Martha McQuade

Trained as an architect, Martha McQuade lives, works and teaches in Minneapolis, MN. In 2014 she and long time collaborator Dan Clark founded the design house MAD, where they work on all types of design including graphics, styling, art direction, architecture & interiors, landscape design, clothing & textiles, furniture and product design.

To meet Martha and learn more about her work in person, be sure to stop by the upcoming Rummage event at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds at the new West End Market September 29-30! Read our full Rummage event preview story for more details!

Talk about the beginnings of MAD. What inspired you and Dan Clark to begin this endeavor? Dan and I went to school together at the U of M and have been teaching there together for years. We also collaborated on a few projects during this time. I started my own multi-disciplinary firm along with SCARFSHOP, a line of hand dyed scarves, a number of years ago and had just rented a large studio workspace when an opportunity to work on a project that I thought Dan would be interested in arose. We started working on that project and during that time more work started coming in and it just sort of naturally grew into MAD.

Have you always been creative? What forms or channels have you explored in your creative journey? 

I was brought up in a pretty creative environment. My dad loved art, architecture, fashion and travel and so we visited a lot of museums when I was young and traveled quite a bit. My mom was very good at drawing and fiber arts. She sewed and knit a lot of my clothing when I was growing up and was always helping me with my art projects. I learned to sew and knit when I was pretty young, and my parents enrolled me in quite a few art classes at various museums and art schools in Madison, Wisconsin, which was close to where I grew up.

Since then I feel like I’ve always been drawing, painting, sewing and knitting, but I’ve also explored weaving and about 12 years ago really got into dyeing fabrics. I also make large scale, physical models for all of our architectural, furniture and landscape projects.

What do you find in the variety of design work you do through MAD? Is the range beneficial for your creativity? 

Our approach is always based on something Massimo Vignelli said: “If you can design one thing, you can design anything.” Whether we are designing a building or a logo or a shirt, our process is very similar. We always have similar interests and questions, and it’s the technical details that vary. Working on a variety of design projects at different scales is really inspiring. It’s interesting to move back and forth between projects and see how they influence each other. And if you are stuck on a problem in one project, moving to something else that is quite different in scale or type will often give you some clarity for that first project.

Do you feel like it can be difficult for aspiring artists or designers to feel like they belong or that they've found their path in life? What experience do you have with those types of feelings?  I certainly felt this way when I was younger. I grew up thinking that I needed a “career” and architecture was something that seemed legitimate. I wasn’t really aware of graphic design or product design at that time, and fine art seemed too risky and undefined. So I pursued architecture, but always felt like something was missing. The process of making a building was very slow, hands off and quite large in scale. I missed other types of design and making.

The internet and social media really helped me find a community of design people and in doing so, made it seem ok for me to explore other types of design in a serious way.

I think aspiring artists and designers today have so many more visible role models than I did and there are so many new ways to explore art and design. Being a designer is still hard and everyone will continually question their decision to go into this field, but I think it’s much easier to find your community.

Are experimentation and trying to new techniques important to your vision and execution? 

Yes, the most interesting things happen when we try something we haven’t done before.

In terms of living and making in Minnesota, do you feel connected to this place? 

I definitely feel connected to the Midwest. I like that it’s a little under the radar compared to the east and west coast. The design community here seems less focused on competitiveness which makes it easy to just focus on working hard. It’s also easier to find interesting work spaces that are affordable.

What advice do you have in becoming more cognizant of our consumption and avoiding the fast fashion, throwaway mindset? 

I would start by reading about the fashion industry’s contribution to our landfill problem. There are many good articles but you could start with this one:

Then I would suggest making a commitment to buying less and buying higher quality items that have been ethically and thoughtfully made. This usually means a higher cost, but that will circle back to buying less. You will also support a more sustainable way of producing fabric.

I also think shopping in our own closets can be super fun and rewarding, especially if you think about altering items you already own to update them and/or make them fit better. This can be as simple as cutting off an old pair of jeans to make a very current cropped, frayed edge, or tying up the ends of a button up shirt for a current knotted look. 

Shopping at a resale store with an eye towards altering your finds is a similar idea and used clothing is always sustainable.

Combining items that you already own into new outfits is super fun and rewarding. There are many apps that help you with this, although I would be wary of ones that are geared towards getting you to buy items. 

Do you feel like making and creating through your business allows you to contribute to something larger than yourself?

Hopefully we are making the world a more beautiful place to be!