Adelaide’s Mash is the toast of Australia’s graphic design community cleaning up at the recent Australian Graphic Design Association (AGDA) Biennale with 23 awards, as well as a Judge’s Choice for their 2012 Adelaide Festival design.
The brainchild of owners and directors James Brown and Dom Roberts, Mash’s journey to becoming a leading design agency began in 2001 when the designers were freelancers fresh out of uni.
“James just came to my house with his iMac, straight out of the boot of his car, to save himself sitting in a room by himself going stir crazy,” Roberts remembers. “We were doing a couple of little jobs together and it basically started from there. James and I studied together and were a little bit competitive. We both liked each other’s stuff: ‘Damn, look at James’ stuff it looks awesome... bastard’.”
One of the first major jobs Mash scored was for hair product evo. Now an established hip high-end hair and beauty product, evo was in need of a rebranding after failing the market with a commercial approach. Brown and Roberts were advanced individually to do the project.
“We’ve been doing evo since day dot,” Roberts says. “That was quiet daunting, we were just out of uni and we both worked out we’d been approached to do the same thing. We decided to pitch to them together as we knew each other and had worked together. They already had done something, there was something in the market but it wasn’t working. It was very run of the mill. It just got lost in the sea of thousands of other competitors. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t working. We came on and did some stuff and it was quiet for a year or two. They came back and said, ‘We’re ready to put everything into practice’. We’re fussy designers and said, ‘No, no, no, that’s gone. That’s two years old, we need to do something new.’”
Mash still works with evo recently completing their new campaign. Since those humble beginnings Mash has become the design heartbeat of cool Adelaide with their graphics and ideas adorning our city and state’s bars, wine labels, album covers, interiors and cultural festivals. “We just do what we love and do what we think looks great and is going to work for our clients to make their business a success,” a humble Roberts says. “That’s where we come from.”
Currently home to eight employees, Mash is more than just a cutting edge Adelaide agency; it is one of the finest in the country, which is backed by their AGDA success. After taking home 21 awards in 2010 and eight in 2008 (which included the illustrious Pinnacle Award), Mash won the most awards of any Australian design agency in 2012 with 23 gongs. This success was punctuated by the Adelaide Festival design – which rebranded the cultural festival icon as a fashionable and edgy event without rejecting the Festival’s class – that ultimately won a Judge’s Choice.
The iconic Festival rebranding led Mash to become the first company to complete consecutive festivals, as they were responsible for 2013’s design. But the 2012 design is still the one that shines as it opened the Festival to a new audience with its Peter Saville/Factory Records edge.
“We did lots of concepts,” Roberts explains about the 2012 design. “We had photographic and conceptual ideas that we talked about but in the end it was decided on something more graphic based. We did a whole bunch of colour studies, we painted and had a ball freezing blocks of water and milk with food colouring in it. We watched it melt, took photos and just went to town with it. Finally we did this painting, which just featured parts dripping, and something in that was nice. We put this angle in it and it was a nice balance where you weren’t sure if it was computer generated or if it was done by hand. It was like a photo that looked like a painting.”
Then there’s the wine labeling. Mash has reinvigorated wine labels in this state with their eclectic, eye-catching designs for both the boutique and commercial markets. Their wine designs were showcased at San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art and curiously it was American distributors who sent them on their wine path.
“They found out about us, and two in particular, were just pushing stuff our way saying, ‘We’ve just been to Australia we love these guys’ wine but hate their packaging. We told them if they want to sell to the US through us they will have to change it. Expect a phone call.’ That happened a lot.”
Some of Mash’s finest work was for Alpha Box & Dice, and they did more than just design the McLaren Vale winery’s labels, curating the interior to their cellar door. “It’s basically just a tin shed. The budget wasn’t massive but we wanted to be involved with it. We curated the whole place, created some hand painted signs, collected pieces and it worked really well.”
Mash also has a creative stream, LAW, which stands for the Laboratorium of Art for Wonder.
“It’s basically non-client work. We’ve done a few things; food photo shoots, we made some plates and gave them out to our clients, all hand created. We worked with an artist called Gerry Wedd, who did a lot of Mambo stuff back in the day. He lives in Pt Elliott and James did a lot of stuff with him. There might be an exhibition one day but no immediate plans as we’re too busy with frickin’ client work. We don’t have time.”