2 Minutes With ... Ben Parker and Paul Austin of Made Thought

How this visual pair knew early on they weren't made for traditional desk jobs

Ben Parker and Paul Austin co-founded London-based Made Thought in 2000 to work with good people who shared the ambition to create progressive and beautifully crafted intelligent design. The pair have always seen the relationships they hold with clients as an incredibly vital part of creativity, going on a journey together to inspire, push and excite each other along the way. This approach still sits at the center of how the pair steers Made Thought today, encouraging the team to always pursue the highest level of thinking and visual craft.

The partners are behind some notable and iconic designs for long-standing clients such as Design Miami, Adidas by Stella McCartney, MoMA and most recently Pinterest.

We spent two minutes with Paul and Ben to learn more about their backgrounds, their creative inspirations, and recent work they've admired.

Paul and Ben, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.
  • Paul: London, still London. There is no better city.
  • Ben: I grew up about an hour outside London. Close enough to visit but far enough to make it feel special. I then moved to London to study and live.
What you wanted to be when you grew up.
  • Paul: I knew I wanted to make something. Something tangible. Never a conventional desk job.
  • Ben: A graphic designer (although I didn't know the name of it at 11 years old).
How you discovered you were creative.
  • Paul: I always wanted to make something better, turn any problem into a design challenge.
  • Ben: An art teacher took me to one side and told me I had a talent and should try for art school. That gave me the confidence I needed to focus.
A person you idolized creatively growing up.
  • Paul: Steve Jobs. Watching Apple rise from the ashes and use true creativity as its driver was inspirational for me. It showed that transformative thinking at a hugely commercial level was possible.
  • Ben: Brian Eno.
A moment from high school or college that changed your life.
  • Paul: Hearing Sean Perkins give a lecture during my degree studies. The moment I discovered Modernism. It changed everything.
  • Ben: I'm not sure this changed my life but reading Life After God by Douglas Coupland in my second year of university had a profound effect. I'm not certain why, but it did. Perhaps it opened up how I needed to see the world. A few years later I went to the ICA in London where Coupland did a live reading of Generation X.
The first concert you saw, and your favorite band or musician today.
  • Paul: Beastie Boys / Run DMC, when I was 15. Still giving them airtime 32 years later.
  • Ben: This is a clash of high and low. My parents insisted that myself and my twin brother experience the opera when growing up. So, it was seeing La Bohème as teenagers. After that, Ned's Atomic Dustbin. Look them up!
Your favorite visual artist.
  • Paul: So many to choose from. Artists: Donald Judd or Lawrence Weiner. Photographers: Andreas Gursky or Sølve Sundsbø.
  • Ben: Yves Klein. I first saw one of his monochrome paintings at the Tate Gallery in my first year of university. I was so taken aback with his work that I asked my parents to see it. They just saw a blue rectangle. It was payback for the opera!
Your favorite fictional character.
  • Paul: Deadpool.
  • Ben: The Cat in the Hat.
The best book you've read lately.
Your favorite movie.
  • Paul: Goonies.
  • Ben: Mulholland Drive.
Your favorite Instagram follow.
  • Paul: Dezeen.
  • Ben: Bloomberg Business. Always inspiring and informative. I learned last week that Ferrari appointed a new CEO who has zero automotive experience—he comes from a computer chipmaker. This says everything about this moment of reinvention we are entering. News now feels like it's about the future and signaling tomorrow's world.
How Covid-19 changed your life, personally or professionally.
  • Paul: It has made me acutely aware of the importance of truly being free. Travel in particular, as this keeps my mind inspired and active. It also demonstrated that it is possible to work flexibly. On a wider scale, it demonstrated people's ability to adapt, innovate and be agile in the face of adversity.
  • Ben: I don't think anyone has captured the feeling I have about how I see the future than Arundhati Roy's 2020 novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness:

"Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to 'normality,' trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it."

Your favorite creative project you've ever worked on.
  • Paul: I see Made Thought as being my best creative project ever. Building a business that can excel creatively, whilst being commercially sustainable, working with and for some truly amazing people has been an honor and a privilege.
  • Ben: To Think. A journal we publish at Made Thought. The latest edition was titled To Think Forever: How Do We Think Forever in a World Running Out of Time. I learned more on that project about the state of the world, and our future role as designers, than anything else I've ever worked on.
Your favorite creative project from the past year.
  • Paul: Probably our work for Pinterest. A well-rounded example of strong, purposeful thinking combined with energetic, brave design.
  • Ben: Brewdog. Fuck You Co2 campaign [created in-house]. 
Someone else's creative project that inspired you years ago.
  • Paul: Olafur Eliasson's 2003 "Weather Project" installation at Tate Modern in London.
  • Ben: I visited Margaret Calvert's exhibition at The Design Museum in London last weekend. She helped create the U.K.'s road, rail and airport signing system in the 1950s, which is still used today. The beauty of it is that you don't even notice it. It reminds me of the quote, "Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent," by Joe Sparano.
Someone else's creative project that you admired lately.
  • Paul: My son's first foray into industrial design at school, using 3D printing techniques to create a working desk organizer.
  • Ben: Strelka Institute. Just search Strelka design and you'll see!
Your main strength as a creative person.
  • Paul: The ability to challenge, think differently and not be scared to push and try new things. I have a very short attention span, so the desire for newness sits deep within me.
  • Ben: Being relentless.
Your biggest weakness.
  • Paul: A short attention span.
  • Ben: Being relentless.
One thing that always makes you happy.
  • Paul: Being amongst happy people.
  • Ben: Seeing a single oak tree standing in a field.
One thing that always makes you sad.
  • Paul: Being amongst negative people.
  • Ben: Any news on hyper-consumption and our changing climate.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in this industry.
  • Paul: I genuinely have no idea. Architecture and the way we live has always been a fascination, so maybe I would make buildings.
  • Ben: Librarian.

2 Minutes With is our regular interview series where we chat with creatives about their backgrounds, creative inspirations, work they admire and more. For more about 2 Minutes With, or to be considered for the series, please get in touch.

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