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Meet Alan Dye – Designing in The Time of Covid

Today we have selected Alan Dye to take his Interview. He is the Founder & Creative Director at NB, the strategic branding and communications studio.

First of all, how are you and your team doing in these COVID-19 times?

Happy to say we’re all well, adapted, and doing beautiful work.  However, having to shut down a creative design studio in March 2020 was the antithesis of what Nick Finney, my Creative and business partner, and I believed in.
NB has always been a hugely collaborative design practice – our walls, floors, decks are covered with work in progress…It’s a living working design studio where creativity is openly discussed, debated, argued, and presented.
The studio was always alive with music, talking, phone calls, ongoing presentations, friends dropping by, and arguments about who’s tea round it was…then suddenly you find yourself alone at home in the kids’ playroom, trying to work out Zoom, Google Hangouts or Teams talking to your friends, colleagues, and clients through a soulless glass screen.
It was tough – not only the weirdness and horrors of the worldwide situation but trying to keep a creative design company afloat and the moral of our wonderful NB family positive when a vast majority of our clients were pulling jobs…friends and family falling ill and the general craziness of the world.

Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined this company?

I had an amazing art teacher at school – he changed my path.  He would talk about Surrealism, Frank Zappa, William Burroughs – we would go to Art galleries, learn the alchemy of printing pictures, and introduced us to life drawing.
My other subjects didn’t stand a chance – from School, I went onto a foundation year and then a 3 year Degree course at Maidstone College of Art – back in the mid-1980s when art colleges smelled of oil paints, had a whiff of anarchy, and creative rebellion. So many I visit look today and feel like solicitor’s offices…
Maidstone Art College in the mid-1980s had Fine Art, Advertising, Sculpture, Illustration, Film, and Graphic Design students – it was an amazing melting pot of creativity, fun, talent, and drinking.  You really learned from the other students around you. It was also super competitive, and that certainly made you up to your game.
My first real design job was with Pentagram working with some amazing people, including Nick Finney. Then, after a couple of years, we decided to go it alone, and NB Studio was born.  We had a clear and rigorous business plan – do great work for nice brands and get paid for it!  So far, we have been lucky enough to have worked with some of the great and the good in branding, design, and marketing.  It’s been a blast.

How does your company innovate?

‘Creative Courage’ is our internal mantra – It makes us question everything we do; it makes us braver and bolder and goes the extra mile.
It certainly made us go way out of our comfort zone when we wrote and created a play called ‘Turn Table,’ which was about trust and relationship between client and designer for a Design talk at Design Indaba in South Africa nbstudio.co.uk/what-if/actors-played-us.
It made us re-invent the UK Old-Age people road sign and create an exhibition to launch a new brand called Spring Chicken nbstudio.co.uk/what-if/age-got-a-makeover-1.
It also makes us question the brief, whether from a huge international drinks company like Pernod Ricard, a set of stamps for The Royal Mail, a culture brief from Almeida Theatre, or a Financial digital start-up like ANNA.
We also hold ‘Creative Courage’ workshop days for new clients – where we close the studio down and the entire NB team works on the project with the client team – it’s an amazing way of pushing the design boat out of the harbor and getting to know the client – it’s a fun, joyous creative day that always bears amazing results.  Work and Play at its best.

How the Coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?

Really tough at first. Balancing needs of keeping the company going whilst trying to look after the NB gang.  At such unknown and unprecedented times, everyone had to adapt or see their businesses go down.
However, we are pulling through because of the amazing talent of the NB team, plus keeping a really close eye on the finances, keeping the company spirits up, focusing on new business, and talking with all our existing clients who have been terrific.  And most important – making sure all the work that is going out is still beautiful and fit for business.

Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?

Yes, and we still are. But, lessons learned, you never, ever know what’s around the corner.  I have a list as long as King Kong’s arms of what kept coming around that corner – but that’s another story…

What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?

Everything – Slack, Google Hangouts, Zoom, Mobile phones, Miro, Streamtime, accountants, our business guru, HR specialist, a shit load of red wine, conversion to all 2,000 plus religions, and most of all faith in our ability to pull through not only as a great design company but still as a viable business.

Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?

Everyone in the design world is our competitors – and we intend to stay in the game by creating beautiful, timeless work that not only inspires but is commercially credible for our clients.  Plus, the NB team and Nick and I still love what we do.  Design is innate in all of us; it’s what we do.

Your Final Thoughts

If you are a possible client with a big design budget and looking for an amazingly creative and strategic company to collaborate with – look no further.

  • Spokesperson: Alan Dye
  • Company: NBstudio
  • Website link: nbstudio.co.uk

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