How to set up a successful design studio

Founders of the industry's finest design studios share their secrets for success at OFFF 2015.

If one message recurred during OFFF 2015, Barcelona's world-famous creativity festival, it's that launching and running a successful design studio takes passion, dedication and a lot of hard work.

As Johannes Conrad and Michelle Phillips of Studio Yukiko told the audience on the first day: if you want it, you have to make it happen. "We moved to Berlin because we wanted to be free," the pair explained. "But after the euphoria you realise that actually you have nothing: no clients, no budgets, no work."

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"You can either fear limitations and let them stop you," they continued. "Or see it as the sky's the limit. We've learned to recognise and embrace limitations. You have to think: how can you turn them into your creative advantage?"

They weren't the only creatives to dish out hard-won advice for running a design practice at OFFF 2015. Over the three-day conference, the likes of Julien Vallee, Sawdust, Foreign Policy Design, Studio Blup and more took to the stage to offer tips on everything from networking to saying no.

So whether you're thinking about starting a studio (or your own freelance practice), or looking to take your services to a new audience, here's some key advice from a selection of the world's most talented designers and studio owners to help you get started…

01. Know who you are in three words or less

BLUP Invasion Remix

"Networking is the the most vital and daunting thing there is to building a career in design," says Jonathan Wilkins, aka Dines, of Studio BLUP.

"If you can confidently sum up what you are in three words or less when meeting someone new for the first time, you'll stay in that person's head, and they'll remember you and what you do… It could lead to a job."

02. Focus on being good

"Mies van der Rohe said once: 'Don't be original - be good'. It's important to really know what you're doing and to concentrate on that," says Yukiko's Johannes Conrad. "Sure, originality is extremely important, but that will come later. Focus your energy first on just being good."

03. Put yourself in the market

Foreign Policy Design for Hay Market restaurant

"Make friends with everyone," says Yah-Leng Yu of Singapore-based studio Foreign Policy Design. "Singapore is a small town: if you know someone, you might know almost everyone – but at least you're in the market and in the know. Opportunities will come."

04. Know who you want to work with

"Make friends with people – interesting people, other creative people – who you want to work for first," add Johannes Conrad and Michelle Phillips of Studio Yukiko. BLUP's Jonathan Wilkins, aka Dines, agrees: "Our team is forever growing and collaborating with talents across the globe."

05. Expand your skill set through collaboration

"Collaborating really pushes you and your skill set. Sometimes when you work on a small budget, you want something done so badly that you find others to teach you how to do it," continue Studio Yukiko. "A successful collaboration means, for us, that a certain part within a project develops into something that wasn't previously anticipated."

06. Keep talking

Yukiko’s Guapamente issue 01: Naples features a fold-out poster wrap-around cover

The best studios keep all communication channels open, says Studio Yukiko: "Always be in a dialogue with people. Keep your contributors happy and accommodate them. Don't run over their work with your design – put them considerately into your framework."

07. Push yourself

"Gone are the days of a simple logo on a business card," reflects Dines. "Nowadays the client wants you as the designer to think a lot more outside of the box. Branding will eventually be a lot more interactive and visually challenging."

08. Get a good accountant

Illustration by Brand Nu

Keep an eye on the bottom line. "Get a good accountant so you don't have to worry about a knock on the door from HMRC," advises designer Radim Malinic, aka Brand Nu. "Your accountant should be your ally, not an arsehole who charges the equivalent of a lawyer.

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Next page: 9 more tips for design studio success