Interview with James Wood

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

I remember it was in my later years of high school. We had an IT project to setup a database for a local business. I selected a local Golf Course and spent more time redesigning the crest and colour scheme than the actual database.

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

Well, I first started looking for a job in London during a recession (here we go again). At the time, I didn’t realise how bad my first portfolio was – I had rejection after rejection. I soon realised I needed to sharpen everything up and, thankfully, I finally got that first opportunity.

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

You’ll have heard it before, but still the most valuable thing for us is to build relationships. Of course, doing a good job goes without saying but you’ll be surprised, even in huge global agencies, how important relationships are. For the majority of the time, somewhere down the line it will have been a connection or a relationship that has secured a project or got it over the line.

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

Now, this is a big commercial question and probably one with no right answer. For us, we believe efficiency and creativity should work together. Providing clients with a streamlined approach –removing the fluff, delivering on time, and solving more of their problems through efficiency – ultimately means that you have more time for creative. If you’re helping make their job easier, it’s a win-win.

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

Thankfully, we’ve been very lucky at ShopTalk/DEPT®. You get a good sense early on of the type of payer a client will be. If you’re struggling to get hold of them, they don’t reply to you, or they seem difficult from the outset – it’s not a good sign. We always try to break down our payments across a project. If in doubt, get that invoice out early, or part of it at least. Keeping an eye on the money is important.

6. What does your typical workday look like?

Hugely different. Now we’re part of DEPT® I get the opportunity to join lots of exciting calls, conversations and workshops around the globe. We also work with a variety of industries, so the requests can be varied. For example, our current projects include a robot campaign, a strategy piece for an innovative B Corp business in California and a kids nature digital piece – all requiring very different services and day-to-day interaction. That said, we always start the day with a short team planning update and check-in with the senior team. It’s also great being back in the office part of the time as those natural conversations you don’t get working remotely smooth out the day.

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

Don’t neglect how you present your ideas and work to clients – existing and potential. For example, your presentation must be considered: walk them through what you’ve done and why you’ve done it, what you need from them, and make sure it looks great! (I hate something that jumps from page to page). As designers, we sometimes forget a lot of clients don’t understand what we’re presenting, so take the time to make sure they do. It will put you in a good place for the entire project.

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James Wood

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James Wood is a Creative Director and Founder at ShopTalk/DEPT®. a London-based brand and experience design studio helping complex brands achieve greater things.

Interview published on: Dec 14, 2022

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