While we’ve shone our company spotlight on dozens of exceptional design studios here at Creativepool, we very rarely get the chance to speak to in-house studios. That’s we we jumped at the chance when information services company AlphaSights reached out and offered to let us sit down with its in-house design team.
We caught up with Grant Barratt, Brand Design Director. Grant leads a global team of designers and digital marketers and is responsible for ensuring consistent and high quality design work is delivered by the in-house brand & communications team. This makes him, we feel, an ideal brand ambassador for AlphaSights. So, over to you Grant…
How was your company born and where are you based?
AlphaSights was founded by Max Cartellieri and Andrew Heath, who met at Stanford Business School. They partnered up to form AlphaSights in 2008, with the purpose of unlocking human knowledge to power progress for businesses, professionals and society. We currently have 9 offices around the world, with the Design & Digital team based primarily in London and New York.
What was the biggest challenge to the growth of your company?
Graduate recruitment. In a post pandemic world, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to recruit talented and ambitious graduates given fierce competition in the recruitment space. The world’s finally woken up to the fact that a lot of old assumptions we had about what a job should be are now erroneous.
Candidates expect more from companies than just a salary and pension and it’s forced everyone to review and strengthen their candidate proposition and employer branding efforts.
Which was the first huge success that you can remember?
For me, it was when the Design team got sign-off from the founders on what would ultimately become our new visual identity in the spring of 2021. It was the culmination of around 6 months hard work, iterations, surveys, hundreds of mock-ups and hours of wondering if we’d ever get it right. Once that ‘big idea’ was finally agreed we really were at the races and everything else started to fall into place.
What’s the biggest opportunity for you and your company in the next year?
Now that the rebrand is completed, we’re looking to grow awareness of AlphaSights on a wider scale by utilising more B2C style advertising and integrated campaigns. We’re still working out the finer details, but there’s some exciting things on the horizon.
Can you explain your team’s creative process? What makes it unique?
Even though we’re an in-house team, we treat the creative process in pretty much the same way you’d expect an independent design agency to be run. We have Senior, Junior and freelance designers, but are a nimble team and everything’s very meritocratic. All designers are involved at the briefing and brainstorming stages of a new project so they can question and really understand what the goals are.
After that we all go away for a couple of weeks and work on ideas, before then coming back together for a show and tell of what each of us have come up with. Everyone’s encouraged to provide feedback, suggestions and preferences on ideas and mock-ups and over the course of a few days we whittle them down to a handful we want to share with the client.
Our attitude is that anyone can have a great idea and whoever has the best one, irrelevant of seniority, is then responsible for developing, presenting, and ultimately seeing it through to completion.
How does your team remain inspired and motivated?
We’re all passionate about what we do and so a lot of it is self-initiated. Because the team is split between New York and London we use Slack for day-to-day communication and regularly share great work we’ve seen on that.
As Creative Director I try to encourage everyone to get out and visit cool galleries and exhibitions, watch programmes on design, look at what the best agencies are doing, read books, and generally immerse themselves in creative things every day. We’re all judged on the quality of our ideas, so it’s important to keep that engine fuelled, even if it’s just scrolling through Pinterest for 15 mins while having your morning coffee.
How has COVID-19 affected your company?
Like most companies, the move to remote working was a huge hurdle to overcome initially. Because AlphaSights is in the services sector, our day-to-day operations and business model hasn’t changed, and we continued to grow throughout the pandemic. I joined during that brief pocket of looser restrictions just before Christmas 2020 and was able to spend some of my first few weeks in the office meeting people in person.
For a lot of new joiners however, they didn’t get to see our office spaces or meet any of their colleagues until after they’d been at the company for nearly a year. Now that we’re back to relative normality again, the company operates a hybrid 3:2 model, meaning employees work in the office Monday – Wednesday and then have the option to WFH Thursday and Friday, which offers a good work/life balance and opportunity to collaborate in-person during office days.
Which agencies do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?
Loads. I’m a huge fan of branding agencies like SomeOne, DesignStudio and DixonBaxi. I’m always inspired by the range of clients they work with and how beautifully executed their work is. My heroes tend not to just be great designers, but also raconteurs. Michael Johnson (of Johnson Banks fame) has been someone I’ve been a bit obsessed by since university.
I’ve always loved how witty his work is and listening to his talks on creative processes and projects he’s worked on. Years ago, I also got to attend a talk by Chip Kidd, who’s not only a brilliant book jacket designer, but also a very funny man. If you’re feeling at a bit of a low ebb, you could do a lot worse than watching a couple of his talks on YouTube, which are guaranteed to make you smile.
What is one tip that you would give to other agencies looking to grow?
It sounds slightly boring, but infrastructure is vital if you want to scale. Ultimately it doesn’t matter how impressive or beautiful your work is, if stakeholders and expectations aren’t being managed properly it’s just going to cause chaos further down the line.
Get a project management platform like Trello or Asana in place early on and hire someone who’s really organised to manage it day-to-day. That way the designers can focus on doing what they do best. Also, have a longer-term plan of where you want the company or team to be in 5 years’ time and work out what goals you need to achieve to get there. Otherwise, there’s a risk of losing momentum.
How do you go about finding new clients/business? (Pitching, work with retainers, etc.)
We’re an in-house studio, so the work comes to us. That’s not to say we don’t still face our own set of problems, like requests at 4:30pm for a recruitment brochure needed for 9am the next day, but means the challenge becomes more about figuring what needs to be prioritised.
What’s your one big hope for the future of the industry?
That it isn’t stifled by this Government’s relentless and infuriating belief that creative sectors are somehow deemed “low value” and contribute less to society. The recent 50% cut in university funding for arts, music and literature courses is endemic to the mentality of short-sighted politicians who have no interest in certain subjects, or the longer-term value they hold in a thriving economy.
Do you have any websites, books or resources that you would recommend?
Abstract: The Art of Design is a fantastic Netflix series I’d recommend. It manages to perfectly tread the line between being informative, while also be entertaining and inspiring. I also recently bought a copy of Beautiful News by David McCandless, which is a stunning book and surprisingly uplifting considering how much ‘ugly’ news we read about every day.
Finally, there’s hundreds of fantastic talks and tutorials you can watch for free at www.adobe.com/max covering every facet of design imaginable. I attended the online conference last year and was really inspired by how many amazing things we can now create using modern design tools and really got me thinking about how AlphaSights can start utilising some of them over the next couple of years.