interview :: michael c place

Katie | October 9, 2011

I might have mentioned in the past that I’m a huge fan of Helvetica – the typeface and the film. The thing I loved most about the latter was the utter passion and conviction displayed by those interviewed. One of my favourite people in the film was Michael C Place, Creative Director of Build.

Build's creative work for Urbanised

So you can imagine how excited I was to discover that he was on the bill at the Design Museum PechaKucha x Wim Crouwel event I attended in July, and not only that, but sitting just two rows in front of me! So I leapt up as soon as the event was finished and plucked up the courage to ask him for an interview. To my utter delight, he said yes, and here it is…

You’ve said of Helvetica “obviously it wasn’t intended to be this cool thing, but it’s just a beautiful font.” What is it about Helvetica that makes it so beautiful?

I think it’s the timelessness of it that makes it beautiful. It looks effortless and that’s the skill of the designer Max Miedinger (with Eduard Hoffmann at the Haas’sche Schriftgiesserei). It has a very utilitarian feel to it; it almost has no character yet it oozes character. When it’s used well, it’s a sheer joy to look at. I like it because it enables a skilled designer to give it a certain feel by how he or she uses it.

Build creative work featuring Michael's cat, Brockmann

What are you most proud of? 

Setting up Build. From a dining room table in a small flat in Camden in 2001 to our current space in Walthamstow. I’m incredibly proud of our output, and the way we handle ourselves as a small studio. It’s been tough at times, but we’ve managed to keep going and we’ve had a lot of laughs along the way. We’ve worked with some incredible people, and made some good friends.

Build creative work - sustainable futures

What advice would you give to an aspiring designer?

Work hard.

Don’t look to the design press or books for inspiration.

Have a point of view.

Don’t be arrogant.

Be prepared to fail, but learn from it.

Build creative work

What’s the best brief you’ve ever received and how did you feel when you received it?

Whilst working with Trevor: My first record sleeve design (can’t remember the artist), but it felt amazing, it’s what I had dreamed of since starting at college.

Whilst working at tDR: Sleeve for Warp10 (their 10 year anniversary releases). Again it felt amazing, mainly because I was a huge fan of the label, and it was an important release. I did all the photography, and all the layout and design. I vividly remember doing two straight all-nighters to get it all done (I think I ended up being awake for 56 hours) as I was going on holiday. I remember sending the artwork off, then Nicky picking me up in the car and sleeping all the way down south to the holiday.

Whilst at Build: This is really hard to choose because each project is really special in different ways, it could be that it was the first brief we got, the first time we got paid, or a particularly tough project we got through or a friendship made during a project.

Build creative work

What’s your favourite colour?

I keep coming back (throughout my 20 years in design) to Pantone 810, which is a fluorescent yellow. It always brings a smile to my face.

For more from Michael and conversations with seventeen other designers, my new book, Interviews, is available here.

Further reading for the especially geeky:

Further Reading for the Especially Geeky ::

Founding Editor – Katie Treggiden

Having established confessions of a design geek in 2010, Katie Treggiden has gone on to a career in design journalism, writing for titles such as The Guardian, The Telegraph, Elle Decoration, Stylist, Design Milk and Ideal Home. In 2014, she launched Fiera, an independent magazine dedicated to discovering new talent at the world’s design fairs. Her second book, Makers of East London, was published in 2015.

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