Walking the Walk

Article | News

10th December 2018

Is your business really different? Does it have a unique characteristic (or combination of characteristics) that makes your customers choose you rather than someone else? Do you sometimes slip into the trap of commoditisation?

It can be fiendishly difficult to answer these kinds of questions in any meaningful way on your own. Digging down. Uncovering what is really there, rather than skimming the surface and ending up with the same set of answers as everyone else in your market. It usually requires a complex blend of honesty, patience, creativity and time. Oh, and somebody external that can give you a nudge if you can’t see the wood for the trees.

It’s this kind of excavation process that I love undertaking with clients. Finding a clear, genuine difference and a brilliant narrative or idea makes the design stage a doddle. It’s the kind of process that’s sadly lacking in the mindset of many graphic design practitioners. It’s also the kind of process I had struggled to fully implement for myself in the previous eight years of running a design studio – just like the busy cobbler whose own soles had all but disintegrated, Owen Jones Design (the precursor to what is now Upshot) never quite mastered the art of walking the walk, until now.

It wasn’t even meant to be called Owen Jones Design, anyway.

Redundancy from an agency role in 2010 gave me what turned out to be a wonderful opportunity. I’d become more and more frustrated at the void between how I wanted to ‘do design’ and how I had to do it within an agency for someone else’s clients, under the watchful eye of a manager or director.

I wanted to stretch my wings. To work directly with my own clients. To have control over the process, resources, timings and budget. I’d never considered myself an entrepreneur, but I craved that freedom.

So off I went. I considered launching under a business name from the start but the advice I received was to simply use my own name – it was just me, after all. And as a freelancer, sub-contracting with agencies, my own name was perfectly adequate. But I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable with the term ‘freelance’. For me it conjures up images of mercenaries – solo practitioners with no allegiance, loyalty or depth of service. It also felt like it could just as easily be a 16 year old school leaver with a Mac in their bedroom, as it could myself with seven years’ experience under my belt and a whole lot more to give.

You often can’t always account for external factors, though. I was referred to as Owen Jones Design by other businesses, and it stuck.

Fast forward to 2017. The business had become established, building strong relationships with a wide range of wonderful clients. It had long escaped the confines of the dreaded ‘home office’, rooting itself instead in a unique Georgian building surrounded by a beautiful new residential development, and everything had grown as a result. The client base, the quality of service, the turnover, and even the team.

It wasn’t just me anymore, and that nagging feeling returned – the name needed to change, as did the profile of the business.

How does your own ‘philosophy’ or narrative intertwine with the visual side of your identity? 

But why could I still not really answer the questions listed at the top of this article for my own business? What was actually different about my business? Why did I not have basic ‘business plan staples’ such as Mission, Values and Vision clear in my mind? If I’d been dealing with Owen Jones Design as my client I’d be giving them a good stern look and wagging my finger, at the very least.

Enter, Upshot. 

The design studio formerly known as Owen Jones Design. Brand and communication design specialists. Purveyors of meaningful, creative design. At your service.

I won’t bore you with too many details (unless you ask, of course) but the eighteen-month process was far from linear. Squeezed in between work for paying clients, it took a while to really take shape. There were no neat little boxes where insightful ponderings rearranged themselves into strategic masterstrokes overnight. As with any project I face, it took hard work and plenty of time*, blended with a healthy dose of genuine care and attention. Oh, and a number of external people that gave me a nudge when I couldn’t see the wood for the trees. It feels right, it’s valuable, and it gives me much more confidence and excitement going forward.

I discovered that the clear heartbeat of the business is to celebrate design’s ability to make a difference, and the name Upshot references this concept of outcome and positive change.

So what’s your story? How does your own ‘philosophy’ or narrative intertwine with the visual side of your identity? Does your brand hold together everywhere it’s seen (in print and digital media), grounded by one cohesive and compelling idea?

If it doesn’t yet, don’t fear.

The upshot is, it could.

* In his inspiring talk ‘How to be Creative’ John Cleese lists time as two of his key factors. Watch it at vimeo.com/176474304