We sit down with our long-time partner, Make North, for a long overdue catch-up. Daniel is a talented graphic designer whose artistic journey has woven seamlessly into the vibrant tapestry of the music industry. From humble beginnings fuelled by a passion for design, Make North has carved a unique path, collaborating with notable bands to visually amplify their music and message. With an arsenal of creative tools and an unwavering dedication, he shares insights into his captivating journey, the future of design, the fusion of art and music, and the boundless inspiration that fuels his imaginative designs. Join us as we delve into the mind of Make North and explore the harmonious interplay between design, melody, and emotion.
Thanks for joining us, Daniel. It’s been a minute since we had our last chat – to all the new faces that this interview will reach, can you give us an elevator pitch to Make North and tell us about your journey into the world of graphic design? How did you get started, and what motivated you to pursue a career in this field?
Well firstly, thank you for such an incredible introduction! haha It’s an absolute pleasure to have this opportunity to talk to you guys again. Make North is, at its bare bones, just as our tagline describes, “Art for your sound”. A design studio catered specifically for the music industry, and that’s what it’s been from the very beginning. At a time when I was in a touring band myself, creating the visuals for my own band, I noticed a space for a service and place for bands to come for all their visuals, no matter what stage of the bands' journey they’re in, I wanted to streamline that process of bands being able to get custom high-quality artwork, simply and affordably, by someone who understands and loves both sides of the music and art industries.
I always wanted to be an artist of some form. I was the kid coming home from school and spending evenings drawing, reading comics with headphones in listening to new bands... and I’ve basically just never stopped doing that and somehow turned it into a career.
What do you love most about being a designer? How does your creative work bring you joy and fulfillment?
I’ve always believed that being a designer just fundamentally facilitates my ability to live in my own head, roam around in there, and create ideas, snapshots, or full worlds that feel more intense and vivid to me, whilst trying to reflect the imagery that the music projects. I love everything about that, and it brings me no end of genuine fulfillment.
Throughout your career, you've had the opportunity to collaborate with various artists such as Sophie Lloyd, Bullet For My Valentine, Dream State, amongst many others. Could you share some memorable experiences or projects you've worked on with your favorite bands? How did those collaborations come about?
I’ve been so lucky to work on so many fantastic projects and releases with bands that I either already love, or get to see build and grow to love. However, there’s one constant with every band I’ve ever worked with: every new project comes via word of mouth or bands being recommended to me. It’s a small detail, but one I’m proud of, as from a business perspective, I’ve never paid a penny to advertise or self promote, I let the work speak for itself, and that chain reaction of bands seeing what I do and then trusting me and choosing my work to represent them visually, is something I’ll always cherish.
I could mention so many names here, but one that personally means a lot to me was getting to work on a series of cover artworks for ‘American Hi-fi’, who were the first band I ever purchased a demo CD of, from eBay, and just arrived in a plastic sleeve, no cover, booklet, anything... and I played that CD until it stopped working, I loved it.. but fast forward around 20 years and they came to me wanting to work on their next release.. that meant more to me than I can properly eloquent.
Could you describe the creative process behind working with bands to create visual identities or promotional materials that align with their music and brand?
When it comes to the process; I like to keep things as simple as possible for the band. I simply ask for the relevant details/tracks and any current inspirations they have in mind, which all help direct and hone in, and then I sit with it, I’ll listen over and over to the songs, get an understanding of the emotions and lyrics, and then start to build out that scene or world in my head, try to come at it from different angles, pick it apart and rebuild it piece by piece, and that’s the same whether it’s an album artwork, merch design or new branding. I basically don’t stop until I’m happy with it, then present it to the band and hopefully, I’ve created something that they love and connect with too, or tweak and revise it until that’s achieved.
What are some of the key tools, software, and equipment you use in your design work? How do make use of these tools to help you bring your artistic visions to life?
I keep things super simple. I scribble vague representations of what I have in my head for reference, (doodles that I’m not sure anyone else could possibly decipher haha) and then it’s pixel by pixel, layer by layer, Adobe all the way to the finish line. I’m completely self-taught using the software, so I’m constantly learning and refining.
Many aspiring designers look up to professionals like yourself for inspiration. What advice do you have for budding graphic designers who are just starting their careers?
One of the key pieces of advice I’d have is actually not to spend too much time looking up or across at anyone else’s art but yours. I try really hard to actively stay away from having too many artists on my social feeds. I think a lot of designers are constantly tearing themselves down or feeling a degree of anxiety through comparison to what everyone else is doing, which not only distracts you from your own work but limits you to going down paths that are heavily worn by people all doing the same. I much prefer to find my inspiration through more organic elements, when you properly stop and look at the world around you, lighting, colour, shape, form, but also the possibilities of what something could be or what it isn’t, all really inform how I see the world and my work.
The other piece of advice which kind of links to that, is to focus on designing what you love and have a passion for. So many designers try to be all things to all people when they start out, casting too broad of a net in the hopes of acquiring as many clients and projects as possible, but often the work suffers and potential clients can’t form a solid idea of what your style is or what you represent. I made a decision early on that music was the foundation, and that’s allowed me to then broaden out into pro wrestling, clothing labels, and projects within that alternative scene, but staying true to the style that makes you happy, is fundamental.
Can you share a project that challenged you creatively? How did you overcome any obstacles or creative blocks during that project?
One really fun challenge was recently designing some merch for the HOBOS venue in Bridgend. This was a blast to work on, but the creative challenge was to design the iconic ‘Pinocchio’ character but with a more alternative twist. Whenever a client has a super specific or focused style in mind or citing another (often far more skilled artist than me haha) the challenge of replicating that style to the same standard can be completely different to your own style. Luckily I’m a huge fan of the Disney illustration style so the process of getting to feel like a Disney animator for the briefest moment was an absolute joy.
Design trends are constantly evolving. How do you balance staying true to your unique style while also keeping up with the latest industry trends?
One of the things I’ve tried to install into my work is a foundational style, but within that are 2 core Pillars - my illustrated style and also my more photorealism cinematic style, both of which are entirely different yet serve the music industry, whether it’s album artwork or merch designs. Once I established that, I then had the ability to bring in different elements or experiment with various properties of other styles to create something more unique or achieve new results, and that’s something that I can continue to adapt to regardless of trends, as I’ll always have that core to build from, plus, as with everything visual, it has a cyclical nature, what’s old becomes new again, and every previous style or trend informs the next.
In your opinion, how does the role of graphic design contribute to the overall success and impact of a band or musical project’s identity?
I firmly believe music and visual art are entirely intertwined, have always been, and will continue to be. There’s no set rule, but at its most powerful, visual design has the ability to help a piece of music become iconic in the hearts and minds of those who love it. This may sound grandiose, but personally, when I think of some of my favourite songs and albums, those visuals are right there.
They are also intrinsic to the branding and representation of any fan shows of that music, even if it’s just a simple logo or symbol, so much can be expressed through that identity. How a band chooses to visually present themselves is communication at a primal level. When you think of iconic symbols in heavy music, such as the Metallica M, or BMTH’s Hexagram, the visual design of those symbols translates to people choosing to feel a part of something, emotionally connecting and representing, telling the world they love this music, whether it’s on a t-shirt, patch, or even tattoo, the impact that design has can not just promote a song, or draw the eye for a successful album, but ignite and unify a community of people. However, bad design can also really make people think something is gonna suck, so choose wisely.
Can you share a project where you felt a deep personal connection or emotional attachment? What made that project particularly special to you?
The project that immediately comes to mind, is the entire album artwork for Our Hollow Our Home’s album ‘In Moment // In Memory’, which consisted of a series of individual pieces for each track, the most elaborate project I’d worked on at the time. The emotional attachment wasn’t direct, but because the album had deep emotional ties to the death of Tobias’ father, the emotional investment for me was really meaningful, and to have that level of added context when creating any artwork, took it to a new level for me.
It felt like an honour to be a part of. Art is subjective by its nature, people see what they want to see, and I can never know how anything I design will be received, but for me, even now after 5 years since that album, whenever I see it, it still holds the weight of all that meaning, subtext and hopefully representation of the heart Tobias and the band beautifully conveyed through those songs.
How do you see the future of graphic design evolving, especially in the context of the music industry? Are there any emerging technologies or trends that excite you?
The hot-button answer here, at the time of writing, is AI. It’s impossible to know where that technology is going to go, or how fast, but it seems to me like it has the power to both destroy and create. It’s already a factor in the music industry and is being used. The potential threat to artists is certainly real, and of course, there’s an entire debate on copyright and usage, but Pandoras box has been opened, so for creators, the aim should be to harness it where possible, understand its limits, and integrate it as a tool.
Personally, the idea of using AI to completely generate art feels hollow and cheap. Algorithms lack heart and nuance, and I value imagination far too greatly to dilute it. A great example of that technology being used is the ‘controversial’ opening credits to Marvel's Secret Wars series. It works perfectly for the meaning and tone of what that story is telling, and the designers behind it have incorporated it as a tool to achieve a desired style and effect, just in the same way any artist might use an unconventional surface as a canvas, or a musician using obscure objects as instruments to enrich an overall sound, it’s part of the greater finished piece.
There are no rules to art, it’s what you’re trying to say that matters.