Paul Marcus Fuog and Uriah Gray (U-P) studio visit and interview

We paid a visit to Melbourne graphic design studio U-P and chatted to its founders, Paul Marcus Fuog and Uriah Gray.

Interview by Julian Hutton
Photography by Fraser Stanley 
Published June 2014


All photos were taken at U-P's studio in Fitzroy, Melbourne.

All images © Fraser Stanley 2014

What brought each of you to design as a career?

Both our journeys were quite similar (new discovery—thanks for the question).

Paul started out studying art, focusing on sculpture and drawing. At art school, he struggled to find something meaningful to say (a result of a lack of life experience, understanding and confidence, etc). He was introduced to graphic design and this made more sense to him. In a way, graphic design is about talking through someone else. At this point in his life he felt more comfortable with this kind of situation.

Uriah also started out studying visual arts, focusing on painting and printmaking. He was mentored by a designer—not a very good one, but a great thinker. This teacher had moved from art to design. He got in Uriah’s ear and advised him to do the same. 

How did you two first meet? 

Uriah applied for an internship. He flew into Melbourne on Friday, did the interview, started the job Monday. This was about four years ago.

Are you both originally from Melbourne?

Paul is. Uriah is from southwest Australia.

"We trust our intuition; not every decision needs to be backed up by rational thought."

You recently changed the name of your design studio to U-P. What made you decide to move on from the name Coöp?

The name reflects a closer partnership between us. The next step in our collaboration was to form a partnership. 

With Coöp, it felt like we were hiding behind a larger design business. It was a bit ambiguous. U-P feels honest and transparent, and hopefully this will reflect in the work. It reflects the creative union between us but also our optimistic and uplifting design approach.

Are there any changes to the way you will be approaching projects under your new identity?

We hope to take a more personal approach. With the new name, we feel a new energy. We feel more confident. The name reflects who we are. We expect this confidence and energy to come out in the work.

Can you tell us a bit about your approach to design?

Our output mediums are highly varied, taking a transdisciplinary approach. We work across many formats: photography, interiors, objects, video, text-based works. 

We are heavily invested in the research and concept. All projects have a strong research phase. After this, we like to let go and experiment and play to get to new places creatively. We trust our intuition; not every decision needs to be backed up by rational thought.

"A lot of the personal work we do celebrates chance... It is a reaction against uniformity, consistency, moving things one millimetre this way and that way. We like imperfections."

You both seem to have a strong appreciation for self-initiated projects. Do you think producing work for yourself, with perhaps a more artistic approach, is helpful for designers/studios?

Our personal work always feeds back into our studio work. Self-initiated projects are about personal growth and exploration—these are good gains. 

What we do in our commercial work is to give order, solve problems. In our art work we're not looking for an answer, we're not seeking order; more often than not we're creating disorder…

We do these projects out of curiosity. There is something great in open-ended studies. Our studio projects always close, so it is nice to remain open. For both of us, a lot of the personal work we do celebrates chance—relinquishing control, removing our hands from the process. In a way this is a reaction to our studio work. It is a reaction against uniformity, consistency, moving things one millimetre this way and that way. We like imperfections. Design can lose this when it becomes too machine-made.

Paul, you’ve talked previously about finding the unfamiliar through travel and collaborating with others. Are there any plans for travel and collaborative projects this year? 

I'm heading to New York in May to continue the collaborative work with Ben and Karim (partners in Field Experiments) and to exhibit the work from Field Experiments at New York Design Week’s offsite event. This will also coincide with the launch of the publication for Field Experiments.

Do your collaborations tend to happen organically or are they planned? 

They come about serendipitously for us. You need to have complete trust and friendship in your collaborators and be willing to relinquish ownership. You can't force them.

You've worked with Axel Peemoeller, who we interviewed in issue 02 of The Meander. Can you tell us about how you met and worked together?

Axel was over here studying. We met and hit it off. We shared a similar design approach and thinking. We also shared interests outside of design, so we were able to build a friendship and closeness. His work is crazy good—huge respect there.

"You need to have complete trust and friendship in your collaborators and be willing to relinquish ownership."

Australian Graphic Design Association Limited (AGDA) recently announced their plans to introduce professional certification for Australian graphic designers. What are your views on this?

We don’t really have any concrete thoughts on it. At first glance, it seems kind of old-fashioned and perhaps doesn’t support new forms of experimental design and adaptive practices. We thrive on not knowing what we are doing 50 percent of the time and believe that this is what keeps us energised and inspired, and allows us to get to new spaces creatively. We fear we wouldn't be certified for many of the projects we do.

Perhaps it’s a comfort thing. Yes, the whole thing is very comforting for a certain kind of designer and a certain kind of client…

Where do you see graphic design heading in the next few years?

The traditional notion of graphic design has evolved. It's a different landscape and conditions have changed. The most successful and innovative practices are doing things differently. They run adaptive studios—making products and projects, teaching, holding workshops, being curators. 

It has become less about mass production and more about mass communication. Studios are getting physically smaller and forming global partnerships. It is creatively exciting.

Whose work is inspiring you at the moment?

Jonathan Zawada seems to have hit a point where everything has aligned. He is swinging between disciplines confidently and his work has a new level of richness and purpose.