Mike and Katie are TADO, the UK based duo whose darkly adorable characters have taken the design and vinyl worlds by storm. Only a few years out of university, the pair has already parented a unique aesthetic — one that everybody loves, young designers emulate, and clients the world over hope to associate with. This sort of acceptance has made Mike and Katie a busy pair, so it's a good thing that drawing monster mushrooms and pirate marshmallows is something they're rather adept at. Of course, it's an even better thing that it's also something they just happen to love, because from the looks of it, slowing down isn't much of an option.
JoshSpear.com: Everything TADO works on — including emails, it seems — is given the signature of “Mike and Katie.” Is everything that the two of you do really such an even collaboration, or do each of you specialize in certain areas?
TADO: Yes! Pretty much everything is done 50/50 -"“ it's really quite odd. We’ve barely spent a day apart since we first met so we guess we’ve slowly become one 2 headed creature. These days, we draw pretty much identically (although Mike presses harder and ruins the pens), and share all the work. One of the things that is important to us is that each piece of work has input from the both of us — we often pass files back and forth and bicker about what works best.
JS: You seem to be in the favored situation of having a desired aesthetic, i.e., clients hire you for your style as opposed to wanting you to simply create one for them. How did you get here?
TADO: We count ourselves as being extremely lucky to be able to do what we do for a living. It certainly means that we have a great variety of projects and that there's always something new to try. We always wanted the business to be run in this way — it was very important to us to develop and maintain a unique style. We think it would be pretty impossible for us to do anything in a completely different style — rather than our style being a conscious decision, it's something that has developed over time and reflects the way we draw and see the world! We think it's a lot harder to establish yourself this way — and you have to know where to target your work — but we think its extremely rewarding.
JS: Hypothetically, the world in which your characters live would be like…?
TADO: It would probably be just like ours really! Except that everything would talk. …And the grass could be any colour you wanted.
JS: Your client list is becoming fairly global – how are you managing so many and such large projects when it’s just the two of you?
TADO: That's simple. We don't do anything else! We really enjoy our work and have pretty much always worked 7 days a week — we don't really have much time off!
We’ve been very fortunate to have had some great projects and clients recently — its brilliant to be able to work for people all over the place from our wee home in Sheffield. We manage time as best we can; things can be very unpredictable for us as jobs tend to come in overnight with very short deadlines, etc. These past few months have been particularly busy for us — one day we might employ some elves to help out!
JS: You have, uh, quite the toy collection. What are some of your favorite toys, and what toys to come are you most looking forward to?
TADO: We’ve been collecting for as long as we’ve known each other — back at uni we used to go without meals to be able to afford stuff from our local comic/toy shop! These days, we have so much stuff a lot of it is packed away in boxes as we don't have any room to display it!
Our favourite toys are all from a similar period when we really got into collecting — about 3 or 4 years ago. We really love the Japanese and Hong Kong designers — people like DevilRobots (To-Fu, etc), Eric So, Michael Lau, Dehara, Furi Furi and entertainment characters like Gachapin, Doraemon, Post Pets, etc. Of course we love the work of the people like James Jarvis, Pete Fowler, and Nathan Jurevicius who were huge inspirations to us when we were starting out and continue to be.
JS: Are you the number one vinyl toy collector in the world or what?
TADO: Hell nooooooo. Our collection is really pretty humble! Just loads of crap we’ve picked up over time. The most amazing collection we’ve seen belonged to a guy called Johnny Lam (JLamK) who used to post on the ningyoushi message board. His collection was insane — his whole house was like a museum of everything cool at that time. He broke up his collection a few years ago when he met his partner — we’re very proud to have a few of his toys in our collection now.
JS: You do a large-ish bit of toy designing yourselves; what toys have you worked on most recently, and what are their stories?
TADO: We’ve actually been keeping fairly quiet on the toy front for the past year or so. We’ve been tied up with a lot of commercial stuff so it got put on the back burner for a while. We’re working away on some new designs at the moment though, and we have several projects that we expect to be released in the new year. The main project is something we’ve been working on with Kidrobot for quite a while now — a series of mini figures and a large vinyl toy that tie in with our ‘Cannibal Funfair’ show we had last year. We’re super excited to see them nearing release at last!
JS: Judging by your flickr pics, you guys really like the zoo. Do the weird and scary beasts of nature inspire your own characters?
TADO: Most definitely! We really love going to visit zoos, safari parks and places like aquariums. We never get tired of seeing different animals and it must inspire us some how.
JS: If TADO were a flavor, what would it taste like?
TADO: Sherbet Dip Dab!
JS: One of our most recent interviewees, Nish, gave the following statement: “Design is meant to sell, art is meant to express. The ultimate achievement is for both to do both.” It seems like your work, thanks to your very distinct aesthetic, accomplishes this. What advice would you give other designers to bring about the same?
We think its great that nice looking stuff gets used to sell things. We’re not sure about what advice we’d give to other folk about it though! We think it's important to try to maintain a consistent style that is recognizable without being repetitive. We always try to create something new for a project rather than continually re-using the same imagery, though it does means having to come up with a constant supply of new characters!
JS: What’s next for TADO?
TADO: At the moment we’re planning out a big mural for the bedroom wall of a friend of ours’ son, so that's a pretty fun job! We’ve just finished off a couple of long-term projects, too, so we’re looking forward to clearing the decks a bit and winding stuff down in the run up to xmas…. which will never happen!!