In Design: Saul studio

Feature by The Skinny North | 02 Mar 2017

As part of our series looking at great design in the North, Dan Saul Pilgrim of Leeds-based Saul studio tells us about the local scene, his new projects, and inspirations ranging from the Human League to Frida Kahlo

You might recognise the name Dan Saul Pilgrim: we spoke to him on the publication of his book COFFEE SHOP: NORTH, where he worked with photographer Justin Slee to capture the variety and quality of the North's thriving coffee scene. The beautifully produced anthology launched at Leeds' Colours May Vary bookstore, and has found readers as far away as Japan. 

Under the name Saul studio, Dan operates his own design practice specialising in typography and favouring a minimal look. Running the studio solo but keen on collaboration, he has worked on projects including an identity for Colours May Vary, an infographic for Sheffield coffee shop Marmadukes and a book promoting Leeds City Region as 'the engine room of British art and sculpture'.

The Skinny: How did you personally get into art / design?

Dan Saul Pilgrim: I think there are many reasons. I've studied art and graphic design throughout education. My mum has a great sense for art and design and in my family home I was surrounded by works by Gustav Klimt and Frida Kahlo, for example. I’m originally from South Yorkshire and Sheffield in particular has an eclectic music history (Heaven 17, Jarvis Cocker, the Human League, Richard Hawley, Arctic Monkeys). These don’t necessarily have a direct link to my work today but being exposed to these helped me appreciate art and design. And, I play video games a lot and their visuals subliminally affect my work.

@justinslee took some great images of my space today. Thank you.

A post shared by Dan Saul Pilgrim (@dansaul) on

What drew you to typography in particular?

As a child, I was fascinated by handwriting and I would collect signatures of relatives. This developed into an interest into calligraphy and subsequently digital typefaces. A typeface speaks volumes and can transform a piece of uninspiring work into something totally inspired. A project can be led by its typeface.

We last spoke to you about your book, COFFEE SHOP: NORTH, which chronicles the North's best independent coffee shops. How was the book received, and what adventures has it taken you on?

COFFEE SHOP: NORTH has been received positively and I hope in time it will be looked at with even more affection. Its audience is niche so it was surprising to see it gain recognition in stores overseas, especially in Tokyo. The book is limited edition and there are roughly 30 copies left so if you want one now’s your chance to grab one while you can!

Do you have any plans for a follow-up, or a book on a different theme?

I’m always thinking of its successor and there are many directions you could take the concept. The title contains a colon, so the obvious sequel would be ‘SOUTH’ but it’s having the resources to do this. In essence, COFFEE SHOP: NORTH is not just a book but a brand and I think that’s a good way to think about it when going forward.

"It’s the physicality that makes a book; it stimulates all the senses..."

You have a keen interest in books and book making. Can you tell us a little bit about this process – what makes it different, and what makes it satisfying?

I love books, magazines and all printed matter. You hear this a lot but it’s the physicality that makes a book; it stimulates all the senses and that is something digital work cannot always achieve. As a graphic designer, it’s my job to choose its size, format, stock, colour, typeface and more, and then communicate that with the printer in order to achieve the intended outcome.

You've worked with a variety of clients, from high street businesses to food and drink outlets, and arts organisations. What draws you to the people you work with?

I like working with people and businesses I admire or whose services I use myself. If there’s a mutual appreciation then you are off to a good start. Similarly, I collaborate with like-minded people or whose end-goal is similar. I like using Instagram to connect with others too. For example, fashion photographer partnership Tatham+Renshaw messaged me late last year – we both liked and followed each other’s work. We then went on to self-direct a fashion photo essay entitled SALVATION. And sometimes I work with friends. The Hubbards are an indie-pop band from Hull and I’ve worked with them since meeting Reuben Driver (vocalist) at university.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

My studio is young but I think working with photographer Justin Slee on COFFEE SHOP: NORTH is a definite highlight. As director for the project, from concept, funding, design, production, promotion and distribution, it was my ‘baby’ for most of 2016 and a hands-on experience in self-publishing.

And what's been your biggest challenge as an independent studio?

There are a lot of graphic designers and design studios in Leeds alone. Finding a niche can be tough. What can I provide that others might not? As I run solo I am able to provide a personable yet professional service. I embrace a pared-back aesthetic that is centred around expressive choices in colour, typeface and material, and it is a central aim to find a balance between the commercial and the contemporary in my work. 

It’s these values which I believe to be integral to a client choosing me over another. And because I have an interest and am clued-up on my client’s work or business, I am sympathetic towards their audience which helps when creating a visual identity, for example.

Which other studios' work do you admire?

My favourite designers and studios are: A Practice for Everyday Life, Fraser Muggeridge studio, Zak Group, OK-RM, Joe Gilmore, Rory McCartney, Luis Venegas, Sara de Bondt studio, Bruce Usher, SB Studio, Helios Capdevila, Shaz Madani, David Rudnick and Brian Roettinger.

Who else working out of Leeds do you like?

I really like work by Only, but a big shout out to all designers in Leeds.

Do you feel part of a design community in Leeds / Yorkshire / the North? How would you describe the scene?

The creative and cultural scene in Leeds and further afield is vast and varied. Not just for my sake but for others in northern England, I hope more businesses look to locals to work with instead of turning to London.

I always make time to meet new designers, photographers, illustrators, artists, filmmakers, etc. Recently, I have met furniture designer Matt Kelly, photographers Thomas Wood and Portia Hunt, and others. It’s also hard not to mention bookshop and show-space Colours May Vary when talking about the design scene in Leeds. And, we’re surrounded by three of my favourite sculpture displays in The Hepworth Wakefield, the Henry Moore Institute and Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Can you tell us what you're working on currently?

I am working on the identity for a new members-only dining and social experience (King Street Social), and a letting agency in Leeds. I’m also preparing to give talks at the university and Leeds College of Art about setting up a studio and publishing a book.

Who would be your dream client / collaboration?

Probably Duran Duran. Don't ask.

And finally – what is your advice for budding designers who want to get into the industry?

Typographic designer Fraser Muggeridge once said to me: put yourself out there, have the right attitude, approach the right people and find your position. I live by that and reiterate it.