EK Interview: Dowling Duncan

art blog - Dowling-Duncan - empty kingdom

Can you tell us about the choices on the currency redesign, first off, why did you choose Obama for the dollar bill? Why FDR on the hundred?

The size, format, imagery, colors, typography, everything is there for a reason. And everything is there to help make the bank notes more functional for people to use. We wanted to relate the imagery on each note to the denomination of the note. One Dollar therefore became the First African American President. The obvious solution for this would have been to keep George Washington but we wanted to do something different, to show modern American history.

What about the five, ten, twenty and fifty? How did you choose the content for each of your bills? Where did you get the idea for the bill redesign? Do you think changing currency would create a significant change in the social climate?

Continuing on from the one, the five shows the five biggest Native American Tribes. The ten is the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments of the constitution). The twenty celebrates 20th century American achievements. The fifty states. The hundred was the trickiest one. We needed to find an image that related to the denomination. Through our research we found out that the reason all presidents are judged on how well they are doing after their first 100 days in office was due to the first 100 days of President Franklin Roosevelt. During this time he led the congress to pass more important legislations than most presidents pass in their entire term.

What do you think of the new pennies? Have you seen them?

I have but I think the best new currency design recently was the British coins. When arranged together they create a heraldic shield. Brilliant idea, brilliantly executed.
art blog - Dowling | Duncan - Empty Kingdom

Do you think our currency will change in your lifetime? Would you like to see it change? What specifically would you want to see changed?

Unfortunately not, they’ll just keep tweaking it and ruining it as they have done recently. We’d love to see it change to something close to our design, could you imagine the politics involved though? It would be designed by a committee in the end I’m sure.
art blog - Dowling | Duncan - Empty Kingdom

Which of the offices Dowling | Duncan are you based out of, UK, SF or NY? How do you think your location effects your work?

I’m British and met John Dowling who runs the UK office when we worked together at Pentagram London. I work out of the SF and NY offices. I think the fact that I was taught design in the UK and worked at Pentagram in London; makes our work unique and stand out in the US. It is very clean and considered. The most important thing for us is to solve a clients problem without approaching the work with a preconceived notion of what is should look like. Witt and a clever, intelligent idea is always at the forefront of our thinking and process.
art blog - Dowling | Duncan - Empty Kingdom

When did Dowling | Duncan form? What perpetuated it’s formation?

Dowling | Duncan formed on April 6, 2010 so we are 1 year old. As I said John Dowling and I met at Pentagram Design in London over 10 years ago. We always said we wanted to work together, however he went on to work at Frost Design and then set up his own studio and I went onto work at Pentagram design in San Francisco, Apple, and then set up my own studio. We always kept in touch and shared ideas. In the end it seemed to make sense to set up a studio together but in different locations, pooling the resources of all offices.

There’s a lot that can be said for the benefit of the collaborative process, can you tell about the pros and cons of working with a group of people rather than by yourself?

I don’t think there are any cons of working together. Design to me has always been a collaborative process. I don’t like working on my own, John and I continually bounce ideas off one another. My designers and I often sit down and brainstorm together, copywriters will have ideas that we haven’t thought of and will spark new concepts. There’s no secrets here. Everyone is able to see what is going on all the time and input and collaboration is always welcome. I certainly don’t have all of the ideas, every project is a team effort.
art blog - Dowling | Duncan - Empty Kingdom

Can you tell us about your creative process? Where do you get ideas? How do you take an idea and put it to paper? How do you decide it’s worth pursuing? How do you know when you’re finished?

When we start working with a new client we meet with them, find out their personality, see their environment and talk to them about their problem. Many times clients will have a problem and talk to me for half an hour and many times I don’t understand a word they’ve said. So I like them to explain it to me again in the simplest possible way, almost as if I’m a child. That way I can come up with an idea or concept that everyone will get.

We’ll then sit down as a team, brainstorm and live with it for a while. Sometimes ideas come to you in the first meeting. Many times the idea will come to me when I’m not thinking about it, walking to work, going to get a coffee. Whatever the idea is it has to make sense. Everything has to be there for a reason. John Rushworth, the partner I worked for in Pentagram always used to tell me to look for the ‘gift’. You know when you’ve found it as it becomes so obvious that it’s the right solution for so many reasons.

However design isn’t a one way conversation. Its a continual collaboration between the designer and the client. The client always knows their business better and it’s important to listen to their feedback and integrate it into the process.
art blog - Dowling | Duncan - Empty Kingdom

What do you have planned next in terms of projects? Shows? Series? What can we expect next from Dowling | Duncan?

We are going to update our online gallery www.youshow-off.com where we continually look for artists, photographers and illustrators to help promote their work. The New York office is relatively new so we are looking to expand there and work with more clients on the East Coast. Generally we’re going to go into our second year looking to work with fun new clients and produce a lot more memorable, fun and creative new work!

art blog - Dowling | Duncan - Empty Kingdom