Made Thought on the tactile design of G. F Smith’s latest collection featuring over 450 different paper stocks

The revered London-based studio saw an opportunity to reinvent the visually striking block of papers, with sustainability and unique hand-rendered touches in mind.

18 November 2020


Since paper was first invented back in China’s Eastern Han period (25–220 AD), it has been an essential aspect of society and culture. Fast forward a couple of millennia to today and paper is just as important, particularly when it comes to working in the creative industries. At the helm of quality paper production is G. F Smith, a 135-year-old establishment with top knowledge on the simple beauty and countless possibilities of the material. Bringing creativity to life through one of the world’s oldest mediums, creatives regularly turn to G. F Smith for its exhaustive variety of papers offering everything from embossing to colour, texture and weight.

This eclectic assortment of paper is also now available all in one place: The Collection. Recently launched, The Collection features 48 ranges and 298 papers in weights ranging from 32 GSM to 1,400 GSM, and spanning four sections. Designed by G. F Smith’s longtime collaborators London-based design studio Made Thought, the portfolio champions tactility throughout, enhancing the physical interaction between designer and paper. Made Thought’s creative director Alistair Webb tells us: “In all of the design decisions we make, we look to interrupt the simple beauty of the paper as little as possible, only adding to the surface of the paper with print to communicate the paper’s capabilities.”

The result is a visually striking block which binds a single sheet of each paper from the collection. Satisfying to touch, it encourages the user to “see, feel and understand the tactile qualities of the product without interruption,” says Alistair. Having worked with G. F Smith for years now, Made Thought understands the brand back to front, and its archives are home to several previous iterations of The Collection. So, when it came to designing the edition launched earlier this year, Made Thought’s designers found themselves with a unique opportunity to reinvent the format.


Made Thought: G. F Smith, The Collection (Copyright © G. F Smith, 2020)

In the past Made Thought’s design has explored a variety of avenues, from innovations in print to the way information is indexed. The project has always been a challenge in finding the right balance between conventional print and production at scale, but the latest design for The Collection pushes forward by partnering the physical experience of the collection with an equally engaging digital experience. In the paper industry, this is unexplored territory which Made Thought were eager to tackle, offering up “an exciting frontier” for the studio to experiment with.

As designers working deep in the cultural sector, the team at Made Thought are no strangers in deciding the right paper stock for a project. Utilising this valuable insight, it created digital filtering tools for the user to efficiently find the perfect paper for a particular function. Additionally, clever art direction highlights the surface qualities of each manufactured piece of paper, allowing enthusiasts to experience G. F Smith’s collection in whole new ways and entirely online too.

However when it came to the production process of the physical collection it was an entirely different story. Nine months in the making, with a considerable amount of experimentation added to the mix, the end result features a wealth of crafted accents. Manufactured in close partnership with Pureprint who worked with Made Thought to develop “new processes that we hoped could be additive to the physical experience,” each tome in The Collection is entirely hand-built.

This process also involved combining 450 different paper stocks in the collection, resulting in 18 million printed pages created. “The production scale was so large that the team had to house all the paper in an additional warehouse,” adds Alistair. “When a designer has a single collection book in their studio it is easy to loose sight of scale of a production that results in such a small object, but the thought and determination that goes into a collection book is really a testament to the passion of the G.F Smith and production teams.”


Made Thought: G. F Smith, The Collection (Copyright © G. F Smith, 2020)

Other hand-rendered touches include the binding, thumb tabs, and The Collection’s four sections which are all hand cut. The hand-finished qualities make each publication slightly unique too. That being said, Made Thought and G. F Smith considered their environmental footprint every step of the way.

Both sustainably-minded studios, the designers were keen to reduce their energy impact as much as possible. As a result, the page size was reduced allowing for optimum economy across the production.“This relatively simple change saved a massive amount of paper being used, and had a significant impact on reducing our waste,” Alistair adds. As an extra plus, this line of thought spurred on several more ideas for other green initiatives at G. F Smith, for example new materials made solely from waste offcuts. “Sustainability provides us all with an opportunity to challenge and change our design processes in a positive way,” continues the designer, “even small decisions on face value can have a big impact.”

An ideal companion for a creative project, both G.F Smith’s paper and The Collection itself “are all about possibility,” says Alistair. Diverse and easily manipulated, with the added ability to transform in the application of a myriad techniques, considered paper offers any designer limitless doses of inspiration. “As canvases for creativity go, paper isn’t a blank one, it already has so much character, from colour to texture and physical properties,” concludes the creative director, “with so much amazing work already created with it throughout history, it really is an open invitation to create.”

You can sign up for the opportunity to pick up a free edition of The Collection here.

GalleryMade Thought: G. F Smith, The Collection (Copyright © G. F Smith, 2020)

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G. F. Smith

For over 130 years, G . F Smith has been obsessed with the simple beauty and limitless possibility of paper.

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Made Thought: G. F Smith, The Collection (Copyright © G. F Smith, 2020)

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