Interview with Andy Sexton

1. When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?

The creative arts were neglected to the point of irrelevance throughout my (grammar school) education. Growing up disliking school immensely, there was always an anti-establishment aura around art, music and design that appealed to my teenage dissidence. This paired well with a deep curiosity around how things were made, from album artwork to computer games, films and architecture.

The ‘push’ from conventional academia combined with a gravitational ‘pull’ towards the arts led to the simple realisation that creativity and technology were at the heart of everything I cared about and connected emotionally with.

2. How did you get started and what was the biggest hurdle you overcame?

In my experience, the ‘hurdles’ are almost always the inflection points – creating the opportunities to challenge yourself and the imperatives to change things.

My lack of any decent grades (or interest) in maths and physics ensured I didn’t get onto any of the architecture courses I wanted, propelling me toward a Product Design and Marketing degree that opened my mind to the power of design to shape the tactile and immersive experiences we have with brands.

Despite graduating with a First in 2005, my inability to land a pure-form Product Design job forced me to explore a wider breadth of creative roles, disciplines and agencies, ultimately leading me to land an intern role at an experience design agency that I admired deeply.

In 2006 an unexpected redundancy from my second job (but first ‘proper’ design role), served as a catalyst to re-appraise what I wanted out of work from a cultural point of view – leading me to turn down a number of offers at high profile London agencies. Instead, accepting a mid-weight creative position at a small, independent, relatively unheard of agency called 2LK.

3. What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?

Throughout my time as an agency leader, we’ve always put significantly more effort, care and value in keeping clients than ‘getting’ them. In fact, and probably to our detriment, in some years we’ve put zero effort or investment into new business. Whilst this approach wasn’t really a conscious one and isn’t necessarily a route I’d advocate for others, the result is a total focus on great work, combined with fostering great customer experiences, both of which have manifested in a regular cadence of referrals and recommendations.

Every business is on a different growth journey and trajectory, our focus is squarely on sustainable, controlled and programmatic growth – a perpetual pursuit for a ‘perfect portfolio’ of clients that are genuine partners. We’re intentional about who we work with so we can be sincere about the value we add. It’s what being a specialist is all about. Besides, how else can you find a good fit? And for us, a good fit makes all the difference. It’s a catalyst for the kind of passion that fuels great work and ignites real pride. So when we find it, we’re all in.

At its heart, quality new business is all about building desire, on both sides of the table. It’s important to differentiate approaches that cater for the close, the many and the powerful – designing discrete experiences for each.

4. How do you get clients to stay with you and use you for more work?

For me, it’s been about consistently proving our value, always demonstrating a commitment to the long game and exercising composure through the hard times. We have a few core values in the business that I genuinely believe have been pivotal to our exceptional client retention:

With, not for. Partnerships mean everything to us, we always take the mindset that we work with our clients, not for them, unleashing potential from the inside out.

Outcomes over output. We’re proud of everything we make, but most of all we’re proud of the influence those things create. Effective design has been at the epicentre of 2LK since day one.

Good enough isn’t for us, it never has been, and it never will be. We’re creative optimists, ambitious with our curiosity and relentless in our search for better. Without question we always take the long view. Extra miles not quick fixes.

Best in class, not best in-house. We’re fiercely independent, which is why we respect the superpowers of others so much. We’re hyper-collaborators, no egos, no excuses and absolutely no white labels.

5. Do you ever have issues with clients paying late? How do you manage that?

We’re a well established, cash-rich business with long term relationships and the right rigours in place to manage complex financial situations, but on occasion we’re sadly still left hanging.

As an agency offering turnkey production services in the live experience space, we’re often the bridge between a big brand with a problem and a pool of smaller businesses that bravely unite to solve it. The first key to managing uncomfortable delays is to ensure issues are never, ever cascaded through to partners and suppliers – treat others and all that. The second key is back to exercising composure – in almost every instance, the root cause is administrative bureaucracy and bullshit, which requires tight management and a healthy dose of patience.

6. What does your typical workday look like?

Thankfully, and perhaps by design, there is little typicality to my days. In the studio I gave up my desk long ago, ensuring I move around the business frequently, often working from multiple different spaces in a single morning. This nomadic way of working keeps me threaded into different people, processes, places and projects.

My neophilia means I’ve always maintained a relative proximity to the early phases of project work, so the reality is I probably still maintain utilisation rates upwards of 40%. This ‘billable’ work is almost entirely focused on client relationships – brand discovery, delivering strategy, selling creative and overcoming objections.

The other 60%, talent nurturing and business / industry visioneering.

7. Any piece of advice/wisdom that you’d like to give the readers at This Design Life?

Creativity is all about divergence. Quantity is more important than quality at the start, so hold back on the editing.

Only do what only you can do. So say no. A lot. Way more than you think.

Show don’t tell. Proof beats promise every time, so hustle hard, however talented you are.

Remove the barrier between the clients and the people who make the work. It encourages problem seeking over problem solving.

Give infinitely more than you take.

Connect with
Andy Sexton

Andy on LinkedIn

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A natural ally for ambitious leaders who recognise the power of exceptional experiences to create brilliant brands. Andy’s passion for creativity, craft and emerging technology shapes his vision for the future of experience marketing and propels 2LK’s unique role in pioneering what’s next.

As ECD Andy leads 2LK’s multi-award winning creative, strategic and experimental work for pioneering tech businesses like Intel, Salesforce, Canon and TikTok. Trained in Product Design and Marketing, he joined 2LK in 2007 as a spatial designer, moving quickly through various senior roles to become Agency Partner and co-owner in 2014. Since then the business has grown significantly in scale, reach and reputation into a globally recognised specialist brand experience partner to leading tech brands.

Andy regularly contributes to articles and speaking engagements, judges awards programmes, mentors future industry leaders, sits on the board of the Design Business Association and actively supports the design faculties at both Southampton Solent University and University for the Creative Arts.

Interview published on: Apr 14, 2023

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