Featured Design Studio

North55

April 2018

We were lucky enough to catch Craig Falconer—founder and Managing Director of North55 based in Dubai! Craig started to tinker around with graphic art back in his school days and managed to learn the craft prior to things going fully digital. Read on to hear some great tips on client relationships and what Craig is looking for in folios.

Where did you study and what were some of your first jobs?

I guess my initial insight into design was through a combination of Art and Technical Drawing at school. At the time my school was quite old fashioned in their approach to the non-core subjects, Ie. Maths, English, Sciences. At the time, I was naturally drawn towards a more graphic approach to Art, and a more creative approach to Technical Drawing but I wasn't really aware of a potential career in Branding.

Looking back I adapted the available subjects to suit my own strengths, and I had a few very supportive teachers who embraced this approach.

At A-level, I suddenly had the opportunity to study Graphic Design, which was a breath of fresh air. I felt my passion had been validated and I was also able to couple my creative studies with Business Studies, which in my opinion should be mandatory for all students, particularly for those going into the creative industries. There is such a high proportion of creatives who end up freelancing or setting up their own companies, and they often struggle with the business side.

Suddenly I had my eyes opened to the design industry, and felt I needed to explore more. I chose to study a one year foundation course to give me some exposure to Fashion Design, Industrial/Product Design, Textile Design, Photography, as well as Graphic Design. Deep down I think I knew that Graphic Design was for me, but the opportunities seemed vast once I left the school environment, and I didn't want to restrict my options.

I wouldn't say I embraced student life. For me it was a means to an end. In general I felt most students weren't truly passionate, and committed and it was more of a lifestyle than a career journey. I had one eye on my first job from the first day I started my four year course in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.

I always worked part-time throughout my studies and I feel this is critical for a couple of reasons: 1. Maturity—you grow up faster working alongside older people, learning how to interact with people and seeing how tough life can be. 2. Multi-tasking—it's an integral part of design, so if you can't juggle a part-time job stacking shelves in a supermarket, and studying, then you have no chance in the real world.

I always strived to do work placements during the half-term and summer breaks, and quickly realised networking was more important than any formal qualification. The people I met in those early days are still friends, mentors and contemporaries today, 25 years later.

I was lucky enough to join the industry just before computers really took over. I learnt some of the core skills from old-school designers in a design studio called Yellow M. It was a disruptive agency who had broken away from the old-school creative scene in Newcastle. They took pride in being bold, brave and sometimes aggressive towards winning business, and I loved it. Even as a junior designer I felt I had a role, and they embraced my ideas. Without sounding ancient, you really pay attention when you’re setting type by hand, letter-by-letter and it makes you look at things differently. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the transition the industry has gone through.  My Mac is my best friend now, but it has also taken a degree of the craft out of the job.  Even the very best designers today still work out their designs by hand, and only rely on the Mac once the idea is cracked.

Give us the elevator pitch on what you do.

I moved from the UK in 1998, to explore Dubai, where I set my first agency up in 2000. Eighteen years later North55 is still going strong as a dedicated passionate team who strive to deliver great creative solutions. Our daily work focuses on Brand Strategy, Corporate Identity and Digital Design Solutions. As a founder of the agency I have a two key roles: Firstly as Managing Director, focusing on developing client relationships, and building a great team. Secondly I am still a designer and I love the craft. I recognise I can't oversee the design studio when it's not my primary focus, so we employ a great Head of Design, and when my day allows, I work for him and I still get a buzz from cracking a great idea and being part of a creative team.

What do you look for in a great portfolio?

Ideas, ideas and a few more ideas. Student's focus on execution too much, making things look perfect, spending a fortune on production. I don't judge portfolio's on how slick they are, I judge them on ideas, their thinking, the real world application and their passion.

"

The very best designers today still work out their designs by hand, and only rely on the Mac once the idea is cracked.

"

What do you look for in a great client?

This is a tough one, as it's a two-way responsibility, Firstly, I truly respect ‘trust', but you have to earn trust. If you can work with a client who trusts you, it really allows you to flourish and gives you the confidence to exceed expectations. Secondly, loyalty is key for me. I understand that many design jobs are project based and come and go, but if you can find a loyal client it allows you to be proactive and work collaboratively on developing brands. You can allow yourself to over-service the client in the knowledge that it will pay back over time. And lastly, honesty, openness and transparency. I thrive when a client is brave enough to expose their weaknesses, express their concerns and communicate their need for support and collaboration.  One of my major bug bears is when a client claims to know it all and comes to you with a solution rather than a brief.

What role does digital design play in your studio in 2017, and how to you apply traditional graphic design skills in a digital age?

I feel we need to separate the concept of design. The real value now (as it always has been) is the ability to solve problems and develop great ideas. How these are executed will continue to evolve. Digital design is a huge part of our industry, but it's only a tool or a media form. Currently a computer can't develop a great idea and great ideas are what sets us apart in a super competitive industry. I'm intrigued and apprehensive about the emergence of A.I. For now it's exciting but if it evolves to the level where it's an idea generation tool, then we will need to significantly re-think the designer’s role.

Website: north55.com

Instagram: @north55design

LinkedIn: craigfalconer

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