Archive

Tag Archives: graphic design

Bill Beachy (left) and Jeff Finley (right) of Go Media

Bill Beachy (left) and Jeff Finley (right) of Go Media

Over the last ten years I’ve (literally) read my own body weight* in business books. A handful were good, some average, most cr*p. Recently I’ve read some very good books that have focused on the business side of graphic design.

One of those was Thread’s Not Dead by Jeff Finley. Jeff, along with Bill Beachy is one of the founders of Go Media in Cleveland, Ohio. To cut a long story short, Bill and I connected on LinkedIn and had a bit of an email exchange about the rewards and challenges of running a graphic design studio. Bill revealed to me that he was in the middle of writing a new book called Drawn To Business, and kindly asked me if I’d like to contribute to the book. Of course, I said yes.

I’m going to blog a few of my answers to the questions that will become some of the content for Drawn To Business. Here are the first few questions Bill asked me Expect to see more posted over the next few weeks. As they go along, some of my answers become quite revealing, which took me by surprise.

Why did you get into design?
From an early age I knew I wanted an artistic career, and I was lucky enough to have a secondary school teacher who introduced me to the art of graphic design – it was my ticket out of the sleepy village I’d grown up in. Towards the end of my school years some people who had ‘real jobs’ came in to do talks to our year group – one of them was from a printing company. I had a chat with him after the talk and asked if I could come and be an apprentice in their company. He turned me down on the spot, but he gave me some good advice: “Go to college and study design instead.” I then had a goal to work towards. I worked hard, got the right qualifications and was offered a place at the well respected Lincoln School of Art & Design. I left my village, studied graphic design for four years and landed my first job at Saatchi & Saatchi. I never expected to even get an interview there, let alone a job, so it felt pretty surreal – especially for someone who’d originally set their sights on being a printer’s apprentice (not that there’s anything wrong with being a printers apprentice, of course).

Why did you decide to start a design firm?
I thought I could do it much better than any other boss I’d ever worked for, and I wanted to be more in control of my creativity. I also wanted to see if I was up to it. And my wife made me do it so that I’d stop moaning about commuting to London from Brighton!

Is there anything dramatically different about owning your own company to what you’d expected?
I quickly learned that my previous bosses hadn’t been doing such a bad job after all. There’s the initially alarming fluctuation of your monthly income coupled with relentless bills that don’t let up just because you don’t have a regular salary anymore. And it was much harder to win new clients than I’d ever expected – they really don’t just fall into your lap. I also had to adjust to how much longer things take to come to fruition, whether it be intended growth, a new portfolio website, or an office move.

How did your company get started?
I’d been taking a break, backpacking around the world after 10 years in continuous employment in London. To break up my travels, in 2000, I worked in Sydney for a year and was really taken by their work/life balance. I worked for a great company there called Horniack & Canny. They did great work and they went home on time, usually straight to the beach for a beer. I decided early on that I wanted to start an agency that had a good balance between what I call work/life and life/life. Because as a designer, I don’t think you ever really switch off – there’s no clear boundary between work and life, they’re pretty much one. So I wanted to create an environment that fostered and championed creativity, nurtured people, and allowed us to go home on time to be with family. It’s a work in progress, but that’s still the vision.

Did you work for a design firm before you started your own? How long were you there and how did that experience help you build your firm?
I started at Saatchi & Saatchi in 1991 – an amazing company of great creativity, bold thinking and brutal simplicity in its thinking and output. I stayed there for six years and worked on some great brands with some great people. Then, seeking a pay rise, I took another job. I worked at another agency for two years, learned some good stuff on the design side, but learned a much more important lesson about not chasing money. After that, I freelanced for a while for companies like Landor (big, impersonal, cog-in-the-machine type freelancing). After my travels down under, I returned to London and became Creative Director at a mid-size agency called Kino Design. The two partners at Kino are great guys, I respected them as bosses and they knew how to treat the team well. After two happy years there, I decided it was time to set up on my own and opened Harrison & Co in Brighton in 2003. Along the way I’d learned to respect creativity, people and going home on time.

Keep an eye on the blog, I’ll be posting some more questions and answers soon.

*Currently about 78kg in case you are interested.

Advertisements

You’ve probably heard about Google’s 20% time (it almost seems like old news now). Well, my studio has its own humble version of ‘20% time’, we call it ‘A-level projects time’ Bit of a weird name, especially as none of us at Harrison & Co are 17 or sitting A-levels.

The name was inspired by the artists Jake and Dinos Chapman, who famously completed an art A-level a few years ago. This was long after they were nominated for the Turner Prize in 2003 and already very established artists in their own right. I love that kind of backwards thinking. I can’t find any links to this story on the interwebs, so you’re just going to have to trust me.

Our ‘A-level projects’ aren’t meant to be perfect, or good-looking, or trendy, or cool, or ground-breaking, or award-winning, or hipster-blog-friendly. We do them for fun. There are no rules about style, medium or what subject we choose – the only (very loose) rule is that you have at least one A-level project on the go, and if it’s a bit quiet in the studio, it’s something you can turn to for a bit of fun. A bit of no-strings-attached creativity.

Thought I’d share a few of our A-level projects that are on the boil in the studio at the moment. This first one is all about found typography, usually spotted in the street. This is the progress so far. Shaping up nicely, might use it in a project soon. Again, not meant to be stylish, hip, cool and certainly not done to impress anyone – just the pure pleasure of finding and looking.

Screen shot 2013-03-11 at 15.20.38

Letters found in the street, snapped on an iPhone and made into a bitmap

This next one is a bit weird. If you live in Brighton you’re almost certainly familiar with Iydea, the veggie cafe on Kensington Gardens. Last year I decided it was time to start getting fit and eating better. I discovered Idyea and started to go pretty much every lunchtime. Their food is amazing – wholesome and colourful. I kept looking down at the empty tray after I’d finished and would see these amazing colours and textures. Then the inevitable happened: I started to photograph them on my iPhone. I bought some coloured paper and started religiously shooting each empty tray after I’d finished. The owner of Idyea found the images I’d been making on Facebook and asked if he could frame one for the cafe.

25 empty Idyea takeaway food trays

25 empty Idyea takeaway food trays

Next is a lovely little illustration project that one of my designers, Scott, has been tinkering with: kind of illuminated letters intricately illustrated with quirky motifs. The lovely thing about this is the hidden message that lies within each piece, if you are eagle-eyed enough to spot it.

A-Z by Scott with added hidden message

A-Z by Scott with added hidden message

Screen shot 2013-03-11 at 17.11.19

Screen shot 2013-03-11 at 17.11.30

Scott’s little dalliance with illuminated letters went on to become our Christmas gift to our clients in 2012. Scott illustrated a globe with the words ‘Peace on Earth’ intertwined into the image. We made a short run of 50 signed giclée prints and sent them out to our clients. The response was great, with several clients framing the prints for their homes and offices.

'Peace on Earth' our limited edition giclée print that we gave to our clients for Christmas 2012

‘Peace on Earth’ our limited edition giclée print that we gave to our clients for Christmas 2012

My next A-level project is all about gaffer tape. I love the stuff and it’s a return to something that I’ve already played with before. The possibilities are endless. For me this next piece of work will lead up to an Open House exhibition in May which is part of Brighton Festival. Pop down and say hello if you are free.

Gaffer tape, the possibilities are endless!

Gaffer tape, the possibilities are endless!

Back in December, Laura Snoad asked me to write a piece for Digital Arts magazine on ‘failure’. Here it is…

4389911371_6c4b0617a3_z

Failure. How to fail better. It’s always confused me to be honest, this statement. I’m sure Samuel Beckett meant well when he had this flash of inspiration, but I bet quite a few people (me included) have scratched their heads and thought… “eh?! why would anyone want to fail, let along ‘fail better’?” So, have I ever failed before? Yes. Have I ‘failed better’ since? Not consciously.

For me, failure is less about the end result and more about the very beginnings of a project. Sometimes, I’ll try and set myself up for failure at the start of a project. What do I mean by that? For me it means being OK with following an idea, even though I can’t really see the end result in my minds eye. Potentially an idea that might meet with failure, after days of work. When you have a paying client waiting for a result, that’s quite a hard thing to stick to. No one wants to fail on a paying job – so sometimes we ease back into the comfort of ideas that we know will work in the end – rather than indulging in ideas that might end up in the long grass.

How do I navigate away from the comfort of an idea that I know will succeed and pursue an idea that could fail? I just keep scratching. When I think about creativity I think of it as an itch that always needs a scratch. I think you have to keep moving towards the ideas that might not work, and keep scratching unlit they start to yield something interesting. So, you could also look at that another way – taking the long road. The comfort of ideas that we know will work don’t take that long to come to fruition. The other approach takes time, and that isn’t a luxury we can all enjoy.

So, to sum up – failure is about:
– setting yourself up for failure at first in order to succeed in the end
– resisting the comfort of an idea that ‘you know will work’ and getting cosy with ‘an idea that might come to naught’
– creating the time and space that it takes to ‘fail’, which means buckling in and knowing that this might be a long ride
– knowing the difference between a project that ‘deserves a bit of failure’ and one that ‘just needs to succeed’

One of the most rewarding parts of my job is working with the interns that come through our doors. I love their optimism and their open mindedness about what is and isn’t possible.

About a year ago I decided to do my best to make a half decent portrait of all the interns that come and work with us – usually shot on their last day of working with us. Sometimes I’ll try and reflect a part of their personality, sometimes I just shoot without thinking too much, sometimes we’ll work on an idea together and sometimes we (kind of) go to greater lengths with props to make the shot more interesting (time permitting). I get to indulge my passion for photography, our facebook page gets a bit of new content and the intern gets a nice portrait to show for it. Below are all the interns we had at Harrison & Co in 2012, including the text I write to accompany each portrait which summarises their stay in our studio.

If you are a student and you’d like intern at Harrison & Co please email Scott Welti with a PDF of your current portfolio.

Qian – January 2012
Our first intern of 2012, this is Qian. She is from France and Qian studied Graphic Design at Lycée Le Corbusier in Strasbourg, graduating in 2011. It’s great when we have a foreign intern with us, they have a different way of looking at things which is always refreshing. Qian has been working on some mood boards for an up-coming project with one of our arts clients. The mood boards are looking great, so good in fact they could almost be presented as initial ideas.

Qian

Qian

Megan – March 2012
This months intern has been the lovely Megan Young who is studying graphic design in Manchester. Megan has been working on several projects with us, a few artworking jobs as well as taking a project from the initial brief to first stage ideas. She’s good! We like interns who aren’t afraid to jump straight in, it’s a great way to learn. Megan was born and brought up a Brightonian, she’s even considering looking for a job in Brighton. We meet so many students who don’t feel the lure of the big city lights in London any more. Maybe agencies in Brighton are seen as more creative, maybe it’s the quality of life Brighton can offer, or maybe London is no longer the centre of the design universe it once was? We know Brighton is a great place to work, and Harrison & Co have clients down the road, in London and as far afield as Portugal. So, two out of three isn’t bad? ; )

Megan

Megan

Natalie – April 2012
We’ve had the pleasure of welcoming Natalie into the studio this week. Natalie has just finished her A Levels and she chose Harrison & Co to try her hand at a bit of graphic design. Scott wrote her a tasty little brief to design a brand for a vintage clothes company. We’re all really impressed by the way she has approached the project and she has rolled out some seriously creative ideas. She definitely has a real gift for design. Watch out design grads, Natalie has some serious skills. Well done Natalie!

Natalie

Natalie

Sammy – June 2012
Sammy, this weeks intern has given us a very fine departing gift. I did my old boss at Kino Design a favour, Sammy is his son and I, quite happily, agreed to have him in our studio for a week to give hime a taste of design and a career choice. Good work Sammy!

Sammy

Sammy

Chris – July 2012
We’ve had the pleasure of Chris working with us as an intern for the last two weeks. Nice chap and good designer who is learning the design trade at art college in Cardiff. It’s been so wet over the last two weeks, Chris hasn’t flinched at running errands, even in the rain…! (not that we’ve sent him out that often). Anyway, we wish him well as he goes into his final year in September – I’m sure we’ll be seeing him again at some point – we might even let him use the studio brolly next time. : )

Chris

Chris

Shaun – July 2012
We’ve had a great intern with us this month, meet Mr Shaun Pimley. Destined to be a great designer, Shaun is mega enthusiastic and keen to get involved in everything. This guy has got some wacky ideas going on (wish we could show you them). We’ve been doing some initial ideas for a project, Shaun is yet to reach for the Mac. Instead, he’s been painting, stitching, gluing and pinning things down. We love his energy, and we wanted to show that in our portrait of him. This is pretty much the contents of his art box. The inspiration was Peter Gabriel’s ‘Sledgehammer’ video. Good luck Shaun, come back again, anytime!

Shaun

Shaun

Emily – August 2012
This is Emily who has interned with us for the last two weeks. Emily is going into her final year at Falmouth. Her time at Harrison & Co has coincided with a rather unusual project brief. One of those jobs that comes around every now and then where you get complete carte blanche to do whatever you want. She’s taken it in her stride and put together some really great work. This led on to a long chat this morning about what was expected of a final year design student. Our feeling is that the final year should be all about creative exploration, taking a project and passionately applying yourself without any expectation of where it will lead. It’s the only way to do work that is different. Students have the rest of their working lives to produce commercial work. College should be about taking creative risks… if you can’t do it at college, when can you? So, good luck Emily, pop back and see us next year.

Emily

Emily

Will – August 2012
We’ve been really lucky with our interns this year. We’ve had some really capable and promising young designers come in and work with us. The next generation of designers is looking good! Here’s our latest fresh faced intern, Will Suckling. Will is from Hastings, he did a two year design course and is about to go to LCC (LCP in old money) to do a top up year to get his BA. Really nice chap, very capable and he has been tearing through some really nice ideas for a branding project. Good luck at LCC Will.

Will

Will

Chris – September 2012
This is Chris Bounds, our intern for the last two weeks. He likes his music, does Chris. He’s furnished us with some lovely little design ideas for various projects, and also contributed to the studio playlists with aplomb – most interns are petrified about choosing music – not Chris, he was straight in there. We noticed that he’s also the owner of a range of fine band t-shirts. Thought it would be fun to shoot him wearing (nearly) all of them. Nothing like a bit of Friday air guitar to get the creative juices flowing. Show some appreciation for Mr Chris Bounds! Good luck mate.

Chris

Chris

Lisle – October 2012
Saying goodbye to Lisle today who has been with us for the last two weeks. A really nice guy with lots of potential to set the world of design alight. He’s recently moved to Brighton after graduating from Bournemouth Art College this summer. Good luck Lisle and welcome to Brighton!

Lisle

Lisle

Callum – November 2012
We’ve had Callum with us this week. He’s in Year 11 an will be taking his GCSEs next year. We set Callum a brief to design a brand identity for a Barber shop. He has come up with some really, really good work that is, frankly, way beyond what you’d expect someone at his stage to create. Very well thought through ideas and well executed showing a keen eye for typographic detail. He has his eye on a career in graphic design, and we think he’ll do really well. Well done Callum, come back anytime!

Callum

Callum