March 31, 2003
by Christopher May and Armin Vit
Speak Up: To jump right into
things... your group tackles a lot of varied disciplines: Identity, signage,
publications, merchandising, web design, exhibition design, catalogues, advertising,
films, music... And the list goes on. Is there ever a time, when approaching
a new project, you say "Shit! We have no clue how to do this".? Besides
your talent and your eagerness to try new things are you ever afraid on tackling
Steve Baker: No, we always have
a clue, but sometimes only a clue. We're not afraid of tackling something new
but we're terrified of endlessly repeating ourselves.
Jason Kedgely: Yes to both
parts! for me that immediate response is quickly translated into a drive to
either try something myself or find the right people to work with. A majority
of projects I am involved in are about interacting with people you respect
and the enjoyable uncertainty of direction which that takes.
Graham Wood: I would never
say no to something purely because it was in a media or form that i'd never
worked with before: I think in the end one works with possibilities, potential,
and the interplay of thought and form that some people call 'ideas', and this
is so easily applicable in every context. The hardest thing is to say 'yes';
once you do, everything follows. It's not hard-none of it is, not physically
and certainly not really intellectually. I wouldn't say that we actually do
try new things. Most of us work on simple, single ideas until the first thing
has changed so much that you realise you're on to an other thing, and again,
and again. And hopefully that will keep happening for a long time.
SU: If given the choice from
the previously mentioned disciplines, which facet of creativity would each of
you say you enjoy most?
T-SB: The next one.
T-JK: I still enjoy them all
in their own way; just depends on me really... what day, mood or other things
are happening around me on how I react.
T-GW: Just thinking, being inspired
or forced to think, letting something grow in the mind and take it's course,
flowering, transforming. Just thinking.
We're not afraid of tackling something new but we're terrified of endlessly repeating ourselves.
SU: Where do you see Tomato
in the future? 5 years? 10 years? Is there a master plan or goal Tomato would
like to achieve?
T-SB: The master plan seems to
be strained survival.
T-JK: For me, as long as we continue
to make inspirational work, for both ourselves and others, we will do just fine.
T-GW: About three months tends
to be my limit (I do start to look forward to Christmas around about the end
of September), so the ability to see 6 months ahead would be a nice goal for
me. 10 years time? We're all still alive? Would that be enough to hope?
SU: Tomato is a collective,
does this differ from the typical agency or firm?
T-SB: Only in every way possible.
T-JK: Yes and no. I have not
worked in a typical agency so can not compare but tomato has its fair share
of ups and downs, the same as everyone else I imagine.
T-GW: I'm not sure what's typical,
as tomato is the only thing i've known... hard question to really answer properly.
You make your own experience, your own 'real world', so whether or not we're
'different' form others doesn't really interest me, and I don't honestly know
how I would find out if we were different. I like it when there's similarities-far
more interesting-and theres loads of people doing work now that is powerful
and very very alive.
SU: A few of you are situated
around the globe (UK, Japan, Australia, Sweden). How does this affect the outcome
of projects when working with each other? What are some of the techniques you
use to collaborate with physical distance being a restriction?
T-SB: We struggle, but then we
always did. Despite the technology available and cheaper airfares, communication
doesn't get easier, it just takes more effort. However it's great to be able
to bring experiences and influences
from all over the world into the work. As people don't stop growing, life changes
are inevitable, so we might as well get used to it and find ways to accommodate
and benefit from these changes.
T-JK: The effect of people being
outside of london is that the dynamism of interaction is less. For me this is
super important, apart from the physical interaction which I think is always
best, being able to discuss your ideas
and take your work into that uncertain area where you would never go alone is
what its about.
T-GW: E-mail, phone, post, travel-all
of the obvious really. the best thing about being apart is that we all tend
to make more of the time when we're together. We work more together now than
we ever have done, I think, which is sort of interesting.
I think we'd rather cut our throats if we thought we were only producing work to satisfy other people's expectations based on an imagined style.
SU: Do you feel a lot of pressure
for being Tomato? Is it hard to live up to the standards in creativity that
you have set, not only from clients and designers around the world, but also
from yourselves? In less professional words, do you ever feel that you wont
achieve the "Tomatoness" that weve all come to expect?
T-SB: I think we'd rather cut
our throats if we thought we were only producing work to satisfy other people's
expectations based on an imagined style. Obviously we continue to try to produce
work that we like and hopefully our
clients like. Is there any other way?
T-JK: I have never really thought
about this, so there must be no pressure. We just do what we do, I dont
think we try to be tomato or anything else. we are tomato.
T-GW: I understand what you're
asking, but I can't honestly answer the actual question, for lots of reasons,
and mainly because the idea of 'pressure', of 'standards', and 'expect'ation
has nothing to do with the way I think about it. I sort of don't believe in
it as a point of view about graphic/whatever design, because in the end it's
a job, usually (90-99% of the time) for a client who has a pretty specific set
of requirements that you do your best to accomodate, unless the accomodation
of same would negate the positive outcome of a project. And that's it. Granted,
because of some of the work we've done we've been able to make publications,
but you don't make a cake without breaking a few eggs and all that guff, i.e.
you have to make the work to make the work, it doesn't drop from the sky etc.
etc. did I end up answering the question?
SU: Which brings me to my next
question; what makes you [Tomato] who you are? An obvious answer would be your
style, but you seem to be more about style and trends. Is it your energy? Philosophy?
T-SB: No idea. Actually yes,
I have an idea - tomato is just a group of individuals - it is just a reflection
of some of the things those individuals aspire to. Sorry if this sounds a bit
T-JK: It most definitely is not
about style or trends... in fact everything else apart from that. for me, it
is still about working with and respecting friends and all the dynamics that
involves and creates.
T-GW: We are more about style
and trends! yes! Have you seen the new thing!? Oat foxes in a drainpipe/shoe
arrangement! It's nice! Plastic mastic cock shields! We are only stylish and
trendy and hungry like the wolf!
SU: When Designing for Underworld
(for those who are unaware Karl Hyde and Richard Smith of Tomato formed
the musical group in 1988), would you say they are your best or worst client?
Do you have fun with the work or do you become your own worst critics?
T-SB: We haven't heard from them
for years now - I thought they'd disbanded - are they still going??
T-JK: Working with rick and karl
and the record companies has pushed me to produce some of my most interesting
works, and at times they have been the most frustrating projects ever, bar none.
T-GW: The work I've done with
rick and karl has been some of the most amazing and some of the most diffcult
I've ever done. Think of any reason for both situations (and many in between)
and I've probably experienced it. The work
is always fun, to a greater or lesser extent, and all critical facilities go
out the window when i'm doing this stuff. The things we do together go a lot
further than the stuff 'for underworld', and I've just been doing something
with rick (a few of us have) that is the kind of thing that one lives for.
Tomato is full of ideas and always has been. Each individuals'
commitment to personal work has kept tomato evolving and pushed it into the future
SU: How often do you run in
to clients that no matter what you do, they cease to be impressed, happy, or
satisfied with what you have done? Was there ever a case when Tomato was fired
from a project?
T-SB: Never fired, just agreed
an appropriate realignment of mutually achievable goals.
T-JK: More than you would think.
Some agencys want to employ you as a service and that is not what we do;
we work with people to find a resolution. In my experience it is these individuals
that upset the balance. And yes I have been fired from a job, only one to date
T-GW: Often enough. I'm not sure
about fired, but work gets changed about after you finish your part, or things
get rejected, or radically changed as part of the working process. It's not
always easy (never promised a rose
garden) and obviously there'll be times when everything just goes pear-shaped.
Clash of ethos, of approach, of ambition, yes, often enough, but then we get
our fair share of 'do what you think is best and come back when it's finished
and we'll be happy if you are' type of stuff so there's a balance. There's one
occasion i can think of when i had work rejected and knew it, but the weirdest
and most common thing when things don't work is the 'everything's dandy to your
face but when it was all over they weren't happy' situation. I think honesty
and openness are essential parts of the working process (there isn't one without
them), and in any situation i'll say what I think (it's what I'm paid for) and
I have to assume everyon else is doing the same. The best work I've done is
with people who've said it's not good enough, do more, go further, start again.
Things don't come together immediately and they don't always come together comfortably,
and that can be a source of frustration for all concerned. In the end though,
for me, I view everything as potential and experience, and if the potential
isn't achieved then the experience is always something to learn from and try
to understand-afer all, we're all simple people trying to make our way in the
SU: When Tomato broke into
the mainstream, a few years back, there was an apparent style to your work.
A trend that was highly imitated for some time. Now, I think, you have outgrown
that style that separated you from other collectives and have transformed it
into a voice that then translates into different visual solutions. What has
made you grow and evolve into what I think is, and I mean this with no offense,
a more mature approach to design?
T-SB: We broke into the mainstream?
Why did nobody tell us? Are we mature already? Goddammit why did anybody tell
T-JK: Tomato is full of ideas
and always has been. Each individuals commitment to personal work has kept tomato
evolving and pushed it into the future without trying. It is these personal
responses that form the back bone of all tomato work.
T-GW: Again, this a question
of point of view. I make work and I see the others I work with making work too-it's
all connected. We've been together for about 12 years now, so there's been ups
and downs and blank patches and times of productivity; again, it's hard to answer
this without seeming a bit bland, and also hard to answer without knowing which
work you're referring to-I know almost everything we've made over the years,
so to me the things which are familiar may not have been seen too much and so
I think we're all still those strange little fellows with hearts of gold and
heads full of dreams, looking for beauty in a troubled world. But no solutions,
If it's true that in the end all of the things we (all) do are about people communicating, then I think the workshops have been among the best things we've done.
SU: Who first came up with
the idea of workshops and why? Was it to proliferate good tomato vibes? Was
it to give back to the creative community and help the up and coming?
T-SB: I did - because it feels
T-JK: I dont know exactly
who started the conversation but it has been a topic of discussion for many
years. I have only taken part in one, and it was interesting to meet and spend
time with people from other cultures, to engage and be engaged in varied dialogue
and to travel to distant places with people you perhaps would never have otherwise
had the chance.
T-GW: We've all been doing a
bit of teaching and lecturing (ha!) here and there over the years, and the workshops
seemed a natural extension of that. Steve initiated and has been central in
making it all work, and the intention was to try it and see what happened, with
the hope that people would come and enjoy themselves. For me, the workshops
i've been involved with have been intense, emotional experiences and very very
hard work, for good and bad. I'm not the best at this kind of thing, but i think
the range of people who've come to the workshops and the different people from
tomato who've been involved has made for a very particular experience. We've
made lots of friends, i think, met some extraordinary people and seen that there
is a validity in some of the ways in which (idealistically, perhaps) we believe
work can be approached. If it's true that in the end all of the things we (all)
do are about people communicating, then I think the workshops have been among
the best things we've done.
SU: One of the best ways to
learn and to expand your knowledge is by interacting with other designers, how
important have the workshops been in the development of Tomato?
T-SB: Very important, that's
why I thought of it, because I'm very clever. And some of the other members
of the company helped out a bit too... occasionally.
T-JK: As I said I have only taken
part in one workshop, but for other members the workshops are of the utmost
importance, both mentally and physically. The overall effect is that tomato
learns more each time, about ourselves and about those who join us.
T-GW: Refer to my previous answer.
SU: Thanks Steve, Jason and Graham for speaking
up with us.
This interview has been conducted exclusively for Speak Up.
Reproduction without our written consent is strictly prohibited. Please if you would like to use it for educational purposes or if you are interested in other means of reproduction. Thank you for your understanding.