Interview with Jamie Ellul

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

I don’t think I really understood a designer’s role until I did my first year of my HND in 1999. Before that I didn’t want to be a designer – I just wanted to be creative. But I guess to a certain degree that’s still the case – being a designer is my day job, but being creative is just what I do. I can’t help it. Whether it’s making music, writing, drawing, thinking – I just like the act of making something from nothing. It feels like magic to me. 

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

I studied at Somerset College where I was taught by Malcolm Swatridge, who was one of the founders of The Partners (now Superunion). It was a really great schooling in ideas-based graphic design and craft. After my second year I managed to get a placement at hat-trick design in Sept 2001 and I worked my arse off to convert the placement into a job. That was really the start of my design journey and I learned a lot really fast as I was their first employee – they’d only been going a few months so I was chucked in at the deep end. A junior designer with three creative directors! Seriously top heavy. But an incredible opportunity which I think really set my up for my whole career. 

So I still don’t have a degree in graphic design, as landing that job at hat-trick meant I never finished my degree. I guess the only hurdle was getting a job – hat-trick was my 8th placement and as a slightly mature student (24) I was keen to get a job as quickly as possible and earn a living again. I actually turned down a job offer at a large packaging agency just before getting the internship with hat-trick – which in hindsight was the best move of my career. 

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

Anthony Burrill’s ‘Work hard & be nice to people’ poster has become a cliché – but it’s so true when it comes to running an agency. We treat our clients with a lot of respect, we’re acutely aware our job is to make them look good. To make marketing and brand managers’ lives as easy as possible. We try to build relationships and trust by being down-to-earth and a pleasure to work with. 

And that tends to lead to more work – clients either move on to a new role and take us with them, or recommend us to other clients. We recently won YHA as a client because of a recommendation from Scouts. For us that’s the best kind of work to win. We have a mantra printed on the wall here – ’The best new business is old business’.

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

See above really. It’s about building trust and respect that flows both ways. We’re lucky that we have some very long-term relationships – including my relationship with Royal Mail stamps and collectibles which has been alive and well since 2002. 

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

Yes we’ve definitely had this issue in the past. We tend to ask for 50% up front with any new client. Some of our larger clients have some fairly long payment terms – 90 days after delivery of artwork for instance. That can be pretty tough, but at least you know it’s come and will come on time. 

6. What does your typical work day look like?

Every day is different which is why I still love what I do. Usually starts with a fresh to do list on a post it note. Then I try to get any boring admin done first, so by 11am I can just have a nice day. As founder and CD I tend to wear many hats through the day – hopping from one project to another, lots of client calls and meetings, paying suppliers, invoicing, designing, thinking, marketing, estimating, pitching etc. 

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

Don’t ever do a project just for the money. It rarely works out. Make sure there’s a good chemistry and fit with the client and their brief. Remember clients are people too – they like to feel they’re doing a good job just like us design lot. So give praise where it’s due.Hope this is all useful. Shout if you need anything else…

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Jamie Ellul is Creative Director and Founder of Supple Studio. A Bath-based a purposefully small design agency specialising in creating brand identities with meaning for clients who give a damn about people and planet.

Interview published on: Jan 14, 2022

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