Studio visit: OKIDO Magazine
OKIDO has created its own niche in the magazine world as an arts and science magazine for children between 3-8 years of age.
OKIDO is the brainchild of Dr Sophie Dauvois and Rachel Ortas, a trained scientist with a PhD in Physiology and an artist who put their skills together to make a high-quality product for children – both in terms of its engaging content as well as its killer design credentials.
The magazine centres on scientific themes taken from everyday life, and topics are presented playfully and creatively, with beautiful illustrations by a variety of illustrators and designers.
We visit their lively Battersea studio to meet with the editorial team and discuss their latest news – launching an animated series with CBeebies! Founders Sophie and Rachel were kind enough to give us an insight into the Okido universe.
Hi Sophie and Rachel! How was the concept for OKIDO born and what was the driving force behind its creation?
The idea came to us both around in early 2006. We were interested in the idea of offering arts and science simultaneously to children. We see them both as equals in interest, importance and relevance to the world around us as we grow as young children. For us it’s just ridiculous that they are seen as such opposites.
We were also acutely aware of gender stereotyped offerings for young children. Having a young child ourselves we were keen to create something that could be enjoyed across both sexes equally. Being French we are more used to seeing high quality children’s magazines than is common in the UK. We wanted to create something that was not only full of superb content but also offered to the highest possible level of design.
Writing all of this down now seems like a tough list of aims but really, at the time, we just followed our instincts and kept to creating stuff that we knew was just ‘right’ and without compromise.
Most science magazines and publications are written for adults. Why did you choose science as your subject matter and why did you choose children from 3-8 years old as your audience?
Science is a personal passion of Sophie’s. The aim of the magazine is always to show the science involved in the world around us, and to engage children in the most playful way possible. Science is extraordinarily fun and perfect for such a young age group: most children between 3 and 8 would be happy to mess around with a science experiment, not knowing what the outcome and results will be and then be utterly delighted at discovering what happens. It’s a great way to spend time with kids.
The aim of the magazine is always to show the science involved in the world around us, and to engage children in the most playful way possible. Science is extraordinarily fun and perfect for such a young age group.
Does having a very young audience yield any particular challenges for you as designers, as well as science communicators? How do you overcome them?
We’re fascinated and inspired by great design for children. We’re constantly remembering how young our audience is and trying to tailor our themes so that they can be clearly understood by this age group. For us, this is the challenge and drive that keeps us going – we love it.
All of the team at Okido are deeply immersed in this field. Rachel Ortas, Creative Director and creator of Messy Monster, has produced a wonderful book with Tate Publishing called The Messy Monster Book and is currently researching for a series of philosophical books for children. Alex Barrow, Art Director, illustrates children’s books with poet and writer Gabby Dawnay for Tate Publishing: London Calls and A Possum’s Tale. Maggi Li, Art Director, is working on a series of childrens fun-facts books with Pavillion: Big City Explorer, The Amazing Body Detectives and Bug Detective. Even Linda Scott who manages the events, workshop and communications at Okido has another life in children’s publishing as The Bubble Writer. She produces children’s activity books with Laurence King such as How To Be The Best Bubble Writer In The World Ever!
We’re in deep here at Okido. It’s a wonderful area of the business to be in and one that’s improving constantly..
How do you decide which topics to feature? Which themes have proved to be the most fun to work on (not to mention popular with your readers)?
Sophie manages the themes. I try to plan a year out at a time – that’s six issues – and obviously try to keep the themes diverse within this time. We’ve had some monstrously successful issues that really took everyone by surprise. Space was an absolute sell out and Dinosaurs too. We had a few letters from grandparents after the Babies issue came out and we tend not to send that one to schools. It’s a fascinating subject for children and parents alike but it’s a subject that needs to be discussed when everyone is ready to. Blood, Health, Dirt, TV, Animals, Weather, Friends – there’s almost no subject that we can’t discuss in terms of science. Maggie on the team has healthy obsession with illustrating poo so who knows.
One of OKIDO’s comic characters, Messy, now stars in an animated show on cBeebies called Messy goes to OKIDO. Congratulations! How did OKIDO end up on television, and what is the show about? Do you come up with the storylines and design concepts for the episodes?
Okido as a magazine joined forces with video and animation creative company Squint/Opera to form Doodle Productions. With Okido’s content and Squint/Opera’s know-how we were able to put together a great animation idea. Luckily, after showing it to the BBC they were immediately interested and got involved in the project.
The TV show has been entirely created out of the studio here in Battersea – an entirely London production. This is very costly and highly unusual but we hope that the quality of the results is evident. All the storylines, characters and design concepts come directly from the magazine. The Art Director of the show, Rebecca Watson, used to work on the magazine and both teams – TV and magazine – share a studio. This helps enormously in making quick decisions and checking on continuity and consistency.
The general tone of the themes for the TV show is taken from the magazine’s history but the themes are decided amongst the TV team: directors, producers, script writers, art department. At one time we had 120 people here. It takes a lot of humans to make 52 great animated TV shows!
What does a typical day in the OKIDO studio look like?
Well, it’s a mess for a start. We definitely have a Messy Monster who tears the place up when we’re not looking! So here’s what’s usually going on – Maggie and Alex are usually busy drawing, inventing and designing games, playing and making sure they all work properly, thinking about the covers, looking at submission work. Rachel is puzzling over a philosophical question for Messy and Philo and drawing, drawing, drawing all day long. She may nip off to her studio at home to get some printing done. Then, in the afternoon we may have a visitor – we’re currently working with wonderful people like Thames and Hudson, Hato Press, Tate Kids, Flying Eye Books…lots of different things going on all the time. Linda may be planning workshops at Design Museum, Kew, Affordable Art Fair and making sure the magazines get sent out. All the while Sophie is working on laying out the issue, keeping everyone on track with quality and looking for the science in our every day!
Since 2007 OKIDO has been publishing magazines and books, running workshops and events and much more. What’s next from OKIDO?
The TV is pretty hot news right now and we’re hoping to get it out to other countries. Then toys – we’d love to create a range of wonderful toys and products for kids and families. We’re not sure exactly what yet but we’re all very keen to have a go. Then digital – we need to create a great digital version of the magazine. Oh, and animation workshops! Our workshops have always been art-based but we’re starting to create some really interesting sessions about animation, which makes sense now that there’s an animated TV show out there. We have quite a lot in the pipeline basically. We’d better crack on.
Thank you for having us OKIDO!
Okido is celebrating the launch of their TV show ‘Messy goes to Okido’ with an afternoon of events and screenings on 27th September. There will be food, drinks, live music, magazines and lots of fun activities for children and grown-ups…all in the true Okido style of creativity, free play, a little madness and a lot of fun.