In conversation with Smudge Design

An interview with Dee Maher & Mick Veale of web & graphic design studio, Smudge Design

There are people that, when you meet them, you’re just not going to forget. As a team, we feel very lucky to have collaborated with many people like this. A duo that stands out are Dee Maher and Mick Veale of Smudge Design.

Over the years we have had the pleasure of working with them on a variety of projects. Our reliance on them to manage the design of our website is a much loved ongoing link between our studios.

Combining their expertise in graphic and web design, Smudge Design is rooted in providing services to start-ups right through to international corporations. Their core business revolves around all areas of print, web and multimedia design, development and production.

Bringing drive and innovation to everything they do, they maintain an element of humour throughout.

We recently caught up with them both to find out more about their process, what they love about their job and how they manage to balance work and play (that bit might make us all a little envious!).

Enough from us!…

Tell us a bit about where Smudge Design began.

Dee – Myself and a very good friend from college set Smudge up in May 2003. We were a great mix but when Dave got a great opportunity elsewhere a gap was left on the online / web side in Smudge.

Mick – I had set up Micksmedia.com and was delighted to be working for myself designing websites but I didn’t love the business side of things. When Smudge were looking to hire somebody with exactly my skills, I thought it was a great idea to join forces but Dee was pretty anxious about working together! But in the end we decided to risk it and the rest as they say is history!

Did you ever have any hesitation about mixing the professional and personal life?

Dee – We had SO MANY RESERVATIONS!!!! We had been together maybe 5 or 6 years at the time and were so worried that working together might add a certain strain to our relationship!! We were also worried about what atmosphere we might bring to the studio and how our staff might cope with suddenly having a couple running the show! So we talked it all out and made a very long list of rules! We wanted to be completely sure that especially in the early days we kept work at work and personal life at home… so we made an agreement that once we left the studio we did not discuss work and once we left the house we did not discuss any home issues!

To be honest, I was probably a bit ott about this but we were really diligent about it for at least the first 6 months and I really think it set a good tone.

Mick – I was actually pretty relaxed about it but looking back without those rules in the beginning things may not have gone so smoothly. Once we found our feet things actually couldn’t have gone better – we are very lucky that we both operate on different elements of each project so our skills complement each other. I remember the first time I accidentally called Dee ‘love’ in the office we were all totes awks (haahaa) – ridiculous looking back but we were trying to be so professional!!

“Take it On” posters for the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York City, – Stefan Sagmeister

What or who inspires you the most? Have your sources of inspiration changed throughout the years?

Dee – From a design point of view I’ve always really admired the ethos of The Bauhaus – bringing together so many disciplines and crafts for various projects…. And Stefan Sagmeister is still one of my heroes for the human and personal approach he takes to his commercial graphic design projects.

But as a business, we are really inspired by the Scooter philosophy of life… ‘It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice! ;  )

We enjoy our work very much but what really inspires us is when we get to work with passionate people and use our skills to help them develop and achieve their goals. There is a piece of work – a woodblock Letterpress print by one of my favourite designers Anthony Burrill that sums up our simple inspiration… Work Hard & Be Nice To People.

Mick – I lack the design foundation that Dee got at art college, and so my inspiration comes largely from contemporary sources – every year I make sure to go to Offset and find this to be such a great source of inspiration which usually leaves me with a headache, a notebook full of ideas and a source for a years worth of personal projects to keep me interested in my work. I’m always striving for that perfect work-life balance and sometimes you just need to get your head away from the computer for a while. Inspiration finds you anywhere but you’ve got to keep looking for it.

Define your creative process in five words

Dee –  Research, Research, Brainstorm, Panic, Iterate! Hahaaa – well 5 words is almost impossible for me but I could not function without following the process and for me research and iteration is absolutely key. Allowing the research to inform the design and always being mindful of the message and the market.

Mick – JUST. GET. IT. F*&KING. DONE.

Has working remotely changed your design processes?

Dee – In theory no … we are incredibly lucky to be able to work from anywhere at all, and have exploited this no end by blending our love of travel with our work, and working from some of the nicest parts of the world – so working from home changes nothing physically, however, mentally and emotionally I have found working through a pandemic challenging!!! I never quite realized how much creative energy and inspiration I draw from my surroundings both physical and human interactions …. And without any interactions whatsoever I have definitely found it harder to get the creative juices flowing!

Mick – Not in the slightest! We’ve worked remotely for years – I love the flexibility of my work and can do it anywhere anytime!

What’s the best piece of advice you’d give?

Dee –  The best advice I can give pertains to all of life!

Underpromise and overdeliver!

Be honest about what you can do and when you can do it. If you can’t deliver on a project say it clearly and say it early.

If things go awry – as they can – or something crops up – let people know… there is nothing more frustrating for clients or people in general to be let down or be unexpectedly delayed! Be honest and be clear & be kind!

Mick – Keep your ego out of it… value your experience and your skills but remember that you’re a service provider.  Don’t undersell yourself either – Projects can be good, or they can be cheap or they can be fast – but it’s only every possible to have 2 of these things at a time!

What do you do when you’re not working?

Dee & Mick – We have been unbelievably lucky to share a vision of how our lives should be led, and by running our own business we have been able to achieve the flexibility we deeply desire. This means that we can enjoy the things we hold dear – namely travel, food & people!!

We both love variety – our work means we are constantly meeting new people from new and unusual disciplines and we both love travel. Having been forced to downsize in the 2008 recession we realised that small is beautiful, so Smudge is just us two since 2010, and we bring in freelancers when larger projects require it. This means that we can pick up our laptops and hit the road at the drop of a hat… the only thing we really need is our imaginations, experience, laptops and a decent internet connection – so we have been able to live & work from cities such as Berlin and Valencia and as far as Bali and Yogyakarta… pure bliss for us!

Dee – I love trying new crafty hobbies of all descriptions and have a long-standing love of printmaking, so dabble in that whenever I get time. We launched a side project called DRIFT (www.driftknits.com) a few years ago when I got obsessed with chunky luxury wool! I had always wanted to create a product and take it to market … DRIFT was a brilliant but exhausting foray into the world of creator-maker and I learned so much, it’s something I may come back to but at the moment I’m enjoying some less intensive downtime activities… such as food!

I’m obsessed with all things culinary… love nothing more than experimenting with recipes, learning about different cuisines, shopping for ingredients and eating them all!! Mick adds a great compliment to this with his talent for Cocktail making! Needless to say, the evenings pass happily!

Mick – I’ve got an endless list of hobbies and interests. Over the years I’ve done courses in beekeeping, dabbled in violin making, and bred tropical fish from African lakes. I’m a keen photographer and used to give darkroom lessons while in Trinity. I run. I tried baking, hated it. I take things out of skips. I forage for sloe berries, wild garlic or elderflower. I love Instagram. I cycle but don’t wear lycra. I jump in the cold sea. I make nice cocktails. I fall into bed and read about 3 pages before the next day’s full of adventures (but not enough hours) begins. I re-read the same 3 pages that night. Oh and we just adopted a dog!

If you want to learn more about Smudge Design or just say hi! Click on their website below.