Design duo turn a new page

Mike Doney and Katie Tang of international designers TADO based at Nether Green
Mike Doney and Katie Tang of international designers TADO based at Nether Green

It’s appropriate that the sound of children’s voices drifts in through the window of the design studio of Tado, in a terrace of houses tucked away down a lane between a primary school and a church playgroup.

Illustration and design duo Katie Tang and Mike Doney (hence Tado) specialise in creating animated characters largely for commercial or charity commissions, but recently they branched out into children’s books. Monster Trucks: The Big Race is a brightly-coloured picture book aimed at pre-school children. A second story with text by Jon Hinton featuring six-wheeled heroes is also on the way.

Mike, who grew up in Lodge Moor, and Katie met on the graphic art and design course at Leeds Met and teamed up to pursue a joint interest in animation, inspired in particular by comic books and Japanese film.

Afterwards they set up as freelances picking up commissions for flyers, magazine covers and charity promos with their highly-stylised characters with big heads, bug eyes and small round bodies.

“It’s a recipe for cute but we didn’t want to go down the traditional route and aimed to make them a bit darker,” says Katie.

Around 10 years ago they began customising toy figures for a Hong Kong company for adult collectors rather than the children’s toy market.

“We do seem lately to have become more and more involved on projects for children,” observes Mike.

Their breakthrough came when they won the commission to design artwork for the British Airways Kids Club which entailed meetings in London and their first eye-popping encounter with a “glossy ad agency” and its attendant rat race.

“We decided if we were going to work like that we’d go at it ourselves. At the time I was still delivering for my dad’s takeaway in the evenings (‘and I was washing pots at the Three Merry Lads,’ chips in Mike) and by day we were starting up as international designers,” remembers Katie.

In 2005-6 they moved into a studio above the Site Gallery and benefited from mentoring from Ian Anderson at the Designer’s Republic.

They were soon exhibiting in Paris, Taiwan, Milan, Toronto and Los Angeles. They have worked on various toy, artifact and fashion based projects with companies like Nike, MTV, Adidas, Vodafone, Star Wars and Microsoft’s Zune.They’ve also worked for charities including Sheffield Children’s Hospital and Comic Relief.Their current big project is their first stop-go animation for a 50th anniversary Hello Kitty exhibition in LA.

If a backwater of Nether Green seems an unlikely source of international design, Mike points out: “There are people in garden sheds and workshops all over Sheffield doing incredible stuff.”