1. When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?
I didn’t train to be a designer… I studied philosophy. I’m not sure I ever wanted to be a designer. My ambition is to communicate, to provoke dialogue, to question answers on my behalf and on that of my clients. Bit by bit I fell into designing record covers and evolving into music / culture related design and thinking.
I call myself a designer now for convenience but am more interested in the thinking and problem solving, and the communication of the solutions. I ended up working on global branding projects — I like connecting with an audience.
2. How did you get started and what was the biggest hurdle you overcame?
I ‘designed’ a cover for a punk band I was in at school (The Infra Red Helicopters). I designed posters and promo for a post-punk band I was in at Sheffield University that mutated into industrialists, Chakk. I designed for and promoted club nights I ran and DJ-ed at in Sheffield in the early 80s. I was asked to manage an ABC spin-off band (Person To Person) as a result, and they suggested I design their covers / art direct photo shoots too. We signed to Epic Records (now Sony). Other bands / industry contacts asked me to design stuff for them.
When Person To Person split around 1985 I was more interested in managing my own creativity and The Designers Republic™ was declared on Bastille Day 1986.I don’t think in terms of hurdles. TDR™ grew organically on a supply and demand basis. If there were hurdles we found a way around them. Not having any training could have been a hurdle but we turned our lack of knowledge into a culture of writing (and breaking) our own rules. Not being based in London could have been a hurdle but we turned it into a USP. Where’s there’s a will, there’s a way.
3. What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?
Creating a mystique surrounding who and what we were / are, and what we did and why, creating a brand for TDR™ for clients to buy in to has probably been our most successful way of connecting with people — setting out our stall and seeing who comes to us. There’s never been a strategy per se. In business terms sometimes we win, and sometimes we don’t. But its better that we’re the A-team who people seek out when they want to work with us and trust in what we do.
4. How do you get clients to stay with you and use you for more work?
In theory by exceeding their expectations and by building strong relationships with them. Some clients prefer the easy life and don’t want their expectations to be exceeded. Sometimes we push them too hard or too far out of their comfort zone. Sometimes relationships draw to a natural conclusion — the spark isn’t there anymore. We’re just people working with other people.
5. Do you ever have issues with clients paying late? How do you manage that?
Yes, sometimes. The business end of The Designers Republic went bust gloriously in 2009 because we weren’t able to manage late and non-payment at that time. The bigger the business gets, the bigger the projects needed to be to feed the beast; and consequently the bigger the problems with cashflow when people don’t pay on time or simply don’t pay.
6. What does your typical work day look like?
I’m not sure there’s a typical work day. I have a low boredom threshold. My time is divided between thinking, and doing, and thinking and doing. Some days I can focus for hours on end. On other days, especially when I’m mainly thinking, I need regular resets. I’m probably more about ritual than organisation.
7. Any piece of advice/wisdom that you’d like to give the readers at This Design Life?
Somewhere between ‘be careful what you wish for’ in business terms, and ‘its better to fail on your own terms than succeed on other peoples’ creatively.