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Larking about with one of the country’s hottest young design studios | #CompanySpotlight

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A branding and design studio that styles itself as a studio for “people who like their style with a side of substance,” Lark is a relatively young company but it’s achieved rather a lot in five short years.

A small and nimble design studio, they provide everything from complete branding to exhibition design and website development and have done so for some of the most exciting small companies in the country.

It’s always interesting to speak to a company at this stage of their growth journey as they have so many aspirations and ideas about the future. It’s all still ahead of them and they’re excited to share their enthusiasm with us.

That’s why we’re putting our company spotlight this week on Lark and it’s Founder, Keith Hancox.

How was your company born and where are you based?

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The idea for Lark was hatched in the early days of university. I knew I wanted to own and run my own design studio, but it took ten years of working for other people before I was finally comfortable enough with the design and business side of things to go it alone. Lark was founded in 2017 and initially based in London before moving to Leamington Spa last year.

What was the biggest challenge to the growth of your company?

Confidence. I suffer massively from imposter syndrome, so I took a while for me to be okay with sharing the studio’s work and not worrying about what others think. I have a habit of hating every project I’ve worked on as soon as it’s finished (you always notice the things you could have improved) so I’ve had to get over that and learn to feel more comfortable showing what we’ve done.

Which was the first huge success that you can remember?

The first huge success was landing our first rebranding job. I’d done some small design projects, but Lark was recommended to Conversation Space by a creative director I used to work for. Their studio didn’t have the time to take on the job and I remember being so grateful for the opportunity and excited for the project. I’m still proud of that work and even better, we’re they’re still a client to this day. 

What’s the biggest opportunity for you and your company in the next year?

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We’ve recently moved into a new studio space so I’m looking forward to having some more face-to-face meetings and we have some bigger projects on the horizon over the coming months so watch this space. I’m also looking forward to being more involved in the local creative community here in Warwickshire and working with some of the amazing small businesses the area has to offer.

Can you explain your team’s creative process? What makes it unique?

We’re a small studio so we build teams on a project-by-project basis. Although each project and team are different, we largely follow the same creative process. We start by asking lots and lots of questions, really trying to understand the client and their problem. Then, once we’re comfortable we have all the facts we strive to find the ‘idea’.

The creative spark that makes a project different, or exciting, or inspiring. It could be a hidden message in a logo, some clever copywriting or a strategic thought that takes the project in a different direction. Once we have that, we collaborate closely with our clients to explain our thinking and bring the project to life.

How does your team remain inspired and motivated?

When I worked in studios I was used to constantly sending and receiving links to things we’d seen. Great music, an amazing artist, or some new scientific discovery. As designers, inspiration can come from anywhere and I’m always on the lookout for something to spark the next idea.

After starting the studio I missed having these interactions and, having read the excellent Do Open by David Hieatt, I decided to start Five Finds. It’s a monthly email newsletter of inspiring finds that we send out to clients, friends and followers. It’s been going for three years now and has proven to be popular. If you’re reading this and you’re interested you can sign up for the next one here.  

How has COVID-19 affected your company?

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Initially the pandemic had a huge effect. Overnight clients cancelled projects and paused everything as no-one knew what to expect. But as we all got used to working from home and meeting over laptops our clients realised they needed to tell people what they were doing to deal with the challenges. It also meant that some took time to reflect and take stock of their brands and make changes which meant more work for us.

Now things have returned to more of a normality we’re still having less important meetings over video and keeping in place flexible working but I’m glad to be seeing people over a coffee and cake again.

Which agencies do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?

Having worked in bigger agencies, I’m always amazed with the level of creativity Turner Duckworth get away with for their high-profile client list. On the smaller scale Common Curiosity, Jack Renwick Studio and Counter Studio are all doing the type of ideas-led design that makes me smile with envy and say, “I wish I’d thought of that”.

What is one tip that you would give to other agencies looking to grow?

Spend time working on the business as well as in the business. I’m terrible at this but have promised to set time aside each week this year to plan even if the studio is busy. Also, patience. We had a project request recently from someone I met when I first started in design. Sometimes these things take time!

How do you go about finding new clients/business? (Pitching, work with retainers, etc.)

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We’re lucky that a lot of our work comes from recommendations, but we also do engage in new business. Local networking events, sharing work where clients will see it (like LinkedIn rather than Instagram) and emailing people we like and would like to work with. It’s always worth a shot and they can only say no. 

What’s your one big hope for the future of the industry?

Diversity and variety. From the people working in the design industry to the work itself. There seems to be a trend now for everything to look the same and it’s not very exciting. A design solution should be led by the brief not by the current Pinterest trend.

Do you have any websites, books, or resources that you would recommend?

Alan Fletcher’s estate has recently started an Instagram account of his archive @fletcher_etc and his incomparable ‘The Art of Looking Sideways’ is a must for any design studio. ‘A Smile in The Mind’ was reprinted when I was working at The Partners and has projects in there that never cease to inspire me. Lastly the ‘99% Invisible’ podcast has a wealth of design-related stories that are always worth a listen.

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