Studio H Designs

Nicky and Rob Hall are the founders of a successful creative design agency in Battersea, London called Studio h. Their clients include the National Trust, The Rare Tea Company, Aigua de Vilajuiga, Emmi Swiss yoghurt, The Living Food Kitchen and Foodmarket at Copenhagen airport.

Working mainly within website design, branding and packaging disciplines, their contemporary, bright and clean designs and typography are sure to catch your eye, evoke nostalgic memories and make you smile.

We wanted to know more about their design philosophy, work and vision and this is what we found out.

The Foodie Bugle: Nicky and Rob, where did you study and train to do graphic design? Where did you meet and how did you decide to create Studio h? {and why the small “h”?}

Nicky and Rob: We’ve had our own design company in London since 1988. We met when we were both working at the same brand design consultancy.

In 1988 we founded Davies Hall, an award-winning design consultancy, where we worked with entrepreneurs, start-ups and small to medium sized brands through to own brand packaging with the multiples such as Waitrose for 12 years and Sainsbury’s.

In 2010 we changed our name to Studio h, with the idea of freeing ourselves up to work solely on projects where we felt our experience could really make a difference. Studio h is an informal name derived from our surname and the lower case ‘h’ has character and is visually memorable.

TFB: Your design work is very graphic, confident, colourful and eye-catching – where do you draw inspiration from? What other designers, artists and illustrators have inspired and informed your vision?

Nicky and Rob: Generally we would say that inspiration comes from everything we see in this eclectic world, but more specifically influences come from 1940s-19660s designers like Alexander Girard and Saul Bass and artists such as Ben Nicholson and Hockney. We also find Danish design and Festival of Britain inspirational.

TFB: How did you find such an eclectic range of clients or did they find you? You work with so many food companies that, obviously, you must be very interested in the sector. Do you constantly look at food branding and packaging when you are out and about, at restaurants, in cafes, at the farmers’ market?

Nicky and Rob: It’s a mixture of recommendations and referrals, clients finding us and us finding clients. We do look at packs everywhere we go and approach food companies that we feel would benefit from fresh design input. People are often naturally scared of change but it’s always clear to us when change is needed. It’s a fast moving business and, particularly in the UK, you need to try and always be one step ahead of your competitors, whether they’re visible or invisibly snapping at your heels.

It’s also obviously a major part of our business to know what’s going on in the food sector worldwide, but we do love food too, from buying and cooking it right through to arranging holidays in places where we know we are sure to find great food and fresh produce.

TFB: How does your thought process begin when a new client first commissions you to design their website-brand-logo-packaging? How do you get your vision from thoughts in the head into reality on paper?

Nicky and Rob: Sometimes the ideas are already there when we’re leaving the briefing. Like music, creativity happens in a nano-second and then comes the process of development and refinement. You can have a great idea but you can style it in many ways – this is where experience counts. These days the ideas start as scribbles on yellow sticky note pads and are then further developed on the computer.

‘Less is more’, is our philosophy. The process is always about deconstruction. Clients often tend to think of one pack as a small advertising campaign – we try to show them that space is crucial to create an impact and to stand out.

TFB: Some of your clients are big names whereas others seem to be smaller, family traders – if a new start-up artisan food or drink business comes to you, and their budget is not huge, what do you think they should prioritise in terms of design? Can you advise artisan readers, all over the world, who are thinking of commissioning a creative agency on how to make that judgement – biggest is not always best nor is the most expensive?

Nicky and Rob: Investing in a name, brand style and packaging design that will stand the test of time is the first priority. It will improve your chance of gaining listings greatly and it immediately starts to build on consumer understanding and loyalty.

Discuss your vision and formulate the brief with your designers. Sort out budgets (photography, illustration, etc.) at the outset, as these costs can vary immensely. Unique and iconic packaging formats are very expensive and can come later, if appropriate.

The new styling, personality and tone of voice established for the packaging can follow through to a simple, inexpensive website.

Ask yourself whether you really like the agency’s work. Do you have a gut feeling about their work? Do they have a good track record? Do you like them as people?

It’s a close relationship – could you work alongside them easily? If your business is very small with limited budget then choose a smaller company – they will be less expensive and more attentive.

TFB: What sort of work would you like to do in the future? What stone lies unturned?

Nicky and Rob: We’d love to work on indie spirits, wine and beer and branding gourmet pubs, hotels and eateries.

Further Information

Nicky and Rob Hill at Studio h:

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