Meet the designer: Martin Baillie

Welcome to our new 'Meet the Designer' series starting with Martin Baillie. We work with a lot of designers and makers and plan to share more of their stories with you over the coming months.

I might be new to the Museum, however Martin has been involved since the beginning, as Tara, our Marketing & Audiences Manager says -

"Martin has worked with us from the beginning. He has played an essential role in helping develop our visual tone of voice, bringing a wonderfully unique approach to the range of projects from community engagement to exhibition design, fundraising materials to marketing collateral. His attention to the most beautiful detail and ability to bring an extremely high level of imagination and creativity to the most complex of briefs is invaluable. It’s unusual to find a designer who can consistently deliver to this level of quality, for such a variety of audiences and outputs."

As Martin puts it, he was made in Dundee, so when it came to choosing a designer to work with on a new product collection, it seemed a no brainer to talk to him. 

We wanted to know more about Martin so asked him a series of questions, which he responded to with his usual grace and thoughtfulness

Q. Martin, how did you get into design?

Martin - My parents met when they were both studying at Duncan of Jordanstone in Dundee. My dad studied graphic design and later had a design and advertising company based in Dundee, called Baillie Marshall. So I was aware of the world of design from a young age. When I went to art school in Edinburgh I always had in my mind that graphic design was the route I’d be likely to go down.

Q. Where does your love for design come from?

Martin - In terms of something really capturing my imagination, I’d say the work The Designers Republic put together for the game Wipeout on the original Playstation was a punctuation mark in my life. The gameplay, soundtrack and graphics all came together perfectly to create something amazing.

After winning a student category in my final year of art school, I ended up at an awards ceremony in London, where I had a pretty awful experience sitting at a table with some big name graphic designers. And over the course of the evening some of the judges were actually given awards! It really changed my perspective on what I was looking for, I definitely didn’t want to be in that room again. It pushed me away from a world of idolising big names and reputations, and magazines with portraits of very serious looking designers on the front cover. I was keen to follow a path that felt more natural to me.

Q. Are there recurring themes and inspirations for your designs & if so, what are they?

Martin - One of the main things I aim to do when I’m working on a project is to remove my ego from the equation as much as I possibly can. And focus on how I can best use and adapt the skillset I have to make the client or project shine.

I aim to come up with solutions that engage and communicate clearly, and of course they also need to look good. While design rationale is an important part of working towards a solution, it can’t become a pre-occupation. The end result is what people actually see, and it needs to be able to stand-up on its own, and do its job.

Q. If you were to cross over into a different design discipline - which would you be likely to choose? (i.e.: pottery, jewellery, lighting etc)

Martin - Graphic design can be quite wide ranging in itself, and I work across a lot of different disciplines already: print, web, digital, typography, motion graphics, illustration, exhibition design. I’ve recently been making what I call ‘audio doodles’, and I’m fairly happy with the direction they’ve taken. I think they are going to end up being the soundtrack for some portfolio videos.

Q. When do you feel at your most creative?

Martin - That’s something that’s really difficult to pin down. Sometimes I’ll be working on a job under challenging circumstances, maybe a really tight timeline, and out of it comes one of the best pieces of work I’ve ever done. Sometimes I might have a long period of time to work on a project and it feels like nothing is coming together, then all of a sudden something clicks, and things start to align.

Q. Why did you decide to launch your own practice (as opposed to working for a design agency?)

Martin - With my own studio I’m in charge of the direction the business goes in, and I have a degree of flexibility over my hours. I tend to work in the cultural sector a lot of the time, and that’s something I really enjoy. The client always gets to speak to me directly about the job, and that’s often how the best solutions come about. It’s led to me working on projects that I’m really proud to have been involved with.

Q. What extra challenges or surprises has this route given you?

Martin - I think the biggest surprise was that apart form the very beginning I’ve never really had to go out looking for clients. Things have just tended to pop-up based on word of mouth. If you do a good job for people, they tell their friends. But there have been lots of little challenges along the way. Not having colleagues to help check things over took a bit of getting used to, but it’s fine now.

Martin's design for the Scottish designer (who we also stock) Karen Mabon

Q. If you go to any location in the world to gain inspiration for a new design, where would you go and why?

Martin - Japan is an amazing place to visit. Aside from the aesthetics of the cities, the signage, and the other things that graphic designers always love – there is an amazing depth and breadth of culture in so many aspects of life. You can take a bullet train to go and see the Snow Monkeys, or head to Nara to and say hi to the scared deer that roam freely in the main park. You can stay in a hotel room with your own natural hot spring bath, or go to a restaurant at the top of a department store that has amazing dishes from different regions across the country.

 It’s an all round rich experience and I think that’s of huge benefit when you are trying to be creative. You pick up inspiration without even realising, by engaging your mind with different things. I tend not to look towards other designers or trends for inspiration when working on a project. The most counter-productive thing I can do when trying to design a logo, is look through a book of logos. If I’ve reached a sticky patch on a project, it’s far better for me to go and think about something totally different.

Q. What’s your favourite space to work in and why?

Martin - I like having different spaces to alternate between, the studio, my desk at home, the couch, the garden.

One of Martin's design for us at V&A Dundee 

Q. What do you dream about designing & creating?

Martin - I’ve been lucky to do lots of work that I’m proud of for various clients over the years. Recently I was asked to design a new logo for the reunion of The Delgados. They were one of my favourite bands when I was a teenager, so that could definitely be classified as a dream job. As for what the future holds, I’m happy to just wait and see!

Martin designed our Sincerely Valentines, Sunny Dundee collection which you can find here.

Martin wearing his T shirt
available to buy here

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