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Manual

Posted by Will Hudson,

San Francisco based graphic design and branding consultancy Manual launched their website at the end of last week.

Headed up by Tom Crabtree who has previously worked at MadeThought, Spin and Apple it’s not surprising people took note and it popped up on a number of design blogs. We wanted to find out more and caught up with him to ask a few questions…

Hi Tom, an Englishman in San Francisco, how did you end up being based out there?

A Yorkshireman no less! So yes, how did I end up out here? Well I’d spent a number of years working as a designer in London and was very fortunate to have worked at such great studios as MadeThought and Spin. My wife and I had talked about a ‘life change’ and the possibility of moving to the USA (my wife is American) and while I was quite happy with my life in London and my position at MadeThought, I had this nagging urge to live and work abroad. Around that same time Apple approached me and offered to fly me out to California for an interview for an Art Director position in the packaging design group. While I’d never really considered working as part of an in-house brand team before… it was Apple. They offered me the job so I went for it.

When (and why) did you set up Manual?

After two and a half years at Apple I decided that the ‘in-house’ route wasn’t for me. Don’t get me wrong Apple was such a fantastic place to work and I was fortunate enough to have worked on some great projects- the iPhone packaging for one- but ultimately as a designer accustomed to working in much smaller ‘boutique’ studios with a very varied client base – I realized it wasn’t the right place for me. I guess I’m too impatient and have a short attention span – I enjoy working on lots of different projects quite quickly. My wife and I also found out we were having our first baby – and I knew if I didn’t make the leap I would settle in and never leave. So I announced to my colleagues I was having a baby and setting up my own studio in pretty much the same breath. People thought I was crazy.

I set up Manual in early 2009. Why? The truth is, there wasn’t a studio in San Francisco where I wanted to work. I felt like I’d reached a stage in my career where my next step would have been a creative director position. So rather than be a creative director for someone else, I decided to do it for myself.

How does the San Francisco design scene compare to London?

They’re very different that’s for sure. San Francisco is like a little village compared to London. London is a just this huge hub of creativity, art, and fashion. There also seem to be so many younger, smaller creative design studios which I don’t see so much of here. It might be fair to say San Francisco has much less a design ‘scene’. Of course I’m sure there are designers that mingle and know each other. Perhaps I need to get out more and mingle…

Another huge difference in design seems to be the client base here. There’s this huge entrepreneurial spirit with a large number of start-ups, particularly in technology and web media. The Bay Area has a history in supporting those kinds of businesses. There seem to be so many start-ups with big ideas about trying to be the next ‘big thing’, particularly in social networking and apps. Speaking of which, we recently landed the job to rebrand MySpace – but as the project was kicking off, the CEO was ‘let go’ and the project unfortunately got cancelled. That’s web media and technology for you.

What can we expect to see in the near future?

My wife Patricia just joined me in the business and we’re moving to a bigger studio so it’s quite an exciting time. We’ve just completed a global branding project for the Gap which will launch in Autumn 2010. It was the first time we’d pitched against bigger design firms, so it was a nice affirmation to know that us smaller boutique studios are just as relevant and capable of taking on bigger branding assignments.

We’d like to get back to doing work in the contemporary arts space since it was a large part of the work I did in London. It would be great to get a balance between branding work and projects in arts and publishing – though of course publishing is not exactly thriving. Perhaps we’ll only get to design books for the iPad! I shouldn’t joke.

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Posted by Will Hudson

Will founded It’s Nice That in 2007 and is now director of the company. Once one of the main contributors to the site he has stepped back from writing as the business has expanded. He is a regular guest on the Studio Audience podcast.