Maud: “Sometimes the smallest ideas are the most effective”

Published:  May 13, 2014
Bonnie Abbott

Sydney’s Maud are the most awarded design agency in Australia, with a shelf of D&AD pencils, awarded Specialist Agency of The Year by B&T, 11 trophies at the last AGDA Biennale, to name but a few. Yet the agency, who last year partnered up with The Monkeys, exists in a quiet, considered corner of design—carefully and industriously refining their projects . Their hushed success, they explain, is acknowledged in their adoption of Benjamin Franklin’s belief,  “Well done is better than well said.”

Can you tell us a brief history of Maud?

There’s a continuing but gradual shift in marketing and in business towards design thinking. Our studio was formed with this purpose in mind—to create provocative design thinking—and is based on the belief that good design comes from solving big problems. We have been frustrated in the past by an over emphasis by the marketing industry on ‘big ideas’ which too often stem from lazy and naïve thinking. There’s an emerging recognition that sometimes the smallest ideas are the most effective.

Maud’s identity for restaurant, Nomad, with a logo that “ref­er­ences the free-spirited nature of a Nomad with let­ters drift­ing from their ori­ginal place.”

What lead to the recent partnering with ad agency, The Monkeys? 

Maud and The Monkeys have a very similar ambition; we’re both independent creative businesses, we both reside in Sydney and we both put all our emphasis on the quality and effectiveness of the work. So it was a natural fit really, and it means we can tackle our client’s problems with a more holistic point of view.

What are your thoughts on design awards?

Awards in our industry are important to help raise the standard of creativity, however we’re conscious of not letting this ever become the focus of our attention or part of our motivation. D&AD has been a constant source for industry standards and creative development through out our careers and we enjoy a close relationship with this organisation. We also support AGDA as we feel it’s important to encourage the creative development of our local industry.

As much as possible, we focus on the work and allow it to speak for itself — there’s timeless recognition that “Well done is better than well said.” Thank you Benjamin Franklin.

Maud’s identity and label for Beechworth wine “Project 49″

Identity for Boabel, the screenwriting company of Belinda Now­ell. The logomark com­bines a styl­ised book with a cap­ital “B”.

What has been one of the most celebrated project you have completed?

Probably, a website we developed for Diageo. The brief started as standard point of sale campaign, however following some customer insight work we discovered that there was a real opportunity for Diageo to ‘demystify the art of cocktail making’ and take advantage of over a million cocktail searches online every month. The campaign is probably most celebrated for the infographic posters Maud developed as part of the launch, however we’re just as proud of the overall solution.

Maud’s Mixionary project, for Diego spirits.

What has been the most rewarding (for you) project you have completed? Is it the same as the project that was most celebrated?

Maud is in a fortunate position in that we’re not confined to traditional notions of the client/agency relationship, and the service model employed by most design companies. Our industry has been subjected to commoditisation and the expectation that our value can be measured in units of time. When the opportunity presents we prefer to take a stake in the success or failure of our design work. As one recent – soon to be released – example we’ve entered into an agreement with an ice cream manufacturer where Maud has been awarded an equity stake in the business in return for brand and product design. In this way, we also benefit from being engaged in more aspects of the business and can apply design thinking to more areas than just ‘design’.

How does the studio structure work now, with The Monkey’s team? How does a brief typically pass through the studio?

Our process starts with developing an understanding of our client’s business and where the problem or opportunity exists and then developing a brand strategy that informs a design solution. From here we determine whether we’re looking at graphic design, interior design, customer experience or digital. Our ideal project is one that involves an open minded client, a well defined problem and an applied design discipline that is fit for purpose.

The Monkeys/Maud annual client lunch invite – a tea towel that can be reused.

The message was straight up: “There’s no such thing as a free lunch – lets face it you’ve already paid.”

Maud projects are very carefully considered—subtle but recognisable, crafted but not fussy. How would you describe the ‘Maud’ approach?

With each and every project, our singular mission is to define how a company, product or service is perceived by the world so that they cut through and succeed. I’d like to think our design style is a reflection on this. Ultimately we don’t believe in a house style or aesthetic and aim to employ a diverse group of design thinkers specifically to avoid this.

What represents, to you, a job well done?

One that works.

Maud’s rebranding of Tony Ferguson’s diet products sought to reposition the brand to “empower people with the con­fid­ence and know­ledge to take con­trol of their rela­tion­ship with food.

What do you think of the Australian graduates that come to meet you? Do you take on interns?

We love them. We do take on interns, but only in certain circumstances when we have a specific project for them to work on and the space and time to mentor them correctly.

What could Australian design education do better? Or what could the student do for themselves?

Think about something other than design. Expand their horizons, support a thirst for broader experiences and knowledge and reinforce a more generalist approach to creativity. Diversity of experience means far more to us than academic achievement.

Maud’s identity for product designer Henry Wilson

Maud’s identity for product designer Henry Wilson

Maud will be appearing on stage at Semi-Permanent, 22-24 May 2014. They will be joined by product/industrial design Henry Wilson during their presentation.

Header image: Maud’s branding of Single Original Roasters. All photography via

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