Interview with Callum Lumsden

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

I used to copy cartoons from comics (Micky Mouse, Yogi Bear, Fred Flintstone, Batman) when I was a kid. That became my introduction to drawing with pen and pencils. I then started to redesign where we lived in Edinburgh, and I have no idea where that came from. But if I can remember rightly it involved knocking down rather a lot of walls in the flat we had above a sweet shop and butchers in Edinburgh!

I guess that was the beginning of me being fascinated with interior space, which has remained with me ever since. My next obsession was getting myself into an art college to study furniture design in Birmingham, followed by a 3-year stint studying Interior Architecture at the Royal College of Art.

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

During my time at the RCA, I got to know the fashion design students really well. So, when we all graduated many of them went to work for retailers and they introduced me to their bosses who were just beginning to open shops. Whistles, Jigsaw, Kickers for instance and that got me started in retail design which I have been doing ever since.

As things got busier for me, I began to take on freelancers to help out, which eventually developed into me opening my own studio and forming a design agency. We had our ups and downs but the biggest ‘up’ was winning the pitch for the design of the Tate Modern Bookshop, which opened in 2000, and that led me on the path of working in the cultural sector which is where we have been so successful to date.

The biggest hurdle for me commercially has always been to ensure that there is enough cash flow coming into the business to ensure the smooth running of Lumsden, by being able to pay the bills. The biggest hurdle for me on a professional basis continues to be to convince the museum and visitor attraction sector that retail is an essential factor of their visitors experience in their institutions. 

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

I’ve never been ‘backwards in coming forward’s about telling the world about our projects and how successful they are. Lumsden spends 90% of its marketing budget on PR which enables us to get requests for press coverage, invitations to speak at conferences, media slots, etc. This has enabled me to build up a network of business opportunities and enhance the reputation of our work. Many of our clients have contacted us first rather than the other way around which is a great endorsement of our reputation.

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

It sounds a bit glib but doing a great job for them and ensuring that we are always there for them during the project has ensured that they stick with us for as long as they need our services. Many of our clients have been with us for a long time and have become what I describe as  ‘professional friends’. 

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

If there are ever any payment delays it usually can be traced back to our clients’ accounts department. If you have a good relationship with your clients, any problem about payment always gets sorted out by speaking to the main contact direct, as they value the relationship as much as you do.

6. What does your typical workday look like?

My day starts at 6.00am with a cup of tea and a review of my emails. Many of our clients are international (currently Japan, China, Canada and Austria) so the time difference means that I get loads of communications overnight. I usually arrive at our studio around 8.30am and the day could be anything from studio reviews of current projects, client presentations and the endless Teams and Zoom calls that plague everybody since the recent lockdowns.  

We always sit down together at lunchtime, which has been an essential part of the Lumsden way of ensuring that nobody eats their sandwich in front of a screen. And we talk about anything other than work and mobiles are banned at the table! I usually get home around 7pm unless I’m going out for a client dinner or some design event. Otherwise, I’d be hitting the cinema for the latest movie,  which is one of my enduring passions, or to the opening of a new exhibition which is my other favourite thing.

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

You haven’t won a project until the client has signed your contract.

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Callum Lumsden is a leading design expert for cultural and visitor attractions. He is the co-founder of Lumsden, a specialist design studio delivering bespoke retail and leisure environments for the world’s most renowned museums, galleries and visitor attractions including V&A Dundee, MoMA (NYC), Warner Bros. Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter London, and M+ Museum, Hong Kong.

Interview published on: Dec 2, 2021

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