Ask dumb questions, ignore your job description, and stand up for something: brand and design agency DesignStudio
Relentless drive and restless ambition characterise the ethos of DesignStudio. Founded by designers Ben Wright and Paul Stafford in 2009, this shape-shifting agency assemble tailor-made teams to tackle briefs for clients including the Premier League, Deliveroo and Airbnb. A plethora of passionate and athletic-thinking people have since found their way to working at their offices in both London and San Francisco, each having walked a somewhat unconventional path – from drone operators with a penchant for skiing, to musically-inclined DOPs. We caught up with the studio’s Principal, James Hurst to talk meaningful brands and mind-blowing skills.
We don’t have (or really believe in) sector specialisms. We align ourselves with people who are brave and have a spirit that enables our collaborative, insight-driven approach to produce something meaningful.
In order to solve complicated problems at scale, our approach is extraordinarily holistic. We invest time in understanding our clients, their competitors and the hopes and fears of their customers. Based on this, we then develop thinking and solutions that amplify and accelerate their objectives.
We will never stop evolving. That restlessness and entrepreneurial spirit challenges how we work on every single project and ensures each project is fresh with new thinking and ideas.
We build and work on brands that impact billions of people every single day – from India, China and Dubai to Toronto, Paris, Amsterdam and Tokyo in the past year alone!
Our project teams are locked in throughout the process. Each team is a blend of creative and strategic and it’ll be the same faces from the initial kick-off through to the launch party. Each project has a design director and project manager who link the various functions together, but as each project varies we bring in skills like motion, behaviour science, research, photography and creative technology based on project requirements.
“We look for brains that think athletically, ask dumb questions, ignore their job description, have an unusual path to our door and stand up for something.”
Currently our online presence doesn’t accurately reflect our output. As much as we’d love to, due to the nature and scale of the jobs we work on, we can’t always talk about them. The depth and breadth of our offer is also often something that only becomes clear when we meet and talk through our work in person. In 2017, we’ll be focusing on telling our story online, so it’ll be exciting to see where this takes us.
I sit on the global leadership team that helps the group grow, develop IP [Intellectual Property] and share knowledge. Within the London studio, we have an incredible management team that includes client services and strategy and creative, and a creative team made up of a creative director supported by design directors and a talented team of designers, strategists, animators, copywriters and art directors. These all morph into the most appropriate shape to respond to each opportunity we face.
There are diverse skills spread across both studios, complimented by the best-in-class network of talent that we bring in from around the world. We always ensure the core team are plugged into each project, but there are times when we need to scale up quickly. The number of freelancers we have varies from project to project, and on certain occasions we might need people with key skills for specific projects. In the past this has included a skiing drone operator, a music-playing DOP, a VR-fluent animator and an omni-channelling behavioural scientist.
In terms of unusual roles within the studio, our creative technologist (Justin, based out in San Fransisco) is always tinkering on something maddeningly interesting and curious. His ability to overhear something and respond with a box of technological wizardry has been a game changer in our ability to push where a brand starts and stops.
When we’re recruiting or adding to the team, we look for something new, and when we’ve scaled we’ve been known to double in size. We’re bored (as are consumers) by the majority of the bland work out there. These are interesting times that we believe demand more meaningful brands. The best people for us are brains that think athletically, ask dumb questions, ignore their job description, have an unusual path to our door and stand up for something.
Work should be visible. We encourage teams to make the space their own, and have lots of pin boards on wheels to get stuff up and out of the computer. Technology can be a barrier, so we invest in equipment that doesn’t get in the way of a good idea.
Studios are nothing without the people in them. We have a shared Sonos for studio music (participation is encouraged) as well as loads of internal initiatives from our ‘Peeps’ talk series, exercise classes, ping-pong, table football and the sporadic five-a-side challenge. We also take developing skills seriously and help each person to achieve their goals. We encourage and support teams to push themselves, start Kickstarter projects, get magazines off the ground, do podcasts.
“We take developing skills seriously and help each person to achieve their goals.”
The creative brain also needs good food; it’s fortunate that the London studio is just off the amazing Whitecross Street food market, and the San Francisco studio is just a 10-minute walk from the SOMA food market. We eat together most days, and the company gets lunch at least once a month.
As an agency we provide great medical, pension and pay for annual membership at a cultural institution. Everyone takes 25 days of holiday as standard, and the studio is closed between Christmas and New Year. It’s important to take time to reflect, relax and revive once in the summer and once in the winter. This has previously involved going to Iceland, hiring manor houses, boating and much more!
Photography by Jake Green
Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Mention Elise Santangelo
Mention Liam Hill
Mention Amelia Leuzzi
Mention Paul Irwin