James Gilbert on working solo with others

James Gilbert decided to make his ad hoc collaborative approach official, transforming James Gilbert Design into Studio Contents.

For James Gilbert, operating as a one-man studio rarely meant working alone. After five years collaborating with specialists on projects, the designer felt it was time to build this into his mission statement. We speak to him to find out why it was so important to relaunch himself as Studio Contents, and how he went about doing it.

Why did you choose to move away from your one-man studio approach?

I've never truly worked solo - I always have other designers, developers, illustrators, copywriters and so on collaborating with me. The transformation into 'Studio Contents' represents a decision to actively make this a part of my professional model. It's about assembling bespoke teams on a job-by-job basis.

Why did you decide against building a permanent team?

Different jobs require different expertise, and I want to make sure that I'm working with people whose skills are particularly relevant. This way, there are fewer limitations and the quality of the output can be much higher. Although I have a studio in Manchester, teams can operate from anywhere. Aside from the obvious benefit of keeping overheads low, I think that constantly meeting and working with new, talented, passionate people makes things more exciting and inspiring for all.

Talk us through how you approach and develop projects now…

A recent project required a full rebrand and website redesign, so I started with a great brand strategist I'd worked with before, as well as a top-notch developer to build the bespoke CMS. Once we’d developed the project a little, I brought in a photographer to help bring the identity to life. That’s just this particular project, though. Some jobs need extra designers, some need extra developers, or even more specific skill sets. I think it's healthy to constantly question if you could do things differently. Don’t just stick to one method - even if it is tried and tested.

How do you maintain a strong aesthetic when your team is constantly changing?

I'm always at the heart of every project, so it's a combination of my creative direction and knowing that the people I work with are experts at what they do and share the same vision. That said, every project and every client is different, so a 'house style' is irrelevant.

How did you approach the change to your studio and working process?

The change was more about letting people know the ethos behind Studio Contents. Explaining to people that this isn't a typical agency dynamic can take time, but once I go through the reasons behind it they soon get it. The rebrand obviously came as part of this process, with changes to the name, visual identity and website.

Why did you pick the name?

The saying goes that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. While it's true that it is the final output that is critiqued, a certain amount of a project's success is directly linked to a carefully selected set of parts: individuals, processes, research, thoughts, ideas - our 'contents'. The word also refers to a collection of people who are 'content', which is what our working dynamic hopefully achieves.

This article originally appeared in Computer Arts issue 218.

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