The art of reinvention

Repainting studio walls might freshen things up, but sometimes a bigger overhaul is needed. Whether it’s a change of creative focus, a new company name or a different approach to sourcing projects, rethinking your image can inject new life into your design practice.

For graphic designer Gemma Germains and colleagues Doug Kerr, Joe Bramall and Matt Saint, this meant leaving Liverpool-based agency Mercy to start Well Made in December 2012, while Mercy continued as an arts and literature collective. “We were offering design, copywriting and illustration, acting as agents for illustrators and doing PR,” says Germains. “You can’t tell clients you’re good at everything. This was about focusing on what we really liked doing and how we wanted to be seen.”

Mercy’s identity was long established – but no longer served the right purpose. “We covered Liverpool with hundreds of posters before it was judged for European Capital of Culture. Projects like that meant we were seen as crazy, creative upstarts who did off-the-wall things,” she explains. “We wanted to be seen as designers.”

Starting a new company was the most effective way to create a new brand image. “We thought about keeping the name, or making Mercy take a new name, but renaming and rebranding has given us a fresh start,” adds Germains.

It doesn’t always take such bold action to rethink your image, however. Sometimes a more subtle approach is what’s needed, as was the case for Domani Studios in New York, which has moved away from digital production work for agencies in favour of more direct client relationships. “Our repositioning has been more of an internal update to our methodology than anything that might be instantly apparent on the outside,” says co-founder and executive creative director Jonathan Hills. “We wanted to focus on client partners where we could form a long-term bond. We had an office in Chicago and we were spread a little thin, taking on every opportunity that came our way. We felt we weren’t always building relationships we could nurture.”

Hills decided to close the Chicago office, but the biggest step was turning down work that didn’t align with Domani’s new direction. “With some of our work, we had to fight just as hard to get the second project as we did in winning the first,” he explains. “We needed to move away from those relationships, even if the project was really exciting. We don’t have a new business team, so relationships matter much more than individual projects.”

What’s really important, says Hills, is to be open to taking chances. “Often the things that bog a business down and hold it back are the things it’s most familiar with. Letting go can be very hard but, if you get to a point where you’re really clear on what needs to change, you can look at these risks as opportunities.”

Designer and illustrator Eric Frommelt certainly took a risk when he went from working as an art director at a New York advertising agency to freelancing in Los Angeles. “It was a leap of faith on my part,” he says. “I’d been in New York for 15 years, working as a web designer and then in digital advertising, and I realised it wasn’t what I really wanted to do.”

It wasn’t a hasty move, though. To test the waters, Frommelt rented a studio five blocks from his Brooklyn home, spending time there after work and at weekends. “I was making images and videos, working on all kinds of projects, just to see what I wanted to do,” he recalls.

Renting his own studio cemented his wish to take control of his time and career: he quit his job in April 2012, moved to LA in June and threw himself into freelancing. “I had visited and loved LA, and I thought the move would force me to focus on turning what I was doing into a real career,” says Frommelt. “It was a leap of faith on my part. I moved, started sending out promos, and made an effort to get my work out there and share it with people.”

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