Creating, modifying, evolving: Inside Manchester-based brand design studio Edit_
Founded in January 2017 by Karen Hughes and Khadija Kapacee, Manchester-based brand studio Edit_ grew out of a freelancing partnership, which quickly gained a strong client base and developed into a full creative studio. Now a full-time team of five, Edit_ takes on projects from reputable names like the Barbican, the National Portrait Gallery and London Zoo, as well as working with philanthropic organisations like One Million Mentors. It’s their mission to refine brand identities, campaigns and experiences by stripping away the unnecessary clutter and editing down to the essentials. We hear from Karen and Khadija on the studio’s approach to briefs, the benefits of working in Manchester and the importance of flexibility when it comes to working hours.
We’re a brand consultancy and design studio working on a wide variety of branding projects that can loosely be grouped into three areas: brand identity, brand campaigns and brand experiences. Our current client base is varied, we work across sectors that include everything from arts and culture, visitor attractions, technology, recruitment, finance and education.
Our approach is based on the ethos of creating an ‘edit’ and all of its accompanying definitions, which include: to change, to curate and to remove the unnecessary, as we help businesses and organisations understand who they are, what they stand for and why people should care.
In terms of making change, we create, refine and reimagine brands through creativity, clarity and focus. Then in curating, we direct, supervise and arrange the right team (including freelancers) for the right projects. There’s a lot of independent skilled creatives out there, so by having a lean and nimble core team, we can collaborate with the right people as and when we need. Then we’ve removed the unnecessary by creating a model based on the idea that less is more. Less rules means less process, less talk, less ego, more flexibility, more freedom, more imagination, more action and more understanding.
“We were keen to strip out the unnecessary and create a model based on less is more.”
We founded the studio in January, 2017. After previously working together for five years at another agency, we were both at a point in our careers where we were ready for a new challenge, and setting up our ‘own thing’ seemed like the natural next step. Originally we’d both decided to try freelancing and partner on relevant projects, with Karen as the creative and Khadija as the account manager. But we very quickly established our own client base and decided to set up as a small creative studio to service these clients.
Initially, we worked from co-working spaces and teamed up with freelancers when required. After about 12 months, we had established a number of strong client relationships and regular project work and at that point, we decided it was the right time to add to our numbers. We offered two of our freelance designers permanent roles within the team and have since taken on another designer. We have also just taken on an account manager.
We’ve had a few key highlights this year. Creating a name, identity and campaign for Chester Zoo’s one of a kind festival, Wild Worlds, was great fun. The project was quite unique as we worked with an extremely talented paper artist who helped bring the vision to life, as well as our neighbours, motion design agency Mighty Giant. Not only was the end result great and more than we expected, but the process of the project and the collaboration was a testament to the fact that when you bring people together with different skill sets, the idea amplifies and becomes greater.
We also worked on a number of campaigns for the National Portrait Gallery including a rebrand of the Friday Lates and our ‘Meet the locals’ campaign to attract more international visitors to the gallery’s permanent collection. And towards the end of 2018, we were thrilled to be invited by Barbican to help them deliver a brand repositioning campaign to promote their Cinema at Barbican offer.
There are a number of ongoing projects that we are hugely excited about. We are currently working with Nesta, British Council and Hivos to deliver the name and brand identity for a global learning programme for creative hub leaders. And we are currently working with ZSL London Zoo on several exciting campaigns, including the launch of a new Aquarium at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo and a brand positioning campaign to promote ZSL London Zoo to a local, adult audience.
In terms of how projects are carried out, the scoping and costing phase sits initially with the account manager. It’s their job to plan the process and produce accurate costs and timings, and they stay involved throughout the process to keep everything on track. Once a job is approved, it goes into the creative team. They work on initial creative concepts which will be presented to the client and, all being well, will result in the client choosing one direction (but more often than not it will be a mix of lots of ideas we’ve shown them).
Following that, the creative development and implementation of the project will be handled by one member of the creative team, overseen by either the creative or design director as well as a project manager. The development and implementation phase of the project usually involves the creative overseeing freelance illustrators or photographers but this all depends on the requirements of the project.
“It’s very important for us to bring the same level of commitment and creativity to everything we do.”
We also feel it’s really important to take on jobs that we and the team are passionate about and that will allow us to push boundaries creatively. This means we have lots of different projects going on at once, each one as important as the other, regardless of whether or not they are ‘bread and butter jobs’. It’s very important for us to bring the same level of commitment and creativity to everything we do. We try to publicise as much as possible, whether this is in collaboration with a design publication or on our website and social channels.
Alongside us, we have six full-time team members. We always intended to be small and we believe in sustainable growth that still allows us to produce great quality work. There are members of the team with more experience in certain areas, but we try not to pigeonhole anybody as we want to keep things fluid and flexible in terms of roles and responsibilities, and we like designers to have the opportunity to run projects. As co-founders, we also muck in and work on the day-to-day projects.
We use multiple freelancers and have a wide network of trusted collaborators, working with designers, copywriters, artworkers, marketers, animator, illustrators, photographers and brand strategists. On occasion, we partner with an animation or TV production company.
Then, when it comes to recruiting, I’d say the single most important thing is that whoever joins the team ‘stays teachable’. We’re never looking for the finished article in designers; I’m looking for people who are keen to keep learning, keep pushing, keep improving and keep growing.
Taking feedback constructively and letting it build you up rather than knock you down is one of the most important things a designer can learn. And it’s not just a one-way thing – I’m always learning from my team, I’m always pestering them to show me how to do things and each new member of the team brings something different to the table.
“Taking feedback constructively is one of the most important things a designer can learn.”
Last year we had a placement student last year, which we all loved and so will definitely be having more! It’s great to nurture young talent and they bring such good vibes and energy to the studio. We don’t have a scheme as such but we are definitely very open to taking on ambitious young talent.
Environment and Culture
We’re based in the city of Manchester – a city we all love and are very proud of. There’s a great buzz and lots to do in our area in terms of food and entertainment. There are great transport links making it really accessible for staff and clients to get to us. Our studio is also part of Federation House, which is a great community with lots of digital, tech and innovative companies. It’s great having amazing talent at your doorstep.
Manchester is a city where anything’s possible. Big enough to be exciting, but small enough to feel a part of it. It’s got such a kind, supportive creative community. Other agencies who you might traditionally class as the ‘competition’ have often been our biggest cheerleaders. We get so many nice emails and comments from other local creatives which I think is just a reflection of the positive spirit of Manchester and the North of England in general. In addition, it’s affordable compared to other UK cities and very accessible. With over half of our clients being based in London, the fact that the train to London is under two hours is a huge plus.
Our office is quite minimal – we have a hot-desking policy which really limits clutter on desks. Although not huge, it’s perfect for us at this stage as we all work together quite closely and having an open plan set up is great. We also have a Spotify playlist for the office which everyone contributes to. It’s a very good way of getting to know your team; you learn a lot about people from their music choices!
In terms of employee perks, we like to have an away day at least twice a year and we combine this with some sort of party – usually summer and Christmas. We have beers and prosecco every Friday and at least once a month we order in or go out for a team lunch.
But the main benefit we offer is flexible working. Some of the team start at 8am and finish at 4pm to collect their kids. And there’s a couple of night owls (including myself) that are much more productive later in the day, so prefer to start around 10am and finish early evening.
We also offer the option of working from home. Sometimes, if you are working on a project independently and need some head space, then it’s much more productive. Flexible working is something that we hope can help people balance the time demands of the creative industry. It’s not 9 to 5, never has been and never will be.
“Flexible working is something that we hope can help people balance the time demands of the creative industry.”
We’re always evolving as a team. Earlier this year, we started to focus more on our social channels and have spent the last three months building our brand on Instagram. Every Monday, design director Ade posts Wordplay – an exploration in typography. The rest of us focus on The Weekly Edit_. We take it in turns to come up with a theme and then create a story around that theme, each one offering insight and inspiration. We’re hoping to do more as the year progresses.
When it’s of particular interest to the team, we also work on a number of pro-bono projects. For example, our senior designer Sam has a keen interest in classical music and has recently worked on the branding for Manchester Baroque, a new musical group dedicated to performing the music of the 17th and 18th centuries. Plus, we’re currently working on the new brand identity for a national mentoring charity, One Million Mentors.
Meet the Edit_ Team
Samantha Wilkinson, designer since July 2018
Previous employment: Designer at The Chase Creative Consultants
Graduated with a degree in Digital Graphics from the University of Central Lancashire in 2014
“Being a designer at Edit_ is about more than just design, it’s about a whole host of exciting things. From sparking up ideas to implementing them across multiple platforms, keeping an eye out for the latest design updates and attending inspiring talks. You never get bored, as no two days are the same. One day you could be working on a leaflet and the next a full brand identity and advertising campaign.”
Liv McCarthy, designer since July 2018
Previous employment: Designer at BJL, Junior Designer at Wonder Associates
Graduated with a degree in Graphic Arts and Design from Leeds Metropolitan University (now Leeds Beckett) in 2012
“I met Karen and Khadija at an Edit_ Christmas party! My friend had interned with them previously and invited me along. We really got on and kept in touch. I worked on a freelance job before they then offered me a full-time role.
“The benefit of being a small agency is that although one person tends to be the lead on a job, anyone can contribute ideas at any time. Every project feels like a team effort.”
Adrian Newell, design director
Previous employment: Senior Designer at True North, Designer at Future, Designer at Traffic
Graduated from the University of Salford
“I wouldn’t say we have a house style, each project brings a fresh approach and a different way of thinking which keeps it interesting. In my opinion, it’s so beneficial to gain some real-world experience while still completing your course. Like driving a car, you learn more about the industry when you're in it.”
Written by Karen Hughes
Written by Khadija Kapacee