Posted 23 October 2017
Interview by Indi Davies

We get to know Manchester-based design studio and advertising agency LOVE

Founded on a sunny Manchester day in 2001, design studio and advertising agency LOVE started out life as a team of four. Now a workforce of 55, the past 16 years has seen them collaborate with the likes of Guinness, Umbro, Virgin and Haagen-Dazs. Describing themselves as a group of storytellers and creative thinkers, their work has earned over 275 industry awards, with recognition from the likes of D&AD, Creative Review and The Drum. Here we chat to Executive Creative Director David Palmer – one of the founding four – about the studio’s inner-workings, and what it’s like to work from their converted Victorian textiles warehouse, set in the city’s Northern Quarter.

Inside LOVE

Overview

At our core we're a design agency, but we're a little unusual in that we also cover advertising, innovation and interior architecture. In terms of industries, we’ve been very lucky to work across some universally interesting categories; from booze and ice cream to sport, fashion and luxury goods.

To put our purpose into ‘brand speak’, we want to create work that people will love, rather that just like. We often ask ourselves ‘Would this work get shared on Instagram?’ This really means: Will people love it enough to want to share it? I think that explains our name. And for something to be ‘loved’ we firmly believe that it needs to have an idea, so we ask everyone on the team to have a solid concept or a story woven into their work.

“At our core we’re a design agency, but we’re a little unusual in that we also cover advertising, innovation and interior architecture.”

David Palmer

LOVE was founded on a sunny day in Manchester in 2001. We started life working on small design and identity projects, but had a love for advertising, especially the work Mother were producing at that time – edgy, funny, ideas-driven stuff that made us jealous. Our first major win came within months of founding the agency, when we were awarded the Commonwealth Games advertising campaign. It featured international athletes holding hitchhiking signs for Manchester, which became less about sport and more about civic pride. In retrospect, this was the first of many instances where we dared to be more than a regular design agency.

Inside LOVE
Inside LOVE
Inside LOVE
Inside LOVE

The Work

The work we’ve been most proud of over the last year includes a beautiful and exciting packaging overhaul for Häagen-Dazs and a new iteration of Haig Club whisky called Clubman – which is doing really well for our client Diageo. We also managed to get Real Madrid defender Pepe dancing in a shower wearing his new footie boots for an Umbro spot.

Each project will vary in terms of scale, deadlines, disciplines required, senior involvement, so the process between teams will play out in many different ways. Trafficking work through the agency is one of the biggest day-to-day headaches we face.

“We try hard not to do ‘churn’ work that we wouldn’t want to publicise.”

Concept, design and packaging work for Johnnie Walker
Concept, design and packaging work for Johnnie Walker
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Brand design, strategy and packaging work for Häagen Dazs

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Brand design, strategy and packaging work for Häagen Dazs

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Brand design, strategy and packaging work for Häagen Dazs

When required, we will work with external artists, filmmakers and photographers. Most recently we worked with over 13 international artists to create art for our Häagen-Dazs packaging. We also collaborated with a high-profile urban artist from the US called Tristan Eaton, whose work will appear on shelves from next year as part of a project Johnnie Walker.

We try hard not to do ‘churn’ work that we wouldn’t want to publicise, but sometimes our clients need some fairly standard stuff delivered, so we occasionally do a bit of bread-and-butter work. We also encourage sideline work that benefits the agency in some way, and charity work (which we wouldn’t want to shout about – that would be a bit crass).

Inside LOVE
LOVE’s collected awards
Inside LOVE
Inside LOVE

The Team

There are 55 people working at LOVE. That’s made up of a board, which steers the business, and beneath that the agency is divided into account management and creative. Account management handle costs, timelines, logistics, client relationships and the wider client-agency relationship.

Within the creative department we have creative generalists and specialists, which includes writers, animators and CGI visualisers, production and artwork experts. In terms of positions we’re structured like everyone else: starting at junior level and moving up through the standard bands of middleweight, senior and director positions. When we’re recruiting for the creative department, we look for design excellence, good ideas, a lack of ego, a curious mind, strong communication skills and signs that the individual is hard-working, resourceful and collaborative.

Art direction, film content and art installation as part of an experience created for the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin
Art direction, film content and art installation as part of an experience created for the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin

One of our more unusual positions here is held by Kat, our Head of Culture. Her role is to feed, inspire and alert the creative team of cultural happenings in the world, so we can ensure what we’re doing is relevant and on the money in terms of being ‘cool’. Kat will also provide this service for our clients, so that they too can keep abreast of what’s going on. She inputs heavily at the beginning of a project briefing and in any pitches or proposals we do.

We will occasionally work with freelancers, mainly for support with artworking, and often take on interns. Internships will usually be limited to one or two a year, in the hope that they convert into full-time positions.

“Our location is very important to us. We’re based slap-bang in the middle of the city’s sub-culture.”

The LOVE studio
Inside LOVE
Inside LOVE
Inside LOVE

Environment and Culture

Our location is very important to us. We’re based in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, slap-bang in the middle of the city’s sub-culture. The local area is gritty, urban, restless and artsy, with loads of bars, coffee shops and niche apparel stores. It’s also used frequently as a backdrop for big films – usually as a substitute for New York’s Lower East Side [including Captain America and Alfie].

Our offices are split over two floors in an old Victorian textiles warehouse; everything is open-plan with multiple meeting rooms and break-out areas. We’d describe it as Victorian-industrial, with smatterings of Northern humour and cultural references. Sometimes it’s a bit like a Crufts show – we have that many dogs showing up. We also have two bars – one on each floor – which have two functions: the obvious being to serve booze when we have socials, and the other being a repository for great bottle design. We’ll collect these as inspiration and reference for when we’re designing for alcohol brands.

Work for Peri.A
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Work for Peri.A

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Work for Peri.A

Each member of staff has an annual training budget of £500, which they will spend on an area they feel they need development. Everyone gets 23 days of holiday, plus their birthday. We have two all-expenses-paid bashes a year; one in the summer around the time of the studio’s birthday, and the other at Christmas, which invariably involve a trip away. We have an internal show-and-tell event called SHOW that gives us a platform to share the work we’re all busy doing. More recently this has morphed and expanded to become a full-scale production, involving free beer, bar snacks and some ritual humiliation.

Inside LOVE

Photography by LOVE
Interview by Indi Davies
Mention David Palmer
Mention Ellen Ling
Mention Sam Wilkes
Photography by Richard Kelly