Tin & Ed, Cup Size, a photographic series featuring Linden wood cups by Japanese designer Rina Ono & handcrafted by Takahashi Kougei

It’s not easy to describe what Tin & Ed do, but “playfulness” is a word that crops up a lot in our chat. The creative studio, which recently moved shop from Melbourne to New York City, brings a cheeky wink and a ton of bold colors to both its personal projects and client work, and a healthy sense of never taking themselves too seriously.

“In a sense, it doesn’t matter what the production technique or medium we use,” says Ed Cutting, who co-founded the studio with Tin Nguyen in 2004. “We’re just trying to communicate something, so we then find the best techniques to do that.”

Their techniques truly run the gamut, spanning graphic design, illustration, installation projects, video, live projections, and art direction. “We’re always interested in learning new ways to communicate, and new processes that could disrupt the way we work,” says Nguyen. “By working in a lot of different disciplines, it makes you think differently about how you can learn and figure out new ways of communicating.”

Cutting is quick to add that they “Sometimes start with a process, and question how that influences our thinking—what are those techniques telling us? It’s never just about the process or just about the medium; there’s always a more conceptual underpinning to the project.”

Take their art direction for Cup Size, which shows minimal, handcrafted wooden bowls to their best advantage by placing a bouncy little boob inside each of them (bouncy boobs not included in the actual product). And the art direction for upmarket tea brand T2 is shot during a tea party that “progresses from order to total chaos.”

They’re keen to differentiate between play and experimentation. “Play,” as they see it, is about eliciting that oft-lamented sense of childlike wonder, the feeling of just letting loose; while experimentation, according to Cutting, “can be right or wrong.” He explains, “Just thinking by doing is a very powerful thing. We’re always really open to everything, so the idea is usually built up from iterations.”

According to the pair, that sense of fun epitomizes the way they use self-initiated projects to win the client projects they want to work on. “They really feed into each other quite a bit,” says Nguyen. “When we show people we can do something in studio projects, then they’ll start to become the things we get paid for, without changing the sort of work we make. It’s very cyclical.” 

Nguyen adds, “We deal with serious things, too, but we always want the work to be accessible. We don’t take ourselves too seriously.”

This is perhaps no more evident than in a gorgeous recent public art piece, Inflatable Futures: A Future of Infinite Possibilities.” Consisting of a series of four interactive sculptures, the project aims to “engage kids with ideas in space, technology, and the future” and encourage them to “leap into the unknown.” Sure, it’s fun and colorful, but it has more serious underpinnings. “In part, it was a reaction to the fact that at the moment, there’s lots of division in the world. It’s the idea that things that are outside or unknown to us aren’t scary—it’s important to learn about new cultures and ways of thinking. A core part of the project was trying to help kids see the unknown as a positive thing.”

Nguyen and Cutting met studying visual communications at Swinburne’s School of Design in Melbourne, and feel that the course’s encouragement to work across all disciplines shaped their thinking into professorial life—it covered everything from industrial design to typography. They began working together before school even ended, having won a pitch to redesign a punk rock magazine. “We’re so not punk rock at all,” says Nguyen. “It was probably terrible—like skulls or something—but we continued to work together.”

Things snowballed quickly from there, with Tin & Ed then winning a gig to create an identity for a youth arts festival. “I could not have been any happier to finish uni, then I got this even more amazing news for us! It was a huge deal; when you’re finishing uni, nobody knows what they’re gonna do next, so finding out about that project was really exciting.”

Tin & Ed, adidas Stan Smith project

The pair moved from their native Melbourne to New York City in January this year. While they speak fondly of the “very supportive and rich, creative community” back home, they’re audibly pumped about the new challenges ahead in the U.S.

They now live and work in Chinatown—in fact, they live in the same building (though not the same apartment). Surely that’s got to be quite intense? “Like any relationship, it’s about communication,” Cutting ponders. “We see the world very similarly in a sense, but very differently as well. When we’re collaborating it’s really great when we see things differently, as we challenge each other and have to make the effort to communicate why we think a certain way, and how to push that idea forward. Of course, we try and keep it respectful, but it can get heated!”

Fundamentally, we’re different people,” Nguyen agrees. “But we’ve pretty much been around each other and working together for 14 years, so I feel like something must be working.”

See Tin & Ed speak at AGI Open in Mexico City, September 28-29, 2018.