In Design: Young graphic design & animation studio

In the first of a new series looking at great design in the North, we speak to Young, a graphic design studio focusing on animation.

Feature by Lauren Strain | 06 Jul 2016

Making fun, colourful animation work with a belief in simplicity, Young are Pete Jarvis and Geth Vaughan, who met at Salford University while studying graphic design. “We both had bad hair cuts and liked The Beatles – so became fast friends.”

After graduating, they pursued separate careers, Jarvis moving to London to design album covers and Vaughan working at an ad agency in Manchester. But “a year into working for other people we got tired of having no control over the type of work we were doing” – and so Young was born.

They've since worked on material for brands including Channel 4, Lego, Tate and Manchester's Royal Exchange, all the while producing their own independent projects to showcase their ideas.

We asked them about their story.

The Skinny: How did you personally get into art/design and animation? 
Geth: Initially, I wanted to study music at university, but my mother kind of forced me to study graphic design as she thought I’d have a better chance of finding work at the end of it (or maybe she thought I was a terrible musician). It was probably a good call…

Pete: Similarly, I wanted to be in a famous band… I had it all planned out: I would do Art at A Level, then Graphic Design, then get a job doing album covers, then my album covers would be so good a band would want me to join them. Fell at the last hurdle.

Where do you find inspiration? 
We’re mostly inspired by ‘graphic designers’ or ‘image makers’ rather than other ‘film directors’. We love things that distill complex messages into simple, instant imagery. Things that cut through the clutter… We try to do this with our animations. Undoubtedly, childhood nostalgia also creeps into our work – whether it be bright, happy colours, naive characters or Magic Roundabout-style worlds…

[The Pretty Random Life of Robert Baden-Powell from Young on Vimeo.]

You work across a number of practices including stop motion, digital etc. Do you have a preferred style?
No. We’d class Young as a graphic design studio that just happens to focus on film. For us, it’s all about the idea, and we then try to marry this with a style that fits the concept. For instance, with the Scouts project [above], we wanted to convey their ethos of ‘all walks of life coming together’, so a mixed-media approach made the most sense to us.

You've done a lot of research on a huge range of topics for your projects. What's the weirdest / most surprising thing you've learned? 
Writing the Scouts film involved about two weeks of hard reading. Their founder (Robert Baden Powell) had written a ton of books and was also widely written about. They came to us, asking if we could do something similar to our I Didn’t Know That films (but for all the facts to be true) about their founder. Luckily, the guy was pretty weird – and there was a load of stuff to work from. 

Unfortunately, some [facts] got rejected by the Scouts, like: After marrying his wife, he slept on their balcony (rain or shine) for the rest of his life as he claimed being in the same bedroom as her gave him insufferable migraines.

[I Didn't Know That - Episode 1 (Elton John) from Young on Vimeo.]

What has been the highlight of your career so far? 

Geth: Signing with BlinkInk was a pretty good one. For the last two years we’ve been on BlinkInk’s roster, and have worked on some pretty cool stuff (TFL campaigns and some TV commercials). Being on a roster with so many great directors keeps you on your toes!

Pete: I think just generally keeping it together in the first year was an achievement… surviving on mainly alcohol.

Which other studios' work do you admire? 
Buck is a pretty large outfit based in America. Their work covers many disciplines and is always great.

Johnny Kelly is a UK animation director. His work is really well thought out and he uses some cool techniques.

Who else working out of Manchester do you like? 
The illustrator Rob Bailey’s work is pretty special. He manages to find the simplest way of illustrating things (using geometric shapes) and his compositions are super clean.

[KISS CHASE from Young on Vimeo.]

In your early days, you became internet famous with your Learn Something Every Day project. Did you imagine it would be as successful as it was? What effect did it have on your career as a studio? 

Learn Something Every Day! We’ve not spoken about that one for a while (which is nice!).

After forming Young, we quickly realised that we had no clients and knew no one... We were skint. We needed to get our name out there and for free. We came up with the idea of doodling one fact a day and posting it up on a website and tweeting about it. The doodles were deliberately simple, so that we could make one relatively quickly. Within a couple of weeks the website was receiving about 10,000 hits a day and our Twitter followers grew quite rapidly. 

It got made into a Penguin book, greetings cards, calendars, an iPhone app, T-shirts and was a daily cartoon in a national Dutch newspaper (probably forgetting other tat that was made)… As you can tell, we completely sold out!

The project got our name out there. We were featured in magazines, blogs, won a few industry awards and were asked to do some ‘talks’. A year or so in, we started resenting being associated with the project as we didn’t feel that it represented our artistic abilities and it was all anyone wanted to talk to us about – we felt like Hanson! We decided to pull the plug on the project on its 2nd birthday. 

If you had to choose one, what is your favourite fact from this project? 

Geth: Astronauts can’t cry in space. If Tim Peake’s wife wanted a divorce, telling him while he was in space would have been the perfect opportunity…

Pete: I like the most ironic ones – for instance, there's a prison in Uruguay called ‘Freedom’...

The I Didn’t Know That video series is kind of a sarcastic take on Learn Something Every Day… We created these films for similar reasons – to get our name out there as we’d recently re-focussed the studio solely on animation work.

[I Didn't Know That about Kate Middleton from Young on Vimeo.]

You've worked with lots of big clients but still manage to produce your own independent projects. Is it hard to find the time for your self-initiated work? Why is this work important? 

The hardest thing about doing your own projects, especially animation as it takes so long, is the stopping and starting. You might be running at a good pace on your own project, but then client work comes in and drags you away for a couple of months – then going back never feels the same… you have to re-find the momentum.

We don’t do cold calling, so creating our own projects is our way of trying to get in people’s faces. These projects also let us experiment with new ideas/techniques, which tend to dictate the type of projects that next come through the door.

Who would be your dream client/collaboration? 
We’ve always been interested in creating movie credits. Saul Bass was one of the people that pioneered the art, and his work is still timeless. His use of visual metaphors and allowing that to dictate the style/treatment is genius.

And finally: what is your advice for budding animators who want to get into the industry?
Working on your own projects (whenever you can) has always worked well for us. This is where you can show people what you’re interested in doing and further develop your skills. The final result will probably end up being one of your best works because your heart is in it, and with luck it’ll lead on to commissions that are after something similar for their project.