16 tips for design success in 2016

Designers from the UK's top agencies offer invaluable advice to help boost your design studio in the year ahead.

2015 was a year in which the creative industries started to recover from the economic downturn, and started to see the benefits of growth. But how can design studios take full advantage of the upswing in 2016?

We asked some of the UK's top studios for their advice on the year ahead for those at the coalface. Here's what they said...

01. Avoid compromise

branding for Cambridge University
johnson banks' branding for Cambridge University

"Try to do the best work you can at all times," says Michael Johnson of Johnson Banks. "Try not to compromise on more than 15-20%, if you can. Better to be poorer yet doing something you believe in, in our opinion."

02. Work to the point of madness

"Success is just the gloss on top of hard work and more often than not is total madness and stress," says Matt Miller of ustwo. "So never ever think that other studios are perfect. It's not the case. Be curious and be driven by what you personally define as success. Not what you feel others expect of you."

03. Enter awards

"To be successful you need a reputation for creative excellence and a culture people enjoy working in," says Bruce Duckworth of Turner Duckworth. "I’d recommend entering Design Awards to help you build that reputation. Then, hopefully, you’ll attract the types of clients and projects and designers who'll love working with you for all the right reasons."

04. Share your work

Sydney Opera House
Universal Everything collaborated with more than 20 different animation studios worldwide to create a living mural on the Sydney Opera House

"Allocate time to develop and share your prototypes with the world," says Gregory Povey of Universal Everything. "This attracts clients to commission like for like."

05. Disrupt the norm

"Don’t emulate anyone," says Simon Manchipp of SomeOne. "Kick against them, find your fight and fight it. It is very unlikely to be easy, but it’s easier if you have something you rage against in an attempt to do it better."

06. Strike out of your comfort zone

"Be brave", recommends Dave Simpson of Music. "We’ve always thrived on pushing ourselves into uncomfortable areas. It’s exciting and you’ll realise, anything is possible."

07. Drink it all in

Alphabetical's work for the British Council

Working in a design studio is an amazing experience, so make the most of it, stresses Tommy Taylor of Alphabetical. "Make friends, soak up the experience of everyone around you and most importantly enjoy what you do," he says. "It’s a privilege to work for yourself, doing the work you believe in for the people you choose to work with. If you enjoy it others will enjoy what you do too."

08. Stick to your guns

"Stick to your principles," urges Paul Stafford of DesignStudio. "Understand what it is that you believe in and what it is you want to do and stick to it. Turning things down is one of the hardest things to do, but this industry is all about reputation. You need to be known as doing something well and doing it time and time again. You should listen to other, hear their advice, but ultimately you have to forge your own path to create a difference."

09. Get close to clients

The Partners rebranded Argos in 2015

"Dig deep and really understand your client’s situation," says Greg Quinton of The Partners. "Get close. Develop a level of understanding where the solution becomes blindingly obvious. When everyone believes, trust builds, that’s when the great work happens.

10. Have strong opinions

"Never deliver just what the client wants in the way they want it," says Ben Parker of Made Thought. "At times it's a risky strategy, but this approach has always worked for us. Always look for different creative opportunities. Have a strong opinion - ensure you can explain rationally why your design is right for the brief and creative challenge - avoid just presenting ‘nice’ design as they will value you more for it.

11. Be realistic

"Hatch a plan based on the strengths you have, not wish you had," advises Mike Alderson of ManvsMachine. "Then stick to the plan."

12. Get paid

Graphic Thought Facility designed a new campus for Hult International Business School

"Be generous but try and avoid working for absolutely nothing," advises Huw Morgan of Graphic Thought Facility. "Even a small amount gives confidence, both in you and the client. Free pitches and working for the ’but-there-will-be-loads-of-work-to-come’ client helps no one in the long run.

"Listen to your client and question whether they have really thought about the brief; Keep overheads as low as you can, so that you limit the work you have to take on just to pay the rent; Be open to compromise and know when it’s right to fight; A sense of humour is always helpful.

13. Keep up the passion

"It’s difficult to remain truly enthusiastic about something for years to come unless you have a genuine and lasting interest," says Rob Gonzalez of Sawdust. "That’s not to say things don’t change and evolve, that’s human nature, particularly when working in the creative industry — but follow those instincts and embrace where it can take you. Stay true to your passions, it will give you longevity."

14. Do what you enjoy

Sesame branding
Here Design's interior design and brand identity for Sesame

"It sounds like such a cliché, but you have to stick to doing the work you enjoy," says Mark Paton of Here Design. "Especially ten years in when you are thinking a lot about how to grow - you have to stick to what you love – otherwise what’s the point?"

15. Be empathetic

"Always remember to step back and put yourself in your clients' shoes," says Ben Christie of Magpie. "And their customers'. The difference between art and design is a brief. Value the end product (the work). Value your clients. Relationships are crucial. It's a small industry and trust goes a long way. Make life simple for them. Work hard. Be confident in your ability. And remember to have fun."

16. Strive for the impossible

Wolff Olins' poster campaign for Virgin Active

"Push everything," says Chris Moody of Wolff Olins. "Push your own boundaries; design is undoubtedly about creativity and making what people have previously thought impossible, possible. Then work hard to be known for something truly iconic – of course it's a double-edged sword in that people struggle to understand the breadth of everything else you can do but it's definitely a good conversation starter."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom May is a freelance writer and editor specialising in design and technology. He was previously associate editor at Creative Bloq and deputy editor at net magazine, the world’s best-selling magazine for web designers. Over two decades in journalism he’s worked for a wide range of mainstream titles including The Sun, Radio Times, NME, Heat, Company and Bella. Follow him on Twitter @tom_may.