1. When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?
Looking back, even in Primary School, I had a real fascination with the layout and design of school projects. I loved finding interesting ways to set out things like summer diaries on my parent’s Amstrad. By the age of 14 or 15, that had turned into a career ambition. At the time, I was particularly interested in TV news graphics – pretty niche, but it meant I was lucky enough to get work experience at an early age in the graphics departments of a couple of ITV’s regional news rooms – Central News South and HTV West. I loved the buzz of live TV and learning the Quantel edit systems used at the time.
2. How did you get started and what was the biggest hurdle you overcame?
Initially, perseverance and understanding parents helped me get a foot in the door. As a teenager, I wrote to a lot of motion studios to try and get placements – and when some of those paid off, my parents were kind enough to provide an endless taxi service there and back. I was also lucky enough for people in the industry to be accommodating enough to take on someone so young. Particularly Nick Whiting and the design team at Central News South, who welcomed me back on countless occasions and gave me a great grounding for the industry.
I knew I wanted to get into Graphic Design, but I went to a school that didn’t really value the creative arts, so navigating the route into university was a challenge – with non-existent support. I decided to put a portfolio of self-initiated work together, with the aim of joining a degree course without doing a Foundation. Thankfully, my application to Falmouth paid off and I spent an incredible three years on the course there. Led at the time by Jon Unwin – an outstanding tutor, their ideas-led approach, incredible team and unbelievable location made it easy to learn and very hard to leave!
3. What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?
When I set up Lantern, I didn’t take any clients with me from other agencies, so initially new business came through recommendations. Seven years on, word of mouth is still an important factor, but our website is now the biggest driver of enquiries. It’s something I’m incredibly proud of, and it’s led to a huge increase in international commissions. These days, around 80% of our revenue comes from outside the UK – in part led by a huge growth in place, destination, travel and tourism projects.
4. How do you get clients to stay with you and use you for more work?
The simple answer is by doing a good job – and by moving to a place where you’re not just their strategist or designer, you’re their trusted partner and advisor on all things brand related. Having said that, one of the challenges we face as a business is a repeat business pipeline. Because Lantern is very focussed on brand development and rebranding, we tend to take our clients to a place where they’re set for another 5, 10 or 20 years, so if they don’t come back to us, that’s also often the sign of a successful relationship.
5. Do you ever have issues with clients paying late? How do you manage that?
Occasionally, yes. The instances are much fewer these days than when I started Lantern, as our terms and processes have tightened. We set clear payment plans out at the start of a project, which our clients sign off on – and we’re clear that any copyright for using work we have created remains with Lantern until full payment is received. On the rare occasions things don’t go to plan, we pursue the matter legally – and have once taken a client to court over non-payment for a project.
6. What does your typical workday look like?
Anyone who runs a small business will tell you that there’s no typical workday. It keeps it fresh and chaotic in equal measure! Externally, my role spans brand strategy and story development for our clients, alongside design and creative direction. Internally, it covers the day-to-day of keeping the lights on at Lantern – from new business meetings to proposal writing, project management, recruitment, finances, admin… The list goes on!
7. Any piece of advice/wisdom that you’d like to give the readers at This Design Life?
One thing we really try and push at Lantern is the importance and power of verbal branding, alongside visual. We hire designers who have a passion for words as much as pictures, and it leads to brand identities that help companies to stand out – and stand for something. We call it ‘Brand Attitude’ and it’s an approach I have always admired from agencies Down Under – the likes of Interbrand, Re and For The People. So, my advice is this: Never overlook the power of words.