Interview with Nick Rees

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

Honestly, I fell into design. I lost my father as a young boy and as a result, drove my mother mad. I was veering wildly off the rails but always had my love of art throughout. This manifested itself through graffiti, which strangely kept me on some kind of path. 

At the age of 16, I had a two-week work experience handed to me as an effort to ‘sort me out’. It was doing ‘graphic design’. I had absolutely no idea what that meant however my auntie was sure it was something to do with drawing. I watched, listened, made tea, and then drew a logo for a client. The client ended up choosing my route and I got myself a job. 

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

I started my apprenticeship with the same small studio. It was part of a wider business that, strangely, included a computer sales outfit. This was the 80’s and the sales team had just got their hands on ‘the big new thing’… a shiny Apple Macintosh. 

They had no idea how to use it, and once they all got bored of it, I threw myself into learning the software and stretching the bounds of what it could do (not much at the time). They caught me a couple of times and told me to focus on my other work. I ignored them of course, and once they started to see what this thing could do, they gave me a desk and a Mac SE/30 (black and white screen). I was off. 

I skipped any kind of formal training but instead pushed hard and asked a lot of questions. A few key people through the years noticed and gave me chances to learn and grow. I moved around a bit and, later on, made a good friend who kept bugging me about meeting a couple of creatives that he knew in London. I eventually caved and went for a chat. 

This was where my journey with Bulletproof began. I met Gush and Jonny; two creatives that were building something different. It was just a few people in a very small space but there was a real energy that came from a desire to challenge everything. I witnessed the genesis of a belief system and a supportive culture that asked, ‘What else can we do?’ rather than ‘Just do what the brief says’. I quickly learned the strength of independent spirit and how it empowered and championed great thinking above all else. 

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

The work. Plenty of other things contribute, but the work comes first. I’ve always thought that other people’s complacency is a gift, it presents opportunities. Much like graffiti, there are a lot of people out there that can ‘tag’, but there are far fewer that can create beautiful lasting work. 

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

Again, it’s the work. It needs to be fresh. Once you’ve shown someone what great looks like, it’s then about keeping that creative momentum and never letting go. If you become complacent there are plenty more people standing by to step in and take the opportunity from you.

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

As an agency we’ve worked hard to get where we are. We’ve focussed on many aspects to gain the respect of our team and our clients. This respect earns us the right to fair treatment – part of which is the right price and payment on time. 

When we take on a project, we commit ourselves completely. We always deliver and do the very best we can. We expect the same standards in return. Don’t get me wrong, there have been exceptions over the years, however you won’t find those names on our client list.

6. What does your typical work day look like?

I don’t like or want ‘typical’ working days. The thing I love about the independence of Bulletproof is that we have built a creative culture that doesn’t let this happen. We constantly evolve and adapt, and this means that there’s always an entrepreneurial buzz that affects everything.

I feed off this and enjoy varied days that can include anything from breaking a first-stage creative concept, mentoring a designer, linking up with our amazing strategy team or locking the doors to sketch out the odd idea. It comes thick and fast and its never the same. 

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

There is a lot of talk about a healthy divide between work and home… the perfect work-life balance that so many strive for. 

Over the years I’ve found that the best approach for me is to not recognise this divide. That doesn’t mean not giving yourself a break. But more, treat your work as your art and your colleagues as your friends. Don’t suddenly feel like you need to ‘switch on’ for work time and perform under pressure. Be relaxed and creatively focussed at all times. Your best ideas will often come in your downtime when you’re not trying to squeeze them out of your brain.

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Nick Rees is Chief Creative Officer at independent brand design agency Bulletproof. Responsible for the creative output of all Bulletproof studios – London, New York, Singapore, Amsterdam, Sydney and Shanghai – Nick is adamant about finding simple but elegant creative solutions and then immersing himself in the detail of execution. This means that he and his team are constantly pushing boundaries and holding themselves to the highest creative standards.

Nick has used this philosophy with some of the world’s most high-profile brands including Schweppes, Heineken, White Claw, Diageo and Cadbury, and his work has been featured by diverse media such as the BBC, Creative Review and The Daily Mail.

Interview published on: Jan 14, 2022

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