Creating work with lasting value: Design consultancy Greenspace
Back in 2003, an urban regeneration project named Heineken Greenspace planted the seed for strategy-led design consultancy Greenspace to take root. Overseen by founder and CEO Adrian Caddy, the successful project earned awards from D&AD and Contagious, and within the first five years, Greenspace grew from one person to 25, going on to develop brand, digital and experiential projects for clients including Zaha Hadid and Toyota. Dedicated to helping brands create legacy with design ideas that inspire advocacy, positivity and lasting value, Greenspace have worked on projects ranging from The Toyota Wave building in the United Arab Emirates, to hexagonal woodblocks for letterpress printers New North Press. They also recently became a Lecture in Progress agency patron, and are helping support us in our work. We caught up with Adrian to find out more about their bespoke, five-step working process and future plans to branch out into Scandinavia and Africa from their current office, set in an old piano factory in Islington.
Background and Overview
We’re a strategy-led design consultancy that combines the power of good design with storytelling to create brand, digital and experiential communication in a multitude of forms. We work with organisations – big or small, corporate or public – that are genuinely interested in thinking about the long-term and creating a positive impact on the world in which they operate. Our purpose is to help clients plan their journey to creating legacy – growing ideas together that inspire advocacy and lasting value.
The story of Greenspace dates back to our inaugural project in 2003, the eponymous Heineken Greenspace. We were commissioned by Heineken International to create a Heineken-owned brand experience connecting the interests and aspirations of young adult consumers. The idea we developed was to create an urban regeneration project located in Valencia, Spain, developed around co-creation within design, music and film culture. As the team responsible for the project, we became known just as ‘Greenspace’ and started working on new projects under that name. We’ve grown very organically over the past 15 years, going from a one-person team to 25 in the first five years.
“We work with organisations interested in thinking about the long-term and creating a positive impact.”
That first project for Heineken put Greenspace on the map. It won awards from D&AD and Contagious, and resulted in a groundbreaking urban regeneration project that culminated in a permanent legacy: a fully renovated cultural space for the city of Valencia. Today it’s still a facility for culture and creative enterprise. The project opened doors for us to work with designers and architects like Marc Newson, Rem Koolhaas and Zaha Hadid as well as other global brands like Toyota and Nokia.
All of us had experience of working in much larger companies with hierarchical structures, which mimicked the structures and processes of most clients. It can feel stifling – the time and space required for being thoughtful is limited. Starting a company whose purpose from the outset was to create things that would be seen as positive and have lasting value felt liberating and exciting. It still does. The biggest challenge is probably learning when to say no to certain projects.
Work highlights include a typeface we designed called AHP Six, based on hexagonal woodblocks for Anthology that won a Red Dot award, the launch a new motorcycle company in Kenya called Kibo, a future-banking concept we designed for Westpac in Australia and a current project we won to create a destination brand for the magnificent Old War Office in Whitehall, London.
We have devised a five-step process for our projects. The first four steps involve research and planning in order to fully analyse the context and distil the creative challenge to its essence. A project manager from the account team is assigned to lead this process along with a planner and one or more of our designers. If we need, we bring in outside expertise to assist with research. The fifth step is distilling the legacy-driving idea into a short sentence, like the title of a short story. We have great copywriters in the studio, as well as designers with film and animation abilities. Everyone contributes to bringing an idea to life.
We can’t publicise a lot of the work we do due to client or project confidentiality, and we don’t do very much ‘bread and butter’ work. We have an ongoing role with some of the clients, where we design all kinds of business material, but that’s not something that necessarily amounts to a story that needs publicising. Publicity is important but not for its own sake.
“We have great copywriters in the studio, as well as designers with film and animation abilities. Everyone contributes to bringing an idea to life.”
Instead of doing self-initiated work, we try to spot opportunities within the framework of our client projects to create work that aligns with things we are interested in doing. The woodblock typeface for Anthology is a good example. For that project, we worked closely with letterpress and printmakers New North Press to support the narrative they are building, and had the opportunity to make something special for ourselves too.
There are about 20 people on the current team, 15 of whom have full-time roles, a couple who work on a part-time basis, and around three freelancers, depending on workload. Levels of seniority are related to work experience. A few people have more than 20 years know-how, some with ten and quite a few have less than three or four years’ working experience. About half of the team are in client and project management positions, the other half are in design roles, then a few people look after our finances and our own PR.
“It’s not hard to find people with relevant skills, but finding people that really fit on a personal and intellectual level is the key.”
Our structure means we are very flexible with projects, scaling up with freelancers when need. That said, for the last few years, we’ve needed at least three freelancers to work with us on an ongoing basis. We’re always looking for people who share our ideals and are passionate, driven and imaginative. It’s not hard to find people with relevant skills for any given project, but finding people that really fit on a personal and intellectual level is the key.
We also aim to have one placement a year and have also taken on creative and strategy interns over the past couple of years – our researcher, for example, was hired through Goldsmiths University’s placement scheme, and we’re now looking for other initiatives for the summer.
The Environment and Culture
We’re based in an old piano factory called The Ivories, in a beautiful part of Islington, North London. It’s an open-plan space with oak parquet floors, brick walls and Crittall windows, which feels very welcoming and like a design studio should. There’s a communal lunch table in the studio that prevents people from sitting and eating at their desks, we also use this for cakes and drinks whenever the occasion suits. Beers go into the fridge on Friday afternoons and once a month we initiate a Thirsty Thursday outing to a nearby watering hole.
We provide full holiday entitlement for our employees and usually manage two annual away days, sometimes in and around London. Other times, we travel to places around Europe that are relevant to our current workload. Last year we all went to Valencia, and the year before, to Copenhagen. When it comes to training, we work with external consultants that help put the emphasis on being an optimal team, rather than just focusing on individuals.
Greenspace is 15 years old this October. It will be amazing to see how it has evolved in another 15. We’re looking at establishing an office in Africa as well as one in Copenhagen because these are places where we feel we have good connections, where opportunities will develop in line with our ambitions.
In March 2018, Greenspace became a Lecture in Progress agency patron. Their support helps keep what we do possible.
Written by Arielle Bier
Photography by Andy Donohoe
Mention Zaha Hadid Architects