command z” to correct an error. You are forced to think through each step systematically and strategically. Once you instill these qualities in a designer, you cannot turn them off. Working in an immersive physical manner such as letterpress, we believe, makes us stronger designers. It engages so many ways of thinking. (lateral, linear, spatial, conceptual, formal and strategic) It truly is boot camp for the creative mind, and these attributes translate when working within the digital environment as well.
Your winning project, Drew’s ABC is a unique letterpressed book designed to show readers the richness within typography. How did you come up with the idea of the book?
For 20+ years Ned and I have been amassing a very eclectic collection of letterpress ephemera, primarily woodblock typography. We had always had in the back of our minds the idea of doing something significant with our collection. In 2013, we welcomed our son, Drew. It was at this time it dawned on us that we could create a unique book of ABCs that exposed the richness within typography as well as celebrate its differences.
What are the strengths of the project and what does this award mean to you?
We are beyond thrilled, humbled, and grateful for the award. A project like Drew’s ABCs does not come to life unless you genuinely believe in the design. The dedication of time, work ethic, and personal resources it takes to create a limited edition of 360 hand-printed and crafted books is semi-crazy. However, we both understand that there is nothing more terrifying yet rewarding, than believing in an idea and going all in, without any real guarantees of how your journey will end. Receiving validation that comes from being recognized as the Graphic Design of the Year by the International Design Awards, there areno words to express what that means. It is beyond amazing. We are so proud of what we accomplished, and we did not achieve it alone. We worked with a pretty incredible team of students from both Pace University, where I teach, and Rutgers University-Newark, where Ned teaches. Without our amazing team of students, we would never have been able to pull off printing an edition of this scale. So this award not only validatesour dedication and vision for the book but also the tireless work ethic of our amazing students. Being recognized on this level forwork we achieved with our students elevates the level of pride. We are so grateful to the IDA jurors for understanding the process and the product of our work and recognizing its merit. So thank you a million times over. (and then some)
Where do you get motivation and inspiration from in your work? How do you decide to take on certain projects?
Most of our work is self-initiated. We create things we believe in and trust others will share in our belief. Our shared dedication to education often inspires our design. We are inspired by exploring the educational value of an immersive design process. When working on a new project, we are in constant dialogue about its importance and how this can translate back into the classroom. We are always working towards a goal of a seamlesslife balanced in design and education. This is why we started this journey together.
A great deal of our motivation and inspiration comes from our son. His tireless curiosity is priceless. Like I stated earlier, he reminds us daily of the importance of vigilant curiosity.
What do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities in your career and industry now?
Having accomplished a project such as Drew’s ABCs and having received this level of validation from the International Design Awards, has created fantastic exposure for us and given us a much broader audience as well as the confidence to continue to believe in our ideas.
Our biggest challenge is always time. The process in which we work is extremely time-consuming. Knowing this, we must sharein our belief as to the merit of our project choices. We sink or swim together.
What are you working on, what is in the pipeline for you?
We have both agreed that our next few projects will be on a much smaller scale (literally) than Drew’s ABCs. We are currently developing a series of stamps that will be letterpressed. Some current events have served as the inspiration for this new body of work. We are both excited to get them out into the world.