Another great interview on our magazine Creative Boom – this time courtesy of Darren Firth, co-founder and design director of Leicester-based studio Six, the people who boast Kinfolk magazine, Daniel Hopwood and Harley-Davidson amongst their many international clients. Here's a snippet of what we spoke about...you can read the full article on Creative Boom.
You were recently voted in the top 30 of UK design studios by Computer Arts – one of only three outside London. How does it feel to be breaking the London-centric mould?
"Ultimately it's a great accolade, especially since that recognition stems from our peers, but it is slightly concerning that there were only three agencies recognised outside of London. As much as this magnifies our own personal achievement, it equally highlights the point that location is still a defining factor in our industry, regardless of technological advances making the world smaller.
"I'm unsure whether this is purely down to the sheer volume of studios in the capital, a lack of recognition from industry press, client bias when commissioning work or there is a genuine difference/advantage (beyond convenience) for those designers and agencies based in London.
"Our location used to be something that weighed heavy, but we now embrace it as an advantage to the business."
You have clients worldwide. How do you win new business?
"The saying 'Do good work and the work will come to you' springs to mind. We've always put our focus into the projects we have in the studio, rather than strategising how to win new ones. Most of our enquiries come through word of mouth and site credits, with the portfolio legitimising our offer.
"Our overseas client list is something we've nurtured since inception, with smaller, pro-bono projects in the US eventually attracting the attention of various start ups in Silicon Valley. Over the subsequent years, client loyalty has seen our services transfer across multiple businesses and sectors in San Francisco and LA."
Six has just designed and developed Kinfolk's new website. Did you work with the editorial designer Alex Hunting on this? Or were you tasked to come up with the digital version yourself?
"The brief was to take the essence of Alex’s redesign and translate it into a digital format; this involved the typography, graphic detailing and use of white space."
Were there any challenges you had to overcome?
"The main challenge was producing an online version that not only retained a synergy with the printed magazine, but also delivered an experience which centred around readability and ease of use.
"Furthermore, the experience needed to translate equally across all devices, so the responsive design was crucial to the success of the project."
Kinfolk has had quite a lot of stick in recent times – many citing the publication as a victim of its own success. Did you feel the pressure to impress?
"Yes we did, not only as a result of this negative commentary (although the change in editorial content helped in that respect), but also because it was an important project for the studio, since the previous version was so well received."
You also run We Occupy. It's been nearly 14 years since its launch and it's changed somewhat since 2003. Any highlights you'd like to share?
"It has changed significantly over the years, but I feel that I've reached the point where I know what the platform is and where I want to take it. Ironically my highlights stem back to the first 5 years, when I organised exhibitions and collaborative projects on a regular basis and travelled as far as Hong Kong to launch a book I edited and co-designed...it would be great to return to this level of curation."
You've recently redesigned its website – can you describe the process you went through?
"Long and torturous; like most creatives I find the most difficult brief is the one you set for yourself. Fundamentally it was unavoidable, the previous incarnation was over 10 years old and wasn't viable as a platform anymore; both from an admin and user perspective. Secondary, it was a chance for me to experiment beyond the constraints of client projects.
"The new version isn't particularly pushed, but I'm happy with the end product in relation to the limited development budget I had available."
How do you find the time to run such a big side project as well as an established studio?
"I'm not actually sure. Discipline I guess, maybe routine; perhaps it's sheer stubbornness to see something through that I've invested so much time in.
"Ultimately it's driven by a combination of a passion and distraction, both of which I believe is integral to a healthy work/life balance. Technically, it's still 'work' (that fact hasn't escaped me), but I enjoy it and that's the main thing; whether it cuts too much into the 'life' part of that equation is another matter.
"I recently wrote an article on the subject of side projects for It's Nice That, which elaborates on this point in more detail."
Finally, what wisdom can you share to designers just starting out in the industry?
"I still can't believe this is still an issue in 2017, but if you are contacting an agency for a job or internship, do your research and make it personal; 'copy and paste' emails are destined to be ignored.
"A common misconception regarding Six is that we are based in London, despite the fact our address sits directly above the contact email on our website; you may have a killer portfolio, but attention to detail is just one of the necessary traits that should extend beyond pixels and point sizes."