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I approach a ’significant birthday year’ next year, the sort of birthday that makes you sit back and reflect on your career journey. When I look back on mine there are two things that stand out as fundamental truths.
First I realise just how ridiculously low I set my own bar for success. I never went to university and landed my first role in the ‘creative industries’ on the bottom rung of the ladder at eighteen as a ‘gofer’ in an Ad agency.
I did everything from filing job bags after hours on an evening, to laying the agency’s new carpet tiles one weekend when they were moving studio. I worked hard to show willing as I genuinely believed that my career ceiling was pretty low and as a result I just had to work harder than anyone else to get anywhere.
I believed that if I was able to earn around £6,000 a year (I started out on £2,200 PA) and have a basic Vauxhaul as a company car, then I’d have made it. These were my genuine aspirations, albeit perhaps slightly ridiculous looking back now.
But herein lies the second fundamental truth which as the old saying goes… ‘the harder you try the luckier you get’. Hard work gets you a long way.
Usain Bolt says that winning the Olympic Gold Medal was easy, but the hours and hours of training were brutal. Success may seem easily won from the outside, but it rarely comes without real endeavour and going the extra mile.
Hard work however isn’t just about toil. It is about putting yourself about, hanging out at every type of event and getting to know people who just know so much more than you do.
I was lucky bumping into Sir John Sorrell in my early years. As I was no threat to him or his business, with Elmwood in those days being something of a jobbing design studio on the outskirts of Leeds, compared to his fully fledged international design business. I guess he put a metaphorical arm around me.
He was the Chairman of the DBA at the time and in those early days of the DBA they needed some representation outside London. So there was a mutual benefit in hanging out. John was never an official mentor but there is no doubt that he did mentor me for many years, helping me improve my ‘Creative Eloquence’ and introducing me to the industry proper.
In short, he helped me mature into the profession and I feasted on his wisdom. He encouraged me onto the Board of the DBA where I then met the likes of Sir Ken Grange (a founding Pentagram Partner) who asked me to succeed him as DBA Chairman and John Larkin from Design House, who taught me all about pub branding (their specialism at the time).
What you quickly learn about this industry, is that it is full of generous people who will help you unreservedly if they can see that you are also like minded and prepared to give equally of your time.
Today, some may say that my mentoring journey has come full circle as I now am the mentor rather than mentee to a number of businesses through a number of networks including the DBA’s Twenty/Twenty programme, where I mentor a great design business in Ireland called Dynamo. I also mentor students through my role as a Visiting Professor at Huddersfield University.
In so doing, people often ask me (not realising my background and debt to my mentors) why I do it. The answer is simple and is that I continue to learn, as in my head at least, I am still the mentee also.
This life is an ongoing learning journey. When I was starting out I would look up in awe at the likes of John Sorrell thinking, ‘I am not worthy’. Today I realise that young guns may be slightly intimidated by me in return, but what they don’t realise is that I feel equally vulnerable, as I know very little of their world and use these moments to help me understand the next generation.
So you see, mentor or mentee it is a two way street and the more you put yourself about, the more you learn and the more potent you become…even at my age!
DBA Twenty/Twenty mentoring
DBA Twenty/Twenty pairs rising industry leaders with established design pioneers for a 12-month one-to-one mentoring relationship. Why not think about what development you need right now, or what insight you can give back to the design industry. Find out more and apply by 11 December 2020 to be part of the programme next year.
Erlend Ekseth | Unsplash
John Salvino | Unsplash
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Jonathan Sands OBE
The books make the compelling case for why manufacturers, brand owners and start-ups should tap into the UK’s end-to-end design-led leadership in the areas of Healthcare, and Food and Drink.
In a time when revenue and profits are critically important to the wellbeing of our industrial landscape, the DBA is keen to make the case for product and service transformation that can bring about increases in revenue and decreases in manufacturing costs, to name just two of the benefits of using designers.
The UK has the largest integrated healthcare system in the world with its expertise in demand globally. And we boast extraordinary levels of innovation in food and drink, and the wherewithal to manufacture and package products to very high standards. And creatively, we are the originators of unique purposeful brands that stand the test of time, from start-up, to scale-up, to sell up.
UK Export Finance now makes buying from the UK easier, and this, coupled with the commercial expertise and support of the Department of International Trade’s commercial officers in more than 100 counties close the circle on a UK offer that will take buyers from concept to capitalisation.
These publications were funded by the Department for Digital Culture Media and Sport in collaboration with the Department for International Trade. They form part of a promotional campaign being undertaken by the DBA to showcase UK design in international markets. They form part of the collateral used by the GREAT Britain campaign which showcases all four corners of our nation to inspire the world and encourage people to do business in the UK.
Distributed internationally, these publications are free to download and distribute as pdfs (see below). Please help yourself.
If you’d like to contact any of the businesses featured you will find their details near the end of each book. Alternatively, contact the DBA, and we’ll help you with your enquiry. E: email@example.com
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Department for International Trade
Despite producing award-winning English wine of the highest quality – served to the Queen at her Diamond Jubilee celebrations no less – the vineyard was hindered by a small site (just 12 acres in size) and an outdated brand and website. “As an analogy, you could say the product was ‘Waitrose’ whilst the brand was ‘Tesco’” says Ginetta George, MD of Detail Design.
George heard Albury’s founder Nick Wenman speaking at a local networking event. “You listen to Nick talk about all the care, attention and passion that goes into his wine”, she says, “and you’re ready to hand over £30 for a bottle”. But the brand was another story. “It looked like it was a completely different company,” reflects George.
Recognising the discord between the quality of the product and how the outdated brand was perceived, George made a bold approach to Albury setting out the value design could bring to the business. “I just knew that helping them align the brand to who they were as a business, would help them enormously,” she says.
And that, it did. Sales soared 40% and direct to consumer sales grew 120% in the 18 months following the rebrand, greatly increasing profit per bottle. The new brand, label and web design elevated Albury Vineyard within the industry, enabling it to confidently stand alongside much larger, established vineyards in the UK and completely turning around the profitability of the company.
“When you add to this heavenly liquid, a bottle, cap and label redesign which must be one of the most impressive packaging transformations I have ever seen, this is a wine operating at the very highest levels of world rosé production,” reported The Vineyard Magazine’s Matthew Jukes.
The sophisticated design has brought to life the heritage and quality of Albury’s wine and the vineyard’s dedication to organic and biodynamic culture; the fine English wine now looks every bit as good as it tastes.
“Our previous view of design was a ‘nice to have’ not a ‘need to have’, but now our opinion has changed completely,” says Lucy Letley, Nick’s daughter and business partner. “The re-brand has made a huge difference to our business.”
Albury soon discovered the effectiveness of the new brand and e-commerce website designed by George’s business’ Detail Design. When the website launched, it took more sales in two months than it did in the entire previous year. And newly equipped with clear brand guidelines and assets, the vineyard also gained the confidence to step up its marketing and social media reach, more effectively engaging potential customers at every touchpoint and elevating its profile, both in terms of sales and brand awareness.
“It’s lovely to be recognised as a top-quality producer now”, says Letley, “our products have always been high-end but now the branding reflects that and seeing the upturn in orders coming through our website has been very rewarding”.
“Sorting out your brand and website design is even more important now than ever,” says George, “with the pandemic and continuing lockdowns, people are having to make choices online and if you have a fantastic product but your brand says something completely different, or your website is poorly functioning, you are letting your business down.”
Albury’s investment in design has put them ahead of the game in this respect, and it’s delivered a level of resilience to the vineyard this year.
“At times during the pandemic our business has had to close to visitors, and we lost all of our restaurant trade overnight,” says Letley, “however, our web sales tripled and it’s been exciting to see the increase in direct sales of our wine,” she adds.
Letley is clear that had Albury not invested in the new website design, it would have lost out on those direct to consumer sales, which, she says “would have been catastrophic to the survival of the business.” Awareness of the brand has also increased since the re-brand, allowing Albury to reach out to larger numbers of social media followers reaping rewards between the two lockdowns. “When we reopened to visitors over the summer,’ reflects Letley, “all our tours and open days were fully booked”.
UK firms cite design as increasingly important when combating the effects of recession, with evidence showing that in the UK, for every £1 invested in design, businesses can expect over £20 in increased revenues and over £4 increase in net operating profit.
When it comes to weighing up business priorities right now and whether that should include design investment, Letley is clear; “we’re now convinced design is key – your product has to be good of course, but the design of your brand is equally important, if not more so!”
Albury Vineyard and Detail Design won a DBA Design Effectiveness Award in recognition of the commercial impact of their design.
Agency leaders from a wide spectrum of design businesses are drawn to the programme for different reasons. Mash’s MD Mari Darlison signed up for the current programme because she was “interested in shifting the emphasis of the agency”. Dynamo’s Founder and Chairman Jamie Helly had heard great feedback about the scheme, whilst on-IDLE’s MD, Ané-Mari Peter was seeking an opportunity to test her personal business goals. “My mentor did challenge me – which was exactly what was needed,” she says.
Twenty/Twenty is about empowering the individual, and throughout the 12-month process the focus is on embedding a step change in the mentee to develop their thinking and approach, so they are then able to capitalise on that transformation quite independently after the mentoring has ended.
Having set her design consultancy up 18 years ago, Darlison’s clear that Twenty/Twenty has been valuable in providing an opportunity to reflect on her role within the business. As a result, she is now looking to find ways to specialise more, “both for my own personal development and the good of the company,” she says.
Peter has also seen significant benefits, including identifying a clear sector the business excels in that they’d not considered previously. “By talking through with my mentor and being more open-minded about the ‘type’ of customers we could actually identify as a niche, we unexpectedly won £30k of work from an otherwise very low-spend, and most likely ‘one-off’ customer,” reflects Peter.
For mentees, it’s not about being told what to do, but instead, it’s about tapping into your own capabilities and bringing them to the fore – permanently. “It has helped me be more decisive and push forwards with plans to reposition the company and I’ve had the confidence to push through changes quicker,” says Darlison.
The programme itself is purposefully designed to be flexible around how each individual mentoring pair wants to proceed through the year. For Creative Chimps Director Shray Vaidya, the opportunity to communicate shared experiences and challenges with his mentor has been “reassuring and valuable” especially in the current climate shaped by the pandemic, and the business is now creating a focus around its capabilities as an agency rather than the area in which it derives the majority of its work. “There has been some great practical advice that has helped – and would have helped regardless of the context,” he says.
Helly has also found the programme “more than helpful” this year in gaining reassurance as to what other companies are also facing, as well as benefiting from “ideas sharing on ways of coping, along with great insights on team management and HR” from his mentor, Elmwood’s Founder and Chairman, Jonathan Sands OBE.
Training – offered as part of the Twenty/ Twenty programme – helps develop specific mentoring skills such as listening, feedback, goal setting and critical thinking and enables the mentors and mentees to decide together how they will approach their relationship and set it up in a way that works for their own circumstances, personalities and what they’re wanting to get out it. This ensures that participants are well equipped to have high quality conversations at the roughly monthly one-to-one mentoring sessions (we recommend a minimum of 9 throughout the year, but we leave that to mentors and mentees to decide).
As a result, mentees take different benefits out of the programme depending on their own, and their businesses, particular circumstances and needs. Peter “regained passion for the business”, whilst for Helly, his mentor Jonathan Sands has inspired and validated some major decisions Dynamo has made. “Jonathan is a terrific match” he says, “we are very similar in terms of commercial outlook and it’s been a very personable and rewarding journey.”
What could Twenty/Twenty do for you and your business?
Find out more and sign up for the 2021 programme by 4 December here.
DBA Twenty/Twenty pairs rising industry leaders with established design pioneers for a 12-month one-to-one mentoring relationship.
We are currently open to applications from:
Applications for 2021 are now open. The deadline for all applications is Friday 4 December at 5pm. Find out more and sign up to be a mentor or mentee here.
Volodymyr Hryshchenko | Unsplash
The DBA’s close relationship with Humphries Kirk goes back to its inception; in-fact the law firm played a critical role in the founding of the Association and its team of leading solicitors has helped hundreds, if not thousands, of DBA members over the years since.
I was first introduced to James Selby Bennett in 2003, shortly after joining the DBA.
I’d arrived into an organisation that was in rather a precarious position financially, so I sought his advice about the reach and implications of the liabilities it was facing. As it turned out, we were able to successfully navigate our way out of that position and I didn’t have to implement half of his advice (a good thing in this case), but so it was, that we established a warm and trusting relationship which, over the years, kept me and the DBA out of trouble and one that I saw replicated between James and many members too.
James had a remarkable knowledge of design law and I’ve always considered Humphries Kirk the legal safety net for the UK design industry; their support being invaluable in helping members identify risk and deal with misunderstandings. But there was also much more to James beyond his legal brilliance.
I was delighted to visit Humphries Kirk some years back and joined him at his organic farm afterwards for lunch. I will never forget those homemade sausages. And I finally understood why James had the hands he did – he didn’t just live on a farm, he owned it and worked it. Nor will I forget the stories. And there is one that always brings a smile to my face, perhaps because of the picture that it conjures up in my mind. And it is of James on horseback in his local town campaigning for a councillor position when a thief ran past. James gave chase and caught him!
But I can’t write this about James without including a nod to Darrell Stuart Smith. Darrell has been, for as long as I’ve known them, the other half of this formidable team that have looked after us, and our members, for years. Our very own Robert Plant and Jimmy Page if you will, both rock stars in my eyes, who have tirelessly fed us wise advice with perfect timing. Thank you Darrell. And thank you to the wider team at Humphries Kirk too; I know the legacy James leaves and the quality of advice provided by Humphries Kirk will be carried forward by you all.
I spoke to James last month about a matter. I asked him how he was, and he mentioned that things weren’t going as planned. When I asked him where he was, his reply was hospital and no, he shouldn’t have been on the phone to me, but he had some loose ends to tie up. That was James – never left anything undone. Thank you, James. We will miss you. I will miss you.
A word from a DBA member
“I was introduced to James this year via Adam at the DBA and was very sad to hear the news that he had passed away. I worked with James on two cases (both of which turned out very favourably for fst), and I can honestly say he was a pleasure to talk to. He was calm, interested and gave me very straight answers to the potential problems that we had.
I will remember James not only for his professional expertise but for two other reasons – firstly his genuine desire to help me and fst with our cases. And secondly his delightful southern accent! You see, although I’ve lived near London for over 25 years I still have a northern accent (born in Sheffield) and when on the phone to James we must have sounded, if someone was listening in, that we came from different planets!
However, my point is it didn’t matter because it felt like I was talking to a friend. Our thoughts are with his family at this time. RIP James x”
Otto Marples, Chief Operating Officer, fst
“The very principles of effective design have been rooted in 2LK’s proposition, process and product since winning our first DBA Design Effectiveness Award in 1997. Not only this, but I’ve seen first-hand how so many of our team have learned, grown and benefited through training and networking over our 10+ years of membership. So it seems a natural next step to ‘pay it forward’ by becoming a board member, in order to more actively support the DBA’s promise to champion the transformative power of design, promoting its strategic and economic value within the design industry, to business and government.”
“ELSE has been a member of the DBA for over five years, with our initial interactions coming predominantly through the Design Effectiveness Awards and The Annual Survey. Over time we have become involved in the TwentyTwenty mentoring program (as mentor and mentee), participated in training and we have worked with DBA Experts. However, I have seen the DBA come into its own as a much-needed lifeline and forum for design business and leadership during this period of COVID response.”
I am a marketing specialist and business leader in brand & innovation strategy and creative development and bring to the DBA:
“I have been a board director of the DBA for the past three years and in that time we have been revisiting our purpose and our mission. At its heart the DBA exists to advance design as a strategic advantage, something that makes a positive impact for our collective future. I believe that for our industry to survive and thrive it is critical that as a community we champion the idea that good design drives business growth. I want to be part of the team that makes that purpose and mission live.”
Further details about DBA Directors, other members of the Board and its role, can be found here.