I’ll go out on a limb and say that we’ve all stared at something long enough that another form appeared. Animals on the Underground is based on that very common fact and is living proof that day dreaming isn’t just a waste of time. Animals has grown since the first “discovery” by Paul Middlewick in 1988 and the team of Paul, Nick and Jon allude to some upcoming developments with the concept. During the interview, Paul delves into the history behind Animals, the shop, his approach to design and (don’t tell the emu!) reveals his favourite animal. Come and take a ride with him through Animals on the Underground.
What is the story behind Animals on the Underground?
I got the idea when I was travelling on the Tube. It gets very boring commuting daily on the Underground, and I’d stare at the map as I waited for my train.
After a while, I started to see shapes in the tube map, particularly animals. I sketched them down and Animals on the Underground was born. Since then, I have picked out over 20 different animals from the intersecting lines and stations on the map, including an Emu and a Penguin! I decided the internet was the ideal medium to bring the troupe to a wider audience, and set up the Animals on the Underground website in 2002.
When did the first t-shirt appear?
We started to print our own merchandise to sell on the site but found that the effort of printing individual items on a supply on demand basis was not feasible while trying to hold down a full time job. So, in 2006, we found Spreadshirt and set up a shop to manage the orders for us. Since then, we have received a regular steam of orders which have been fulfilled without any input from us nor any problems or complaints; we just get sent the commission – what a dream!
What do you do outside of Animals on the Underground?
My ‘day job’ is as the creative partner at Grid24, a creative services agency based in Soho, London. I spend my time illustrating and creating images for marketing and advertising campaigns. I’ve also recently set-up a new web site called VectorEdit.com to sell my illustrations.
What is your target group for the shop?
Animals on the Underground appeals to all ages and we have had orders for children’s garments through to adult t-shirts.
What do you do to market your shop?
We promote our merchandise through our web site where the merchandise section links through the Spreadshirt order pages to give our fans a seamless experience.
We also send out e-mails to our subscribers whenever we have something new and exciting to say or if I ‘discover’ a new animal. We have found that this is an effective marketing tool and usually shows a marked change in traffic on the web site together with a surge in sales of all the merchandise in our range.
What do you like about Spreadshirt and what could we do better?
I love the simplicity of Spreadshirt and the reliability of the service. Who can ask for more? Occasionally, we look through the items available and add them to our range. It’s quick and easy to do once the original designs have all been uploaded. It helps keep our site fresh and allows us to expand our range of merchandise with little effort.
Have you ever seen a stranger wearing one of the shirts? What did you think?
I did spot someone in London a couple of years ago. I wanted to go up to them and tell them that they were wearing my design! However, I settled for the quite satisfaction of knowing that someone out there shares my love of the animals!
How often do you ride the Tube? Do you still find yourself staring at the map looking for different forms?
I travel on the Underground daily and, yes, I am still finding animals in the map! I have spotted other items (bottles, buildings, vehicles etc.), but it’s always the animals which are the most memorable and appealing.
What is your favourite animal on the underground and why?
My favourite animal has to be the Elephant (or, to give him his full title; Elephant & Castle). He’s the first animal I spotted and remains, to me at least, the cutest one!
I counted 32 animals on the site, how many more do you think are lurking amongst the tracks?
I do have loads of other animals; possibly as many as 50. However, I set myself very high standards(!) and only publish the ones I feel are good enough for everyone to enjoy. I still surprise myself by spotting new ones occasionally though!
How do you approach design in general?
Having worked in marketing for over 25 years I have a very pragmatic approach to design! At the end of the day, any creative work has to address the brief and achieve the desired reaction. I am fortunate to be able to adapt many different styles of design and illustration which means that I am able to work on a huge variety of clients and campaigns.
You teamed up with the IFAW and donate part of your profits to animal welfare. Tell us about this collaboration.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) approached us to use the Animals as part of their campaign to highlight the plight of animals and endangered species around the world.
We were happy to work with them to create an award winning press and poster campaign. Spreadshirt came to our aid again as we were able to quickly and easily add IFAW branded items to our shop. The items which were sold could be readily identified and 50% of the commission was donated to the IFAW campaign.
The campaign won the Best Outdoor Advertisement award for excellence in green communications at the 3rd Annual Green Awards 2008.
Where do you see Animals on the Underground in 5 years?
We have great plans afoot for the animals! I can’t say too much about it yet as we’re negotiating deals with various people. But, I would say, in 5 years time, we hope to be a pretty well-known brand around the world!
If you were a t-shirt, what would you look like?
I’d have to say I’d be an extra large ‘Elephant & Castle’ T shirt – a bit cuddly and with a bad memory!
What do you think about the t-shirt culture in the UK?
I think it’s very exciting and vibrant; technology to quickly and easily reproduce graphics and designs on garments and other merchandise through services such as Spreadshirt, means that anyone can now get their ideas ‘out there’.
The only downside is that, no matter how cutting edge and exciting the design is, the sheer volume of designs available means that, inevitably, the volumes of sales are going to be fairly low.
What have you always wanted to be asked and what is the answer?
Gosh! That’s a tricky one! I guess I would love to be asked to bring the Animals on the Underground ‘alive’ somehow; either through stories or animation. The answer, of course, would be a resounding ‘YES, PLEASE’!