In the Studio With — Leeds-based design studio Build on clients, collaboration and going your own way

Posted 10 March 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun

After feeling disillusioned and disheartened by the design world, Michael Place left his job at The Designers Republic to go travelling. On his return he co-founded design practice Build with partner and creative director, Nicky Place, in London in 2001. New projects and prospects soon followed and they’ve since gone on to work with both local independent businesses and international brands including Nike, Getty Images and Virgin America. Having relocated the studio to Leeds in 2015, Michael and Nicky give us an insight into their ethos, studio culture and the close collaborative relationship they share with clients.

Build

Founded

2001

Based

Leeds

Team

4 (2 Creative Directors/Founders, 1 Graphic Designer and 1 Marketing/Project Manager)

Hours

Core: 8.30am–5.30pm
Standard: 8am–7pm

Clients

Virgin America, Design Museum, Made.com, Plæy, Aus Records, Warp Records

Website
Social Media

Overview

Graphic design alone will not save you. Build started life with just me (Michael). I left a job at The Designers Republic feeling a little burned out and disillusioned with design. Before that point, design was everything to me, but I had fallen out of love with it. So I left that behind and travelled around the world with Nicky. I always knew I was going to set up something on my own when we got back, but I didn’t have a clue what I wanted the ‘studio’ to be. 

I had a name, ‘Build’, a laptop – a gift from [The Designers Republic founder] Ian Anderson – and a good reputation. But I had no clients. After a while Nicky quit her job and worked full-time with me. We ran the ‘studio’ from various flats, houses and a studio space in Walthamstow before moving from London to Leeds where we now work as a team of four: myself, Nicky, our designer Ellie and our marketing and project manager Elena.

We help businesses both big and small across a multitude of sectors to communicate in smart ways and feel confident about doing so – whether that be through graphic design, art direction, website design or typography. Our approach is very simple: always look at things with a modern and contextual point of view. We enjoy the whole design process – from talking to clients, to actually designing and everything that happens after that. We enjoy thinking about both the big picture and the finer details – it’s what keeps us awake at night and what keeps us coming back for more.

“I had a name, a laptop and a good reputation. But no clients.”

Tower Works, Leeds

Tower Works, Leeds

Outside the studio in Leeds

Inside Build’s studio

Inside Build’s studio

arrow
arrow

The Work

The type of projects we take on has evolved naturally. We’ve worked with bigger clients as the years have gone by, which I can only assume is due to more people seeing our work. We were a little worried that clients may not come to us after we left London, so getting to work with Nike so soon after we moved up North really helped with our confidence. It was great to work collaboratively with their brand team on a new track and field identity. 

There have been a few project highlights from the past year. We’ve been working with the guys at Generation Press for about 10 years now, and it’s always an absolute pleasure – we believe they are the best printers in the country. Every project we do together is a really interesting journey and we always learn something new; how to do some thing better, something smarter. They came to us with the idea of working on a series of promo pieces showcasing all the processes they can offer to clients. 

“We were a little worried that clients may not come to us after we left London, so getting to work with Nike so soon after we moved up North really helped with our confidence.”

Another project was with Timothy Saccenti, an amazing photographer, director, futurist and long-time collaborator. He wanted a website to reflect his forward-facing approach and show off his incredible body of work. Because we have worked with Tim for a long time we had a really good understanding of what he does and doesn’t like, and this helped us get to a good place relatively quickly. We worked with another long-time collaborator and developer Chris How on the site. (Chris also knows what we do and don’t like!)

For our work with furniture designer and maker Matt Kelly, we came across his work on Instagram. We really liked what he was doing, so we followed him and started a conversation. We arranged to meet and talked about his hopes and dreams of running a furniture workshop, (Plæy) and that he wanted an identity for it. We worked with him on naming and the identity itself. It’s been the start of a long relationship and one we are really looking forward to continuing.

New look and feel for Nike Track and Field, 2016

New look and feel for Nike Track and Field, 2016

New website design for NYC-based photographer and long time Build collaborator, Timothy Saccenti

New website design for NYC-based photographer and long time Build collaborator, Timothy Saccenti

arrow
arrow

The Team

When a new project comes in, Nicky will usually set up a meeting, call, or Skype, or Google Hangout, dependent on where the client is based. The scope of work is then agreed and costed. Once the client has signed the project off, we work on nailing the brief with them before passing this onto the design team. Depending on the work needed we’ll then have a meeting about the project in the studio. We try and give as much autonomy to Ellie, and talk through any concerns she might have. 

I think it’s really important that job titles don’t create too many barriers. Everyone mucks in on all sorts of aspects of studio life. It can range from Elena ordering tiles for an interior design project we are doing to all of us sat there folding and collating pages for a presentation. We don’t often use freelancers, but enjoy having them in the studio. If we do, it’s usually for a specific project and skill set.

In the studio

In the studio

Ellie

Michael and Nicky

Bookshelves at Build

Michael, Nicky and Ellie

Ellie and Elena

Michael during tea time at Build

arrow
arrow

The Culture

Our studio is within five minutes of the train station, overlooking the Liverpool to Leeds canal, which is lovely. The area is due to undergo heavy development over the next few years so it will be interesting to see what that brings.

There are five windows down one side with skylights, so it’s super-light. We have a beautiful meeting table designed by Studio Octopi and built by Aldworth James & Bond and a big desk made and installed by Matt at Plæy. We’ve also got the ubiquitous studio staple of IKEA shelves and cupboards for books. We haven’t been in the space that long so I’m hoping to get some pictures up on the walls soon.

“I think it’s really important that job titles don’t create too many barriers.”

There are no prima donnas here! Because we’re a small studio it’s generally quite a relaxed atmosphere with no real office politics going on. We’ve restarted ‘Stuff Days’ which we used to do at the studio in London. Anyone can chip in with a suggestion for a day out, which will usually revolve around an exhibition or event.

I do tend to hog the music; it’s a real responsibility and one that I take very seriously. We have a Spotify account and a Teenage Engineering OD-11 speaker that’s always on. Pretty much everything is fair game, but the only policy we have is no pop music or ‘Gangster Rap’ which really winds Nicky up!

Creative Lives from Build

Sign Up
scroll to top arrow-up
share

Sign up now for full access

We’ve put together a selection of recent articles to give you a sense of what to expect. Take a look and then sign up for unlimited access.

Student

Free

Lecture in Progress will always be free to all students, but to get full access to the site and our archive, you’ll need to become a member. 


  • Full access to website and archive
  • Bookmark content
  • Offers and promotions
  • First to know about new products and services
  • Help shape the future of Lecture in Progress

Professional

Free Trial

We’ll be introducing a paid-for professional membership later this year. In the meantime, sign up for a professional membership for full access to the site. No credit card details required and we'll give you plenty of notice before we change anything.

Lecture in Progress is made possible with the support of the following brand patrons