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Words by Anthony Thomas

It’s Friday and Tomas Shanahan, though he prefers Tom, has taken the afternoon off to help his mother move house when I call. He is relaxed, friendly and gave the impression he would be great to have a beer with. Along with partner, Kevin McDowell, Tom runs Melbourne design studio, Confetti.

On the canvas painted by the vibrant creative energy within the Melbourne arts scene, Confetti go beyond being a part of the landscape – they are the subject in focus. Having emerged from the freelance world a little over a year ago, Tom and Kevin have cultivated a client portfolio as rich as it is diverse.

From publication design and music packaging to multi-platform brand identities and emerging technologies, no project is out of bounds for the duo and it’s hardly a coincidence. With Kevin’s background in digital design andTom’ print specialisation, they have successfully fused their unique skills as one. Something that has become essential to how they deliver client value.

“We might have an identity (that) we’re doing and we can roll it out across a wide range of platforms. Rather than just going website and print, we’re able to think about the bigger picture and what other things we can do. That has definitely opened doors.”

It is that commitment to integration that sets Confetti apart. In a design climate where purists choose to resent rather than embrace new technologies and digital natives simply refuse to give print the time of day, the insistence by Confetti that the two are not mutually exclusive should be considered heroic. They are up against the odds after all, given society’s insatiable appetite for growth and the expectation that experiences will continue to be taken to the next level. Tomas believes Confetti is well prepared though.

“It’s great because we can do this kind of thing. We’re ready to embrace it, man. We have quite a broad skill set so it will be nice to start applying those to new platforms. We also have a good network of pals with weird skills. We’re ready to bring it to that next level!”

It is their work for Spook Magazine that is perhaps their most accomplished to date. They joined forces with the editorial team on Issue 6 to completely make over all visual aspects of the magazine. Proving highly successful, their services were renewed for Issue 7. It’s easy to see why, ironically, as they made it so hard to simply skim through the publications pages. Tom only had good things to say when speaking of the Spook team.

“They’re a great bunch of dudes. It’s super easy. By the nature of an independent magazine, there are so many people with a hand in it. You have your editors and then your fashion and music labels wanting to get their artists represented properly. It’s quite a full on task trying to turn it into something that pleases everybody. It makes your relationship with the editor who oversees everything develop really quickly. You become friends with them and they trust you more to explore.”

That trust is unmistakably present in the typography used in both issues. There is a vitality in their designs that threatens to send the type creations on paper hurtling into reality. That energy isn’t contained only in the banners either. Every inch of the layouts are infused with robust helpings of fun, a characteristic running unashamedly through most of Confetti’s work.

Tom agrees. “It sounds cheesy and wanky as hell but Kev and I just fucking love it. We experiment and explore ideas in a playful way and as long as that continues to shine through in our work, we’re happy.”

The “death of print” debate rotates on an ever-shifting axis, with opinions on both sides tending to favour extremes. While the threats to the industry are continually thrown centre stage, the opportunities are rarely given a chance in the spotlight. Yes, the industry is transitioning through a period of undeniable contraction but the market for niche publications that pack a punch is growing.

“I agree 100%. There is a need for the design in a publication to be banging. If it’s not, it’s just going to get thrown in the mix and forgotten. For studios like us, that do really enjoy publications of this nature, it is a great time.”

Print media aside, the pair have previously worked with fashion labels and musicians on various aspects of their brand. It begs the questions, how do you approach such a diverse client portfolio?

“We’re just ready to adapt to whatever the client needs are. We try to work them out and understand what they’re trying to get across. That works for all clients, whether it’s a publication, music packaging or something really small and different. It’s all about trying to get onto the same level. There’s definitely no formula for it, everyone’s completely different.”

An insightful approach to clients indeed but, more on point, one that delivers results. When results are consistent people start to notice and soon enough industry heads had been turned that the Confetti guys found themselves speaking at the Melbourne leg of the Sex, Drugs and Helvetica conference.

“It was good to talk about things that we had become so involved in. It is so insular when you work on a publication so it’s nice to be able to talk about the project. You’re so focused on the typesetting and all the intricate details that you go mad towards the end but to just step away from it and talk about the choices you made is nice.”

If it hadn’t been made clear, Tom and Kevin are doing phenomenal things. Through hard work, clever thinking, a keen eye and more than a little bit of fun, they have positioned Confetti for a bright future. And what does that hold? Currently, they are strengthening their relationship with Spook by working with them on the reconstruction of their website.

Beyond that, Tom expressed an interest in moving further into the interactivity sphere but only time will tell the exact direction they will take. One thing is certain, however, whatever they set their sights on next is guaranteed to be left with the unmistakable glimmer of Confetti. A glimmer that has come to symbolise the good design practice of two of Melbourne’s greats.

Published online in PITCH.

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