There's no mistaking where you are when you step out of the lift into Golden's penthouse studio in central Leeds. A fat, gilt Buddha wearing gold shades is sitting right in front of you; off to the left, some lovely parlour chairs with gold leaf woodwork and leopard-print upholstery invite you to sit down; and while you chill out with a cup of tea you can admire the fancy urns and vases, massive basket of poker chips and array of frames, chains and other trinkets - all in shiny gold.
Golden's space is very golden indeed, but it's not tacky, nor is it untouchable. The kitsch is just a fun expression of Golden's own identity: shiny, tactile and optimistic. Winter sunlight, warmed by all this gold, streams in through skylight windows; chilled beats wash from speakers at one end of the studio; and the founders sit down to tell us about Golden's aim to do great work for great clients.
"The thinking was, 'Why not us? Why shouldn't we be working on that? Why shouldn't we have that level of ambition to work for that level of client and do that quality of work?'" says MD Francis Carolan. "We thought it might as well be us three in a penthouse in Leeds."
Creative director Rob Brearley and chairman Steve McKevitt agree. Between the three of them, past employers include the Designers Republic, Attik, Love Creative and McCann Erickson. Starting the company in January 2009, there was the small matter of the recession to contend with, but through a mixture of past contacts, referrals and being chased down by clients who've seen Golden's work, the studio has already attracted some major brands. Nike Football is one of Golden's biggest clients, and the team has worked on a number of global campaigns directly with the company's Netherlands offices.
Spreading the word
Another leading name in the Golden portfolio is Lurpak. The studio was asked to survey all of Lurpak's communications. "Lurpak said, 'We've got inconsistencies.' It became a brand audit," says Brearley. "We started looking at everything. We just tried to get under the skin with them to look at absolutely everything, and then we could say, 'You've got problems here, here, here and here and we suggest you do this, this, this and this.'"
For instance, Lurpak's foil-wrapped butter blocks had traditionally been photographed, but Golden worked with CG house Taylor James to get them 3D rendered. That way the shininess of the foil in Lurpak images could be pushed much further, really making them glow. Golden also noticed that the company's Pantone blue looks different printed on foil than on paper, so subtle changes were made to ensure the same blue across the board. The studio also designed a Lurpak font, and to cap it off created a brand guidebook in the style that all Lurpak's communications will be designed from now on - with a shiny silver cover.
Golden is choosy about the work it takes on, but isn't aloof. The team cherishes smaller clients that have creative briefs to fulfil. Since its start-up, Golden has been working for Route Publishing, designing an identity and all its book covers; the Piece Hall, a heritage project that's restoring one of Halifax's oldest buildings, is another client; as is the Leeds branch of Harvey Nichols.
The diversity these clients bring is important. "I want to stay interested, stay focused, stay challenged," says Brearley. "If you're doing the same thing all the time and you're working for the same type of brand all the time just because there's money in it, you go stale, and then the world won't be golden. It would be... not even silver."
Unlike the majority of design studios, if you visit Golden's website you won't find a portfolio of its most high-profile work. Instead, there's a 90-second stop-motion montage of the Golden team members assembling their office, including all the necessary bling. It concludes with them forming the Golden logo from their collection of gold accessories. The cuts are in perfect time to the Matthews' Southern Comfort lyrics, 'We are stardust, we are golden...'
For Golden, this approach works much better than the standard designer's website ever could . The team didn't feel JPEGs being viewed online would do their work justice. "The website - it's just not a tactile channel for us, so therefore we wanted to do something that we enjoyed, that we liked," says Carolan. "It was great fun to do, it looked great, and it's got a great track over the top. It is just 90 seconds of us. If you like it get in touch, if not, drink up."
The future's bright
Golden's aim for year two is to continue working for great brands, stay realistic and perhaps take on a few more designers. This isn't just modesty speaking; past experience has shown the studio that when design companies get too big, creative and commercial elements come into conflict too easily. "One thing that we all agree on," says Steve McKevitt, "is that there's an optimum size for a business like this, and it's about 12 to 15 people."
This kind of straight thinking runs right through the Golden method. In terms of a Golden aesthetic, the studio's own cards, stationery, posters and books feature predictably heavy doses of the warm metallic - and black. Creative director Rob Brearley is always looking for the perfect foils, most accurate die cuts, finest stocks and best metallic inks. In client work, his motto is to keep it simple.
"I'm a huge fan of not overcomplicating things," concludes Brearley. "That's not to say I don't sometimes do complicated work, but the idea behind it has to be simple. The things that work for me take something out of the original brief, or out of the problem; they take something that was inherently there at the start and turn it around into a creative answer."