Knight and McGrath founded OK-RM in 2008. The pair met whilst studying at the University of the West of England in the early noughties and, by matriculation, were determined to set up on their own. Since its foundation, the studio has built a reputation for combining intellectualism with accessibility, creating work that is unrepentantly modernist, in the originating, quixotic sense, but which remains generous in its aesthetic sensibilities – joyful, even, in the robustness with which it deploys type and image. Their back catalogue speaks of a particular interest in working on projects that engage with the arts and which require a significant collaborative investment between the pair and their partners (the word “client” feels coldly inappropriate in this context). Books feature heavily, often produced for or in conjunction with fine artists such as Gabriel Kuri or Shezad Dawood, as does work for exhibitions, sometimes in the provision of super-structures, as at the 2014 Designs of Year installation, other times the content itself, as was the case with Jonathan Monk’s Billboard Book Project – in all, six years of practice has produced what feels like a remarkably honed and considered body of work, certainly not the by-product of the ‘take what you can get’ attitude that characterises many start-ups.
That kind of surety seems have marked the pair’s aspirations from the very start, and, as they are keen to stress, those six years only tell half the OK-RM story. “It is important to note that when we started the studio we were already quite experienced; we’d spent considerable time working in other practices and learnt a lot about how to run projects professionally,” explains McGrath. After visiting open days at places like the RCA, the pair made a conscious decision not to progress straight into a Masters degree, the common route for their contemporaries: “You didn’t see much applied graphic design there at that time, partly because that was the period was during which what’s termed ‘critical graphic design’ was emerging.” The BA on which they had studied was, in their own words, “very conceptual, very art biased,” and while this offered them a perfect basis to explore their own creativity, it left the pair, as equally fascinated by the pragmatics of their discipline, eager to get some more hands-on experience.