Mike Hesketh - owner, lead designer and director of We Are Duo talks business, design and client relationships.
Mike graduated from University of Ulster, Belfast, with a degree in Visual Communication in 2008. Fresh out of university Mike landed a junior design position, however, even when he was a student he knew he wanted to set up his own studio.
“I moved back home for a year and worked from my parents dining room table,” Mike explains that living at home during the start up process really helped and allowed him to completely focus on setting up his business. To get things going he began working on self initiated projects, this way he could demonstrate to potential clients what he could do and market himself effectively.
The project that stands out the most for Mike while We Are Duo was finding it’s feet is the work produced for Drumbo Park. By using examples of his self initiated work he landed the job and has been working with Drumbo Park ever since.
It is no secret that the attitude towards graphic design in Northern Ireland is currently undergoing a well deserved shift. Locals are beginning to realise the impact quality design can have and its significance in presenting NI’s products and services to the rest of the world.
Mike explains, “People are getting wiser, they are still thinking local but realising they have to compete at an international level.” This became evident providing work for Donegore Tearoom & Deli, Mike states that from the offset the client “didn’t want to do things the normal way”. To take things a step further Mike and his team worked on site for a couple of weeks to install internal and external visual graphics to create an unique and quirky environment, Mike’s aim was to “really portray a feeling of quality”. Even though Donegore Tearoom & Deli was short lived Mike explains that, “it was not only one of the most unique projects we have been a part of but also one of the most distinctive created coffee house experiences that’s been homegrown”.
When dealing with clients Mike believes, “If you get a clear understanding of everything the client wants at the beginning [of the brief] you can get off on the right foot”, and ultimately really listening to the client and understanding their opinion, “nine times out of ten leads to something better than the original concept”. Portraying a clear identity of We Are Duo is really important and means dealing with difficult clients happens less often, “We know who we are as a studio, people look at our website and know who and what we are…we are not design monkeys”.
Mike admits that setting up a design studio isn’t easy, “When you’re freelancing or setting up your own small studio you are not only the maker”, Mike talks about how you also have to find the work, manage time and also be the person that sends out the quotes and keeps track of the invoices. Even though, “only one of those things makes you money”, each role is very important if you want to succeed.
The bottom line is, “You can only be a full time designer if you work for someone else”. Mike accepts that there is still so much to learn about running a business, “I was trained to be a graphic designer, not how to run a business”, but keeping to his studio ethos helps, “Be enthusiastic about working with people, and be good people to work with”.
We Are Duo have designed a number of craft beer/lager labels but Mike likes to mix it up and doesn’t want to pigeon hole the studio just yet, he explains, “it’s really fun work”, but he likes variety, “different projects with different people”.
Mike talks more about running a design studio, maintaining a healthy work/life balance and how important it is to switch off at the end of the day in the video below!
Check out www.weareduo.co.uk for more examples of their awesome work.
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