I often vacillate between the desire to be one of two different types of designers: the specialist, who always focuses on projects within a specific discipline, or the generalist, who has an overarching design philosophy and aesthetic that permeates all projects across various disciplines. I think I prefer generalist, because that’s part of the fun of being a designer — you don’t have to commit to just one creative mode. For Martha McQuade and Dan Clark, the latter approach is a way of life for them, and is the approach they take with MAD, their exciting multi-disciplinary design practice.
Both Martha and Dan are trained architects and have been writing, teaching and collaborating together for the past decade. It was only in 2014 that they established MAD, a studio working within the realms of art direction, styling, graphic design, architecture, textile and product design. They work out of an airy, white-washed studio space in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Their studio, a diamond in the rough, is located in a quiet, industrial pocket of the city. Like many good things in life, they originally found it on Craigslist (it was one of those posts where the dark, blurry photos of the space were so bad that it was doubtful anyone was giving the ad a second look). Martha and Dan decided to pay a visit, however, and instantly saw the potential in both its inherent seclusion and spaciousness. It was not yet the airy, minimalist dream studio you see in today’s feature; in addition to painting it white from top to bottom, they had three 21 foot long work tables custom built for the space, enabling them to spread out and assemble vast quantities of work with ease. “We constantly move things around on them, changing relationships between things we are working on,” Dan says. “This helps us make connections between projects, often leading to new ideas and approaches. We think of the studio itself as an ongoing project. We reorganize it often and use it for staging/styling and photo shoots as well as a place to work.”
In terms of process, Martha and Dan are very interested in materiality and the act of making physical objects. They prefer to step away from the computer and work with actual forms and textures, make 3-D models and play with physical prototypes. It was originally a side interest in concrete, and subsequent experimentation, that led to their beautiful concrete slabs. They draw on a wide range of artistic influences; recently it’s been Ellsworth Kelly and Michael Cusack, but more frequently it’s Richard Serra, Agnes Martin and Donald Judd. “We have taken students to see Judd’s work in Marfa, TX and often think about the way he organizes space in his buildings.” It’s apparent that the space they work in informs the work they create. Their studio is a perfect starting point for ongoing experimentation, giving way to innovative ideas in a variety of creative areas that set MAD apart within the design world. –Shannon