1. When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?
I’d love to say it was something dramatic and profound like a parting of the clouds, a shaft of golden light and a divine voice from above summoning me forth to be a designer. In fact, it was a more prosaic voice – that of my art teacher Mike. He asked if I’d ever considered graphic design as a career. This was 1985, I was 16 and enjoying life in the sixth form art department getting covered in screenprint ink. I had no idea there was such a thing, but I immediately liked the sound of it.
That’s what a great teacher does – point you in the right direction.
2. How did you get started and what was the biggest hurdle you overcame?
Often the biggest hurdle is getting your first job in the industry. It was for me. In 1990, the dot-com market crashed and the UK was plunged into a recession. Agencies were shedding staff, not recruiting. If they were recruiting, they wanted a minimum of two years’ experience. I applied to all the agencies I wanted to work for, knocking on doors and doing all the things you were supposed to do. I was getting nowhere. So, I went to work as a filing clerk in (ironically) a jobs centre. I nearly gave up.
Some 12 months later I applied to a small agency on the edge of Manchester and got a job offer.
It wasn’t glamorous. I worked on property leaflets, chemical company brochures and booklets for a company that manufactured plastic laminating machines. But everything rolled from there. Getting that job was the biggest hurdle for me. And its lack of glamour was very important as it’s kept me grounded ever since.
3. What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?
I think at some point you have to decide what type of work you want to do and, related to that, what type of agency you want to be. LOVE has always been a bit of an upstart, an agency that came from ‘the wrong side of the tracks.’ In the UK design sphere that means not being based in London. We’re an agency that prefers revolution to evolution. We want to make a visible difference – to shake things up. Our clients know this and it’s what they actively want from us. Being creative provocateurs has been our best way of attracting clients and, more pointedly, it’s the best way of attracting the right type of clients – those that want to shake things up too.
4. How do you get clients to stay with you and use you for more work?
Go beyond what they expect. I’ve lost count of the times that clients have played back our name to us – ‘we love working with LOVE’. I think that’s because they enjoy the level of provocation in our work and the fact that we are nice people to deal with. Provocation doesn’t have to mean being egotistical or aggressive.
5. Do you ever have issues with clients paying late? How do you manage that?
In our early days, yes. And it’s not an easy thing to deal with. You email, ring, beg and sometimes that’s still not enough. Now, we’re lucky to work with global brands who tend to have their shit together on this sort of stuff. The one bit of advice I’d give is to not spend all the money you make. Build up some fat for when days inevitably get lean.
6. What does your typical work day look like?
I really don’t have a typical day. That’s why I like my job. Every day is different. Usually, it’s a fast-paced mash-up of creative reviews, client calls, internal meetings, briefings, deck writing and presenting. We’re out of lockdown and face-to-face client meetings are back on the agenda so that’s in the mix now too.
7. Any piece of advice/wisdom that you’d like to give the readers at This Design Life?
I’ll give you two, both are instructions from our company handbook. Solve your client’s problem (that’s what a great creative idea does), and don’t be defeated by a shit brief, turn it into a butterfly.