Headphones on, head down, our dark horse senior designer Alex is easy to miss until he pops up with the occasional strong opinion. He’s known in-house for his seriously good typography-based design and his frequent (as of yet unfounded) claims that he’s great at pool.
What’s your story? What brought you to AHOY and where were you before?
Previously, I had a small studio in town. It was just two of us, running a small boutique agency on the side of our freelance work. We had a couple of main clients who took up most of our time for three years; that funded the studio and gave us space to do something a bit more creative for little up-and-coming brands around Manchester.
We just found that working with small Manchester brands was a great way to get more creative freedom and flexibility. We were working with big international brands day to day, so these smaller ventures made a nice change.
What made you choose Manchester as your base? You’re from Stoke, right?
Manchester is the creative hub of the north. Don’t get me wrong: there are other great places like Leeds and Sheffield, but Manchester’s closest to where I live in Stoke, and there’s just something about the city.
I graduated in 2010 and did the placement thing before finding freelance work, so I’ve never felt a need to go elsewhere. In my early days, I actually did a placement with Tom (our creative director) at Raw, which is where we know him from originally.
Oh, so it’s your fault we’ve got Tom, is it? Noted! What made you come to Ahoy?
The time was right for me to move on from my existing position. I loved the flexibility of working for myself but felt my career could benefit from working full time in collaboration with other designers.
I did a couple of freelance bits at Ahoy then, when I found out they were looking for a senior designer, I took the role and didn’t look back.
What does a typical day at AHOY look like for you?
It’s always varied. Although we specialise in branding, we have a huge variety of clients from different sectors. We expand into different disciplines of design, and our processes involved in each job are always evolving. There are so many different things to do and manage, working with print, digital, developing new brands and progressing existing brands.
You’re first in, usually, aren’t you? What do you get up to before the rest of us slope in?
I open up, play a bit of pool, have breakfast, check out the regular design and brand blogs, then it’s straight down to work: headphones on, head down.
What does “good design” look like to you? We’ve had some varied responses among the other designers about aesthetics and function, so what do you think?
Good design is a cross between function and aesthetics. I think it should be beautiful, but it should also definitely have a purpose.
I feel the role of form and function is on a spectrum. The function of good design considers how an end user will engage with it, and that is always the first port of call for a new project. We need to ask ourselves several questions: what do want to say to an audience? How we want to demonstrate it? — then we craft an aesthetic that makes that emotional connection.
So if you’re saying design should be beautiful, what do you think about purposely ‘ugly’ brands, like No Frills?
Maybe ‘beautiful’ was the wrong term, but the old saying that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ is certainly true in branding. It’s important to remember that what we’re creating is not for us, or even for the client: it’s for the end user. ‘Value’ brands allows people to get more for their money which could ultimately improve their quality of life. The ‘cheaper’ feeling brand identity is an extension of this thinking.
Describe yourself at work in three words
Great at pool.
Mm, alright. Moving swiftly on: if someone’s wondering whether AHOY’s right for them, what would you say?
Don’t feel like there’s a barrier to entry — just call us up, come in for a chat and find out if we’re right for you. The whole point of what we do is to dig beneath the surface, and find out what people are about, and we’d expect that you’d do the same with us.
What about start-ups? What are they like to work with?
They’re great: usually open-minded and bright-eyed. A lot of the time, start-ups are trying to do something new in their field: anything from a completely disruptive offering to something as simple as an internal process that shapes an alternate company culture. Generally speaking, they want to sound out their business by hearing the opinions of others and they’re open to suggestions.
Is there any kind of work you wouldn’t want to take on?
Personally, I wouldn’t want to work on anything that’s negative towards or hurtful to people. No one can change the world alone, but I think we all need to take personal responsibility for what we put out there.
It’s helpful if we believe in what the client’s offering, or if we can at least piggy-back on their passion and belief for their product or service.
What’s the best bit of your job?
Probably the freedom and trust that we’re given by senior staff. We’ve built a strong culture of creative freedom with no micro-management. Along with this I’d say the variety of clients I get to work with; working in greatly different sectors means there are always new challenges that end up influencing my thought patterns in different sectors, and help me come up with new ideas.
Where can you be found when you’re not here at AHOY?
I spend a lot of time snowboarding, either in the Chill Factor or on the dry slopes in Stoke. I go to Andorra–it’s beautiful and there’s absolutely no phone signal, so you can totally switch off. When I get a bit of time to travel I’ll usually take short city breaks.
Why snow boarding, not skiing?
I’ve guess I’ve just always enjoyed board sports, but snowboarding has been the one that has stuck the longest.
Tell us something about yourself people might be surprised by.
I love red pandas: they’re the best creature. Oh, and I’m terrified of heights: I just freeze. You know that photo ‘Lunch atop a Skyscraper?’ The first time I saw at that picture, my palms just started sweating… ugh.
So, you’re a snowboarder who’s scared of heights. You must enjoy ski lifts, then?
Yeah, the first time I got to the top of a mountain I froze! it was such a struggle to get started but because of that, I just get on with it now: jump down and go for it.
Any final words?
[Awkward but not entirely unexpected silence]