Modern Practice: WeMakeDesign

Modern Practice

2nd February 2016
by Nik Dillon

Cover image: Modern Practice: WeMakeDesign

What’s your background? How did you get to where you are?

We both graduated from National College of Art & Design with a Visual Communications degree, way back when. We’ve about 20 years experience each, working here in Ireland in various studios such as Red Dog, The Brand Union, Image Now, Designworks and Zero-G to name a few but also in Ideas Factory, London & Chris Perks & Cato in Melbourne, Australia. In short we’ve worked alongside some fabulous minds around the world, but the intention was always to set up our own design practice, so Wemakedesign was formed by Nik in 2004 with Adam joining a few years later.

How would you define your role/practice right now?

We see ourselves as creative thinkers, we started life simply as graphic designers and have all the traits that go with that, a love of identity, layouts, typography and anything visually aesthetic. Soon after, our love for identity and brand won over and we’ve been focused on brand identity ever since, so much so that building brands is now our underlying passion, our belief, our vocation. We feel that building brand identity and design systems for all sectors means we get to work in all areas of design, from print to pixels, strategic purpose to built environment, iconography to internal staff engagement. We seek out real insights, and big ideas and then look to bring them to life as simply and beautifully and as effectively as possible. We create the core components of brands and do so in a way that empowers people to own them and grow with them. 

Do you think that definition will change?

It will naturally evolve as life continually does, but we love being part of our clients worlds, knowing their businesses inside out, understanding what they do in such a way so we can define their business and brands and make a real difference. We don’t believe that our fascination with other people, or our love and belief in design and our commitment to craft will fade, if anything we have become more zealous. We truly believe that beautiful design based on a real and compelling insight, ignited by a great idea makes a difference. 

What do you set out to do with your work?

Make a positive difference. If we can’t do that, there’s no point, we are not driven by any other recognition, not from peers, organisations, awards (although they’re always nice), friends or family. The work is our driver, its not just about making a client happy. We ask where people want to go and then set about taking them there, even if it frightens them. 


What’s your motivation?

It sounds trite, but this is our vocation, we don’t choose to do design, we’re more driven to do it, we don’t need motivating as much as we push ourselves, often to unrealistic levels. It is at times not a blessing as you can find yourself pretty unhappy a lot of the time trying to hit this imaginary bar, but it’s that, that gets you up every day again and again to do it, better. 

What values do you try and instill in your work?

Inspiring & Engaging: Everything we do is about delivering meaningful design with a strategic approach that adds value, achieves results and engaging experiences. 

Bold & Honest: Its about being true to the natural characteristics and foundations of every brand. Everybody’s got a unique story to tell and we dig deep to find it. We’re also people focused and build honest longterm relationships with many clients becoming friends over the years. 

Fearless & Driven: We are goal driven, success driven and growth driven and adopt a forward thinking approach in everything we do. 

What is the main focus of your practice?

Creating work that works, achieving results that matter. We’re also all about relationships. A great brand is built from having great chemistry with the client. We adopt a collaborative approach for all projects and try to form close working relationships from the get go. 

What are the areas you work in?

Brand identity, strategy and naming (we for whatever reason enjoy and have developed a real rigorous approach to naming) and anything else a brand may need to bring it to life. We have no formulas, no templates, no quick fixes, no shortcuts and no house style, we let the work dictate how it should live, we’ve been around long enough to know how to bring them to life regardless of the challenge.

What is the scale of your projects?

We work with start-ups, SME’s and multinationals, we are working in the engine room, so there’s rarely a small project on the roster, it happens but its rare. With a start-up you can be quite involved as sometimes their ideas are raw and need shaping and their experience involving brand can be thin. With multinationals, you can find yourself doing a lot of work that’s about overcoming internal struggles and translating complex business solutions into effective strategic solutions – which can be more about diplomatic efforts to push the business on rather than final outputs. The majority of our current clients are small to medium SME’s. 

How many projects do you undertake a year?

It’s difficult to say, right now we’re working with some hefty corporations involving large scale ongoing work, then there are what we call a medium sized project working with small to medium sized SME’s and then plenty of in and out items, what you’d call bread & butter. At a guess, 2-3 large projects, 6-8 medium sized ones and then about 20-30 smaller in and out items. Not a huge amount but we are currently 2 people, we don’t outsource and we have a particular way of working I guess. We work in an exacting way, involving strategic thinking the whole way through. We apply the same calibre of thinking and creative to each and every client, tailoring the outputs to their specific needs and goals. We need it to be of high quality and finished perfectly, so we limit the jobs rather than increase and hire or outsource.

How long are your timelines?

6 weeks to 9 months, is a rough guess, smaller jobs are obviously quicker and more reactive.

Can you give an indication of the budgets you work with?

We charge for our time, we don’t charge for anything extra and are up-front and honest about it with clients, no rate card, no B Team, no artworkers, no project management and no hidden extras, not because we’re virtuous, its just our model and keeps conversation short and simple.

Can you give us a sense of what your working week would be like?

Mondays starts with a WIP, together with planning the week ahead thoroughly. Mondays are also the day for admin and getting plenty of mandatory stuff out of the way. Tuesday, Wednesdays, Thursdays are a mix of work and meetings, Fridays usually finish with an end of week WIP, to see what was achieved and what’s now considered urgent for the week ahead. That said, not one size fits all, we plan each week individually depending on what’s on. We’re pretty fluid because we have to be and we work lates and weekends when we need to, just like anyone else I guess. 

What type of outputs/outcomes do you deliver?

In short brand platforms and brand identity. A brand platform is the complete idea, understandings, the why or purpose, the core driver that acts as a framework for them to meet its goals. The brand identity is the toolkit of identity elements required, so anything from the mark itself, to colour palette, typography standards, photography, iconography, animation etc. We see the twin pillars of empowering people with an understanding of the idea and what it can do and then building the tools with which they can to do it with, visual or otherwise as our outputs. We never supply purely graphical outputs, design without meaning is merely decoration. For us empowering people with a single inspiring idea is the most powerful thing you can do for them. Everything else supports that, so technically our outputs would mirror everyone else doing brand, philosophically we have fundamental differences.

Do the people you work with understand what you do/understand the value?

Not always, but we do try and work with like-minded people – people, we feel will come to understand what we are trying to achieve for them. If they are a start-up they may need educating along the way, this can be very labour intensive but we genuinely get enormous satisfaction building brands from scratch and watching them fly. Other people come to us because they are actively looking for what we do, some of them don’t know what exactly it is they are looking for until they meet us and then there’s others who know what they are looking for and simply like what we have to say.

What do you consider a successful project to be?

Firstly the project has to meet its strategic goals and the target that was set for it. Secondly it should empower the client, they should feel armed to go forth and conquer and finally it should provide a feel good factor for us, knowing that we’ve nailed it.

What do you feel is the impact of what you do?

Work that connects with the right people and makes a real difference. Strategic thinking and design applied relevantly, is we believe transformative.

What’s the most important thing to get right in order to do your job properly?

Understanding. Understanding the business in question, the client, their objective, the market and where the brand needs to go, you cannot know enough.

Are you working the way you want to?

What would you change? Yes and no. Yes, in that we have specifically chosen to work on certain projects that cover many industries. We specialise and that’s great, and in a small market its a risk, but this is what we want to do, it’s where our hearts lie, it gives us real moments of joy, its an amorphous challenge, it uses every part of your skills, talents and experience. No, in the sense we are always pushing ourselves, always changing things, always looking to improve whilst simultaneously perfecting that work/life balance thing. But isn’t everyone? 

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