Having been a follower of Absolute Zero Degrees and minimoderns for awhile now and having posted about them often - I thought it was about time I found out some more about them. Keith Stephenson kindly agreed to answer some of my questions, in order to get a bit of an insight into the company's inpsirations and workings. It's great reading hope you enjoy it as much as I did! (posted in 3 parts)
1. Can you tell me a little history of you business, what are your backgrounds and how did you come to start a creatively diverse business? How did the twin companies idea come about?
I started Absolute Zero degrees in 2001 as I was disillusioned with big branding agencies and felt stifled by the structure of the agencies that I worked in. My experience had always been diverse, working predominantly in the fashion industry as a graphic designer and print designer, and I felt that any expertise and experience that I had was always overlooked. So from the start Absolute Zero Degrees was created to utilise all my skills and not be seen as a pure graphic design company. This meant that the fledgling company took on diverse projects from branding, retail interior design to commissions for textile prints for fashion companies.
When Mark Hampshire joined a short time later, the offer became more diverse as although his experience was as a brand strategist, he had also been a partner in an interior and furniture design business, featuring in the very first edition of Wallpaper magazine. So even though both Mark and I had very defined roles in larger design and branding agencies – we had an opportunity with AZD to explore our skills and interests, and to also create a seamless process from brief to delivery.
In 3 years AZD gained in reputation – and we were commissioned in 2004 to create a collection of wallpaper designs for innovative design store Places and Spaces in South London.
The collection featuring the now classic ‘Swallows’ was an immediate hit with press – appearing 9 months consecutively in Elle Decoration, and eventually being short-listed for their design awards in 2005.
The wallpapers appeared in international publications and on television. Following the success of ‘Swallows’ wallpaper, we wanted to create another collection, which would appeal to what we saw as an untapped market. At the time we felt no one was producing wallpaper for contemporary kids , that parents would also like – most of what AZD found through their research was too twee or was a marketing vehicle for toys, TV programmes or films.
As proof of principle of our experience as a branding agency - Mini Moderns was born. The patterns are good sellers and manage to straddle the kids and kidult market successfully.
2009 will see the launch of Mini Moderns first clothing collection in collaboration with Clothkits, who have used our print catalogue on their collection of classic shape children’s and women’s wear.
Mini Moderns exists as a privately funded, stand alone project and has its own website, which now sells a collection of 16 wallpapers, chinaware, plastic tableware, textiles and accessories, as well as wholesaling to numerous design stores in the UK, Sweden, Germany, Belgium, Australia and the US.
Absolute Zero Degrees is responsible for all the designs as well as continuing as predominantly a design and branding agency using their pattern making expertise in our work.
We were also recently commissioned to create and produce wallpaper for Southbank Centre – featuring the classic carpet design ‘Net and Ball’ designed for the 1951 Festival of Britain.
We have have also co authored 6 books on design, four of which make up the ‘communicating with pattern’ series which have sold 100,000 copies of each, internationally, and have been translated into 10 languages.