Why one pro designer swapped freelance life to start his own studio

This summer, motion designer, art director and long-term Computer Arts collaborator Alex Donne-Johnson (aka Vector Meldrew) gave up a healthy freelance career to form his own design studio: Dazzle Ship.

Here, he explains why he closed the door on seven successful solo years for studio life, and the advantages that come with establishing a tight-knit creative team...

Alex Donne-Johnson in his new studio space

Alex Donne-Johnson in his new studio space

First things first. What's the name about?

For a brief period at the start of the 20th century, warships were works of art. Their hulls were camouflaged with optical illusion artwork that aimed to confuse the viewer's sense of perspective, rather than hide the warship itself. I felt inspired by this fearless thinking and generally by anything that can challenge somebody's sense of perception.

What made you ditch freelance life to head up Dazzle Ship?

Towards the end of my freelance period I had built up a good amount of trust with some big clients like Adidas, Activision and WaterAid, which allowed me to pull together bigger projects.

Adidas, for example, once let me loose on a whole campaign idea involving an art exhibition with projection mapping and a marketing strategy based around a documentary series of branded video content.

It's hard to keep doing that kind of thing under the guise of a freelancer. This forced me to start operating more like a studio, which in turn allowed me to take on bigger projects.

Ultimately the work became more about generating ideas and forming teams, and the name 'Vector Meldrew' wasn't extensive or immense enough to reflect the type of projects I was becoming involved with. From this, Dazzle Ship was born.

What's the main focus of Dazzle Ship?

Dazzle Ship now has a permanent office space

Dazzle Ship now has a permanent office space

Dazzle Ship is about progressing the quality of the output and the scale of the projects we work on as a team. We believe you're only as good as your last piece of work, so we want to progress with every project.

We've just got an office space for our in-house team. We also bring in specialists when needed such as directors, technologists and musicians. Right now we're doing a fair bit of work for fashion brands, creating branded content and commercials.

It's all about creating the right kind of environment to inspire creativity. We want people that we work with to be passionate about testing out innovative ideas and techniques, and we believe it's important that they feel comfortable in their environment.

What advice would you give to others thinking about setting up a studio?

Do it for the right reasons. It's a highly competitive area and involves constant hard work, so it's not to be taken lightly. Before I changed the name to Dazzle Ship I was essentially operating like a studio, I just lacked the studio space and the new name. Ultimately, I felt I could be more effective as a creative director with an overall vision for a studio.

Photographer: Rosa Maria Koolhoven

Head over to the Dazzle Ship website to check out more of the studio's work, follow the crew on Twitter and Instagram.

This article first appeared in Computer Arts issue 233, a special issue (with a photochromatic cover) revealing the UK's top 30 studios, plus how to craft the perfect folio and make more money as a student...

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Sammy Maine

Sammy Maine was a founding member of the Creative Bloq team way back in the early 2010s, working as a Commissioning Editor. Her interests cover graphic design in music and film, illustration and animation. Since departing, Sammy has written for The Guardian, VICE, The Independent & Metro, and currently co-edits the quarterly music journal Gold Flake Paint.