By Creative Review

We speak to Manchester School of Art graduate Michael Curia, whose portfolio includes some impressive print design, custom type and a beautiful series of photo books.

After touring this year’s degree shows, we’re profiling a series of graduates who we feel have produced outstanding creative work. Here, we speak to Michael Curia, who studied graphic design at Manchester and has undertaken placements at The Northern Block type foundry and Studio Fernando Gutiérrez. Curia enjoys using traditional printing techniques and experimenting with typography, and recently co-founded artist book publishing project Launch Press with fellow graduate Dominique Fletcher.

When did you first become interested in a career in design, and what was it that sparked your interest?

My interest in design came about from an early age. In my art classes at school, I had a natural tendency to play with type and image (not very well at this point I might add). I was also really into collecting things like magazines, stickers, trading cards and figurines. In some ways, this obsession with collecting and then organising ‘stuff’ sparked an interest in creating order. It wasn’t till my foundation course that I realised the graphic design discipline could give me the freedom to explore and experiment with my ideas visually.

How would you describe your work?

I would describe my work as concept driven and honest. I strive to consider every element in a very analytical manner. I believe in creating an experience within my work, displaying a sensibility to the core idea. By allowing the concept to determine the choices I make along the way, I feel that my work stays true to these principles. …I aim to steer clear of superfluous elements or current trends, as I feel that these things can often cloud original thought.

Curia’s personal branding

Are there any creatives or designers that have been a creative influence or particular source of inspiration to you?

All of my tutors at university have had a huge influence on me. Of course, they each had different opinions on projects (I swear they did this on purpose), but I think it is beneficial to have such a variety of creative interests as tutors. They also did a great job in giving us the chance to meet some really inspiring creatives through lectures, workshops, portfolio reviews and studio visits. To name a few, I would say that the conversations I had with Ian Anderson, Craig Oldham, Eike Konig and Fernando Gutiérrez have really put things into perspective. By being in Manchester, I have also been exposed to designers and studios around the world through events such as ‘Design Manchester’ and Dave Sedgwick’s ‘BCNMCR’. I think it is important to take bits of advice from all design methodologies, in order to form your own judgement.

Currywurst, a risoprint zine documenting an MMU trip to Berlin, using Lost Type Co-op’s Atreyu. “The inspiration for the publication itself was based on the posters and artwork that was around Berlin at the time we visited,” says Curia. “I had never seen blackletter typography used quite as extensively in any other city! The colour-scheme was also inspired by these fluorescent posters against the grey of urban Berlin.”

How was studying at Manchester, and what were the most important things you learned there?

Studying at Manchester School of Art was the best decision I have ever made. I was lucky to be part of an amazing year group, who pushed each other to become individuals within design. I think that was an important lesson on the course; to not worry about what other people are doing and just go on your own path. Very early on, we learnt that the strength of our portfolios were 50% down to the work and 50% on our personalities. I saw this as a chance to create work that has my own interests at heart, so that someone viewing my work can get a sense of what I am about.

Another important lesson I learnt was to worry less about marks, and just get on with things and make stuff. I realised this in my second year, but when you stop doing things to get marks and start experimenting (even without knowing the end result), you allow more time for self-discovery and in turn the marks will take care of themselves. For me, figuring out your own methodology is more important than the grade.

The Black Line, a photobook produced by launch press featuring imagery by Joseph Briggs-Price and designed by Curia and Dominique Fletcher. Briggs-Price’s work is currently appearing on digital screens around the UK as part of our Talent Spotting project with JC Decaux

A lot of your work is print-based, using handcrafted or traditional techniques – is this a conscious decision, and something you’d like to continue?

I would say that my decision to create print-based work was born out of my enjoyment for the process. I feel that university is the perfect time to experiment and push the boundaries of the traditional techniques. Personally, I need the interaction with the physical elements of design in order to further my ideas. It is definitely something I aim to continue. That’s not to say I am anti-digital, I think that good design thinking can be transferable across many platforms.

Typography is also a huge passion of mine. Within my work, I have learnt to trust a sound typographic judgement without over-designing. I try to look for rules within a concept, so that I can apply this thinking to the type treatment. This is how the ‘Insert Title’ custom font came about

[pictured below]. All the artwork in this show was responding to the gallery space, which was positioned around the iconic staircases of the Manchester School of Art Benzie Building. I decided to create the branding in the same manner as the artists, but from a typographer’s perspective. I used the angles on the facade of the staircase to create the typeface. These specific angles then became the rules that were applied to the layout of the poster, banner and fold-out flyer. Each element was positioned on an angle, which sounds quite restrictive, but I think creating these restrictions can give originality to the client.

Custom type for Insert Title exhibition

Could you tell me how the idea for Launch Press came about?

The idea for Launch Press came about naturally between Dominique Fletcher and I. We both shared the same beliefs in putting the concept first within design. It was also born out of a passion for handcrafted and experimental techniques.

The aim for the venture was to bridge the gap between mainstream publishing and artists’ books. We felt as though many magazines were concerning themselves with style over substance, sometimes overlooking ideas from creatives that could be communicated in a much more engaging manner. On the other side, with artists’ books, we could sense a detachment from the reader to the actual artist. We believe that through design thinking, we can publish the work of like-minded creatives by digging deeper within the ideas behind their work. The idea becomes the ‘object’ itself.

The Pale Wall, a Launch Press photo book featuring work by Gideon Vass. Designed by Curia and Dominique Fletcher

Are you working on anything at the moment?

I have just finished an intense week of workshops and lectures at the Open Set Graphic Design Summer School in Rotterdam. It was a thought provoking week, based around the theme of designing experiences (moment – stage – memory). Each workshop was very open, and pushed us to create the experiences in a short amount of time. From ‘creating a 10 minute incident within a gallery space’ to ‘rethinking the design of the ceiling of Rotterdam’s Market Hall’, each task presented itself with new challenges and opened up a discourse around the theme. I definitely learnt a lot about myself at the school, and enjoyed being around students from different cultures

The Blue Epoch, inspired by the work of Yves Klein

Handmade letterpress book inspired by HG Wells novel, The Invsible Man


And what are your plans for the future?

Since finishing university, I have had a busy yet reflective period, whilst interning at a few studios and being at summer school. It is interesting to experience different ways of working, I enjoy the fast-paced environment. My plans for the future are to keep working with inspiring people, and eventually settle into a studio where I can make a difference. In terms of the type of work that I’d like to go into; I would like to continue creating visual systems within editorial, identity and exhibition design.

Alongside this, I will bring all these experiences into Launch Press. Dominique and I will be starting to make our third book in the near future. We hope to expand our thinking into an exhibition for the release of the book. I am also interested in studying a Masters degree at some point, to further my contextual practice and expand upon my research within the areas of design I have mentioned. I guess my current plans are pretty open… but I’m going to roll with it, keep working hard, and see what happens!

A set of posters for Manchester Public Library promoting public transport in the city

Read more here:: Gradwatch: Michael Curia