Stephen talks to the Chartered Society of Designers

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Stephen Page FCSD joined the Society in 1992. After more than two decades working in the design sector, he and his wife set up design consultancy Page & Page based on Eel Pie Island inTwickenham.

Design was not always Stephen’s career of choice, as he explained to TheDesigner… “I was inspired by Jacques Cousteau on TV, the glamour of wet suits and turquoise oceans, I had decided I wanted to be a marine biologist and started studying all the sciences: chemistry, biology and physics.”

It wasn’t long before his science books were covered in graphic, stylistic doodles…

… It was his father who encouraged this talent by dispatching Stephen for some work experience in a glamorous London advertising agency: “I think my Dad was concerned that I would end up tending a fish farm somewhere dark and damp. At the agency I encountered even more excitement than  Jacques seemed to have enjoyed at sea!

From this point onwards, becoming a designer became inevitable: I used my imagination together with my knowledge of science and set about solving visual problems with an ever-deepening fascination for the connection between successful communication and the crafting of imagery, type, layouts and ideas.

After some time however, I realised that despite my growing passion, I wasn’t as good at it as some of the people around me. I was better at people (perhaps I got this from my Mum who was rumored to be capable of reading people’s minds). I adapted and used my design skills to focus on the science and art of winning a share of a target audience’s mind. In other words brand building.”

Stephen became deeply interested in gaining and using insights, how to get people to use their ideas and collaborate. Whilst honing in on these skills he met his wife Kate and together they founded Page & Page.

Case study: Alchemis Business Consultancy

One of Page & Page’s recent projects was for Alchemis business consultancy – with a reputation as the agency to use if you are serious about building your business. Stephens explains some of the challenges the team faced in this project.

“It would have been easy to give Alchemis a ‘serious’ identity, website and positioning but it wouldn’t have won them any new ground. Collectively we decided that the key to repositioning the brand and central to the brief was ensuring that Alchemis’ proprietary and complex processes were easily understood by even a layperson. Kate and the creative team took the identity from its serious almost solicitor-like appearance, to something fresh and surprising, revolving around information graphics and a collection of characterised animals. It is fun, informative and accessible and we’d argue more business like than the old identity. The identity was successful in finding the ‘sweet spot’ that connects real human goals with those of the business and the brand.”

Although Stephen has worked in many different countries he still thinks the UK is the best place to practice communication design, as he explains:

“There is a long history here of great graphic communication and a market that demands brands should have a higher human purpose – beyond wanting to assert product features or simply wanting to sell something. This means that the visual communication has to be intelligent, contemporary and the strategy behind it meaningful. That is why we find that the best marketers with the most progressive ideas are plentiful in the UK. It’s a hotbed of best practice.”

With design, and graphic design in particular, being such a competitive industry we asked Stephen to offer some words of advice to new graduates entering the sector.

“Looking back it is a privilege to have had a design education, designers are taught to look for the insight, to think about who they are designing for and how they might add value. The biggest challenge comes from the ferocity with which some of the business world and some clients are consequently forced to move. This pace means that many commercial organisations give up the quest to add value and replace it by selling something cheaper or doing it faster. It is a form of panic and the lessons we eventually learn is that these types of organisations never stay on course.

One thing I have learned is that if you want to do good work you have to put people first. Your motivations and therefore energy have to stem from caring about the people you get to work with. If they sometimes seem difficult it is because of that ferocious business world that they are fighting to survive in.

This means we need to employ that other skill designers are blessed with – the ability to adapt. We would define the design process as first discovering what is needed, second defining how it might be supplied, third developing creative concepts and fourth delivering something beautifully crafted: discover, define, develop and deliver. You can adapt this process to almost anything – I adapted it to brand building and Kate adapted it to creativity.

The key thing for any young designer to remember is to learn to adapt.”

Stephen and Kate went on to write their own book Forget the Box, a culmination of their experiences working with creatives and a guide to enable clients and creatives to work more collaboratively towards a better brief.