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Design Case Study: Marmont Road Bespoke Detective Agency by Lizzie Curtis

We always love hearing about the personal design projects that our Shillington Teachers take on, but Shillington London Teacher Lizzie Curtis caught our attention with her’s for more reasons than one. Along with some friends, Lizzie runs her own detective agency, Marmont Road Bespoke Detective Agency. Born out of a conspiracy theory and a UFO sighting, Marmont Road is the most beautifully designed detective agency we’ve ever seen, with Lizzie herself heading up both the design and the investigation.

We spoke to Lizzie about her brilliant creation. We asked how it came to be, how she tackled the design, some insight into their cases and more. Enjoy!

First of all, I think the question on everyone’s lips is why did you decide to start a detective agency?

Two mysteries turned up at my doorstep in the December of 2015—an end-of-the-world conspiracy theory, and an alleged UFO sighting—anecdotally brought to us by a concerned family member.

My husband and I researched the mysteries together, shared notes and called upon the expertise of others we knew to solve them.

On going back to our ‘client’ with our findings, we realised we were in a position to provide a valuable service to others: to shed light or provide a different point of view on potentially distressing unexplained experiences.

We then more officially recruited other associate detectives—six of us in total—to tackle cases as they came to us, and the Marmont Road Bespoke Detective Agency was formed.

As well as being one of the best ideas for a side project we’ve ever seen, Marmont Road is also beautifully designed. Can you tell us a bit about how you tackled the design?

Earlier in 2015 we visited an exhibition on forensics at the Wellcome Collection. You can see the exhibition materials by Marianne Dear here. I loved the way the visuals and materials related to the theme of the exhibition—gathering evidence from different sources and collating it in a cohesive way. This was a visual starting point for the design.

This project by Foreign Policy was also a huge inspiration.

I wanted to create a modern take on the traditional case file and capture the sense of collection and gathering.

The original vision for Marmont Road was to document each mystery with a physical case file, so I spent a lovely while sourcing paper, folders, envelopes, clips and all manner of ‘essential’ stationery items. The idea for the website was then to be a sort of extension of the physical files. The website has now become the main platform, but we do have two partly finished physical case files.

You built the Marmont Road website using Webflow. Can you explain what that is for those who don’t know? And why you chose to use it?

I sometimes need to remind my husband I still love him more than Webflow. Webflow is a no-code website building platform empowering all sorts of people to create amazing experiences on the web. I discovered Webflow just at the point I realised my basic knowledge of coding wasn’t enough to create all the cool the websites I envisioned.

Webflow unlocked the digital dimension I so desired to immerse myself in, without having to climb the steep learning curve of coding.

The first iteration of the Marmont Road website was one of my first Webflow builds. I learnt so much doing it, and I was able to transfer all of that learning into ‘real’ projects.

Each case you tackle also has its own bespoke illustration. Would you be able to tell us about how these come to life?

The illustrations are in a constant state of work in progress—I think I’ve re-drawn them four times in different styles! For the latest iteration I was trying it keep it fairly abstract, giving hints at the concept but nothing too literal.

For a previous iteration I tried to create a pattern for each mystery using a visual element from the case, like a chair or a leg of ham, but it became hard to maintain consistency across the set, and they ended up being too literal and therefore not as intriguing as I wanted.

In a dream world where you could take Marmont Road wherever you wanted—what would be your next steps in developing your detective agency?

I’d love to come back to the original vision and invest more into the physical case files. It would be a dream to create a case library.

I imagine a feast of collected stories categorised and collated—excellent paper stocks, interesting binding techniques, great stories, collaborations with other designers and illustrators—and all the material perusable in a comfy chair with a fancy drink.

What was your favourite part of designing the project and why?

Seeing an idea become a reality. The website was particularly satisfying in that it became an instant platform for our ideas to become tangible.

On a non-design note, can you talk us through some of the cases you’ve undertaken? Do you have any particular highlights?

One of my favourite cases is The Childish Voice—technically still only part solved, but still a real winner for me. Someone got in touch with us through the website (which is a mystery in itself, because we never advertise and our SEO is terrible) and back in 2005 they’d heard a voice on the radio saying “Hello!” completely out of context, in the middle of a programme.

Through a contact at the BBC archives we found the voice. It was after listening to most of the morning’s worth of programmes, and it came so suddenly it made us jump.

Although we still haven’t found out the who or why, the client was happy to know what he’d experienced was real, which for me is what it’s about—shedding light, however little on an otherwise potentially distressing experience.

I feel like this is another question that everyone wants asking—how do we get involved with Marmont Road? Are you open for any mysteries our readers (or we) might have?

If you’ve experienced a mystery you can absolutely get in touch, outline your case here. Currently our service is free.

I should mention the two types of mysteries we don’t take on:

  • Any cases that involve criminal activity—go to the police with those please!
  • Google-able cases—strictly baffling or mystifying only.

We do take on however:

  • Supernatural experiences, we will take these cases seriously, e.g. ghosts, UFOs, unexplained sightings etc.
  • Historical cases—we will consider mysteries that are essentially ‘cold’.

Marmont Road is a passion project in the design sense and otherwise. What do you think the benefits of having a side project for designers is?

It can be a great safe place to try out ideas, a great place to learn a new skill or programme without the pressure of a waiting client. It also exercises those time-management skills. As the name suggests, side projects are on the side, so need planning, self motivation, internal deadlines and self-directed project management.

In my experience, something always leads to something. I think that working on a side project will never lead to nothing at all, so it’s always worth pursuing at least something.

Do you also think having a non-design side project helps?

For sure, it may open new doors and opportunities not considered before.

You never know what will trigger an idea or a new direction for a piece of design, so having multiple sources of inspiration beyond the design context can be immensely helpful.

Lastly, who is inspiring you right now? Would love to know what’s inspiring you and your work!

Currently I am loving what’s coming out of &Walsh, I’m endlessly inspired by all that can be gleaned from Webflow’s resources, I love Studio Dumbar’s playfulness and I’m so pumped by all the interviews with the incredible creatives on Ladies Wine & Design.

Huge thanks to Lizzie for sharing her insights into the world of sleuthing and design—make sure you head over to Marmont Road for any mysteries you need solving. While you’re at it, check out more of Lizzie’s design and illustration work over on her website and follow her on Instagram

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