A successful design story

5 July 2009
Published in Attualità, Society
by Giovanni Biglino

in-the-reading-corner-martin-and-frederik1Spoiled Milk is certainly a name that sticks with you. It is quirky, curious, and it is associated with a design company based in Copenhagen and Zürich, two cities that lately have been topping the quality of life charts and have certainly built a reputation in the design and contemporary art field. An example of a successful enterprise founded by two young creative talents and now counting a staff of eleven, whose activities range from designing music records’ covers to online graphics, from branding to the conception of a limited-edition book that will collect experiences of young people living in different parts of the world, the Being Abroad project. Russell Quinn, founder and technical director, tells us more about Spoiled Milk. 

How did your project start?
Spoiled Milk was founded by Casper Hübertz Jørgensen and myself in Bristol, UK back in 2004. The name was a quickly conceived title for some art projects that we were working on in our spare time. We made some short films, designed some artwork for local bands and started creating an (ill-fated) online badge shop. Casper was in the UK for a one-year design course and was due to head back to Denmark in the summer of 2005. I decided to leave my job and go with him so we could continue working together. Four years later we are a fully-fledged web and design company with offices in two countries. 

spoiledmilklogowhiteWhy the name Spoiled Milk?
If the criteria for a good brand name is how many times one is asked this question, then we hit a gold mine! I wish we had a more Earth-shattering answer though, but actually there is no rational reason. We were playing around with words and the idea of milk conjured up a lot of visual imagery in our minds – our first website had grass, cows and a loveable milk carton named Louis. We decided to use the more American sounding spelling of the phrase, maybe to sound more exotic, I can’t remember. It’s a name that sticks in people’s mind and that’s a good thing. 

Your offices are based in two of the most liveable cities in the world, Copenhagen and Zürich. How are they in terms of opening a new business?
Yes, this is a strange phenomenon. I chose to move to Copenhagen after a chance meeting with a Dane in Bristol, UK. Then I relocated to Zürich in 2008 because my girlfriend, Lucy, was to start a PhD there. Neither move was based on market-forces or client necessity, but they have both worked out very successfully. Monocle Magazine named Copenhagen as their “Most Liveable City of 2008″. They announced their results for 2009 last month and we discovered that Zürich has now stolen the top spot, pushing the Danish capital down into second place. I can only concur that the tipping point in this decision was my move! 

What are other creative hubs in your view?
There are the obvious European ones: London and Berlin – although I wouldn’t like to establish a business in either. London is a tough environment where at times every idea seems to have already been taken, and Berlin has no money combined with creatives from across the continent willing to work for very little. Both are great for inspirational trips though. In general, I think the concept of creative hubs are only important in the minds of clients. Having a company presence in a hip place still adds a lot of credibility. However, there is no real correlation to where the talented people live. Spoiled Milk works extensively with web-based collaboration tools and despite having two physical offices, we aim for an ‘open laptop’ ethos (the idea that any employee should be able to open a laptop in a café and just work). Because of this we are able to work with great people from across the world. The real creative hub is the internet. 

Has the current economic crisis affected your activity?  Or is this precisely a time when fresh and creative ideas are needed?
We have definitely seen surprising fluctuations in demand for our services. Some parts have fallen away and others are booming. We have always promoted the idea of lightweight, agile solutions. We want to rid the world of ugly, complicated, overbearing enterprise systems and make people’s lives friction-free with simple, functional software and design. In good economic times, it’s hard to convince an organisation that they should ditch that expensive, Microsoft-based network or consider switching from traditional, proven advertising. As soon as people need to cut budgets they start considering all the things we believe in. 

spoiled-milk-zurich-officeCan you tell us about your work in the music field?
The music industry was where most of Spoiled Milk’s early work was based. We started by designing record covers and were soon getting featured in design magazines and books across the world (see: http://www.russellquinn.com/record-covers/). We then moved into band websites and identities and even directed a full music video. As the company has grown and stabilised we are doing less of this sort of work, although we have just completed a website for Stress, one of the biggest rappers in Switzerland. 

What about the Being Abroad project?
Being Abroad is a project aiming to publish a collection of personal stories about relocating to a foreign country. It has a long and variable history starting in 2005 when my girlfriend and I decided to set up a website asking people to send us in their writing. We wanted to make something that touched on how people feel when they spend at least a month in another county. We weren’t interested in travel guides, but how people’s views on their own lives and culture were changed. After this initial stage we then sent out 10 sketchbooks around the world to 100 people, asking them to write, draw or stick-in their entries. We lost a few on the way and realised what time-consuming logistics something like this involves, but eventually most of them made their way home. From this point onwards things have become a little stagnated. Lucy and I have both moved again and are consequently learning even more about the concept of ‘being abroad’. We have selected the final pieces to appear in the book and have completed the first stage of proof-reading and editing. Hopefully the project will reach its conclusion at some point this year and we can finally make the books available for people. 

Design today – is it about the technology or a well-crafted product or both?
As a computer scientist myself (I spent five years writing compilers and debuggers for a division of Sony) there is no doubt that technology is the biggest enabler of modern times. Every day brings along new wonders in how people can communicate and use technology to enhance their lives and understanding of the world. We want to take these cutting edge ideas and put them into practise for our clients. However, we also believe that without good design to create a practical and emotional user experience, the underlying technology is essentially worthless. We definitely strive to hit the sweet point between art and science.

Where do you find new inspiration for your work?
A mixture of carefully selected internet feeds, combined with debates with colleagues and friends. The internet offers all the visual stimulus a person could ever require, but it’s not until I discuss and dissect these ideas with other people that I can make sense of how to use them in the real world.

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