Do hipsters respond better to anti-tech design?

3 Jan 2017

Image: Anchiy/Shutterstock

In the midst of VR and wearable tech, certain brands are looking for the perfect blend of old and new. Emily McDaid talks to the founder of handcrafted design and letterpress company, Bill & Coo Paper Co, about the rising trend of ‘in with the old’.

Brands that want to look ‘hipster’ are veering towards a low-tech look (while being driven by cutting-edge tech behind the scenes, obviously).

A local Belmont Road-based start-up is banking on this trend, by creating Northern Ireland’s only printed design with an actual letterpress (the machine newspapers were made by in the 1800s).

Bill & Coo Paper Co was founded in January 2015 by Karla McNally. “I worked as a graphic designer in the US and Canada and noticed a greater appreciation there for handmade craft.” McNally was well placed to notice that, as she grew up with a Heidelberg printing machine in her family home. You can buy an industrial-sized one on eBay for less than €120,000.

“No one back home was doing any handcrafted design with a letterpress,” said McNally. “But it was becoming increasingly popular in North America. I got an Adana TP48, made in the 1950s in England, and took a course in Dublin, and another in Louisville, Kentucky.”

Karla McNally, Bill & Coo

Karla McNally, Bill & Coo Paper Co. Image: Bill & Coo Paper Co.

“I named my letterpress Atlas,” she said – a marvellous example of how whimsy needs to be incorporated in design mentality.

McNally is part of the organising committee behind Belfast Design Week, and she showcased Atlas during an open day event.

A true child of technology, new tech is, of course, incorporated in Bill & Coo’s design process. The letterpress works best for single-colour printing. To make modern designs requiring more than one colour, McNally creates a design in Illustrator (or similar software) and has a polymer plate created and sent out to her. Her supplier, Lyme Bay Press, can turn around the polymer plates in a day.

When used with the letterpress, the plate allows McNally to use two different colours of ink. The plate is reusable whenever her corporate clients need the same logo or branding for another print run.

“This process marries a digital aspect with a handcrafted finish,” said McNally. “But it’s important that every print is still different. I feed every page into the press by hand, so the output is different every single time. Every page is unique.”

There is a strong history of letterpress media in Ireland. The original proclamation was on printed media, and its ability to be circulated has been attributed with having a central role in shaping the image and meaning of the Rising. The National Print Museum in Dublin has an exhibit devoted to letterpresses, which McNally said is fascinating.

What sorts of prints do you make?

“Atlas can print anything up to size A5. Menus for restaurants, note cards, business cards, corporate materials – anything at all.”

How do you sell your wares?

“I sell directly to my customers and a lot of them are overseas. Here in Northern Ireland, we need to place more value on handmade, homegrown items, with a modern design.”

What’s next for Bill & Coo?

“We’re delighted to have opened our new studio on Belmont Road and look forward to expanding our wares from here.”

Do hipsters want a low-tech look?

“I think there’s a desire to counteract our fast-paced, screen-based modern culture with designs that have weighty, traditional textures.”

By Emily McDaid, editor, TechWatch

A version of this article originally appeared on TechWatch

TechWatch by Catalyst covered tech developments in Northern Ireland