Creative Lives — Creative Director Jaco Justice: “Clients don't think like you. Have confidence in communicating your ideas to them”

Posted 10 March 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun

Whether designing mini-skateboard menus or fawning over new fabric samples, Jaco Justice’s childhood desire to simply be ‘different’ clearly manifests in his work as creative director of Jaco & Co. Having initially studied interior architecture at Edinburgh College, Jaco founded the Edinburgh-based design and build company in 2016. Specialising in commercial interiors, brand identity and art direction, Jaco & Co. are commissioned to come up with concepts and turn sketches into on-site realities for clients such as the Edinburgh Festival Theatre and Italian street food restaurant, Civerinos. Here, Jaco talks us through some recent projects, working with clients and on going from paper to production.

Jaco Justice

Job Title

Founder and Creative Director, Jaco & Co

Based

Edinburgh

Clients

Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Hula Juice Café, Civerinos, Lowdown Coffee

Previous Employment

Art Director, Edinburgh International Fashion Festival (2012–2015)
Freelance Graphic Designer, between Barcelona, Florida and Edinburgh (2006–2016)

Education

Advanced Diploma Interior Architecture & Spatial Design, Edinburgh College (1999–2002)

Website
Social Media

Jaco Justice

Day-to-Day

How would you describe what you do?
I’m the owner and creative director of Jaco & Co. Primarily we’re an interior design and build company working in the hospitality and commercial sectors, but clients come to us to help tell their full brand story. We provide the art direction and graphic design as a one stop service. We’re commissioned to conceptualise bars and restaurants from their very inception so we’re a brand service that starts on screen and paper, and then fully manifests in 3D, surface driven environments.

Most of our clients are independents in central Scotland, however we also delivered the Edinburgh Festival Theatre’s new restaurant. They’re our most high profile project to date. Last year we also went to Palma de Mallorca and branded and designed the interiors for a bistro, Annibal 23, in the Santa Catalina barrio.

What does an average working day look like? 
I start emails at home over breakfast, but if a build is on then no doubt there will be a plumber or tiler phoning before 7am because they can’t get access to the site. So I’ll either head to a site or to the studio in the morning, where I’ll mostly be staring at screens for the duration of the day. But hopefully some tasty new tile or fabric samples will arrive so I can fawn over them as a distraction. Depending on the project it may be a day of sketching interior visuals, which, although are time consuming are incredibly satisfying when done. They’ll be on the wall as a constant reminder of what is going on.

I’m a big believer in proper lunch breaks which, if I’m between successful projects, I feel are the perk of running your own business. 

Where does the majority of your work take place? 
It can vary a fair bit. When a build is in full swing then studio time can be limited from my perspective. You need to be on site from about 7 to 8am with the sub-contractors to make sure you’re all in sync with the day ahead, and that the build materials are all present and correct. Some weeks in between builds are full days in the studio and sketching or designing on screen, as well as visiting suppliers and sourcing materials. I tend to do administrative work late at night on my laptop at home.

“We’re a brand service that starts on screen and paper, and then fully manifests in 3D, surface-driven environments.”

How do projects usually come about?  
Tendering for work and having new enquiries can come in waves. Now that we’ve done some prominent locations, especially in Edinburgh, there’s always a connection simmering somewhere for a new project or a bit of gossip coming our way to chase a lead. 

Edinburgh has a good reputation for hospitality and tourism. Alas much of that is tartan-driven. We want to be considered as a go-to firm for something more daring and progressive, and that doesn’t trail in the footsteps of, say, London ten years ago – most prominently seen in the homogeny of coffee shop design.

How collaborative is your work?
Incredibly. From commissioning artists and designers and providing interior artwork, to working with an upholsterer to produce a new and exciting seating shape – it changes all the time and that’s the most interesting part. 

What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job? 
Scheduling builds with all the trades is a glorified nightmare, but also incredibly satisfying when the design comes together. Any initial doubts over certain elements are rewarded by the client's total satisfaction with the job.

Stress levels can vary. Problems can arise that were totally unexpected (especially on builds in Edinburgh’s historic premises). Technically, these aren’t anybody’s fault so you just needs to stay calm.

Civerino's Pizza Restaurant, Edinburgh

Civerino's Pizza Restaurant, Edinburgh

Civerino's Pizza Restaurant, Edinburgh

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What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
We’ve been working on the new Civerinos Slice [Edinburgh-based pizza restaurant] since August, which is due to launch this April. The brief was to do something that stands alone from the long-established and popular current site, while the overall brand and art direction still connects the two sites. In terms of interior finishes and palette they are both fairly unique. Civerinos Slice is in the style of a Milan showroom whereas the original location is more NYC warehouse. 

It’s a full collaboration between Jaco & Co. and the Civerinos boss, Michele Civiera, who is a very progressive, free spirited and popular restauranteur in Edinburgh. We’ll go to him with some interior styles we think are cool enough before pulling it all apart (both metaphorically and physically on site) and then piecing it all back together. Right now we’re working on the final interior finishes, overseeing the installation, designing mini-skateboards for menus, creating new brand characters around Italian historical and artistic figures (in this case, Julius Caesar and Botticelli’s 'Birth of Venus’) as well as consulting on the marketing and digital products.

“Conversations and connections can be made in the most random of places. Put yourself out there. Take risks.”

What skills are essential to your job? 
The ability to understand and interpret a client’s needs and then turn them into a reality. Also keeping on top of trends and the cost of products and materials to maximise design potential in an interior. Apart from that: balls and charisma.

Are you currently working on any side projects?  
Yes, The Printworks – a new creative-led business in Edinburgh's Leith area. It's an incredible space with a large private members club. We are now developing social events for all the local creative agencies.

What tools do you use most for your work? 
Mostly my iMac 5K with retina display; Macbook Pro; Adobe Creative Cloud; SketchUp; AutoCAD. I’ll also use Staedtler fine liners, A4 grid notebooks, A3 layout pads, tracing paper and Pantone pens.

Brand identity, interior design and signage for Annibal 23, Palma de Mallorca

Brand identity, interior design and signage for Annibal 23, Palma de Mallorca

Brand identity, interior design and signage for Annibal 23, Palma de Mallorca

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How I Got Here

What did you want to be growing up?
Different, I guess. My various schools’ art departments were always fairly limited with monotonous curriculums but I always knew I’d be involved in art and expression driven work somewhere down the line. 

How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
Very. It was a great course that sadly no longer exists in its full entirety. But I’ve just been asked to go back and talk to the interior design students there which is always rewarding.

What were your first jobs?
Post-college I veered towards graphic design and music promotion. The latter meant meeting musicians from all over the world, some of which I still do small bits of graphic work for. I also did a brief graphic design internship at Tayburn in Edinburgh. It was good to see how the daily workings and hierarchy worked. But it taught me I didn’t want to become a rung climber. I wanted it all my way without client restrictions, but that works both ways, as raw brilliance needs to be let loose too. I think people and technical skills take years to develop.

Was there anything in particular that helped you at the start of your career?
Moving to Barcelona for two years and working as a freelance graphic designer. I didn’t make much money however my work-life balance was well and truly addressed. It taught me to immerse myself in difference scenes: art, design, music – and that conversations and connections can be made in the most random of places. Put yourself out there, basically. Take risks.

“I never expected to be a Laurence Llewelyn Bowen type, traipsing around with fabric samples, but now I am!”

Was there a particular project you worked on that helped your development? 
It was probably working with various arts and music festivals in general. It gave me a good grasp of project timelines and the need to deliver – or else.

What skills have you learnt along the way?
Managing people and their own skill sets; delegating time-consuming jobs is a given. From an interiors perspective, it’s about finding dealers and suppliers who can help make choices for you from your brief. It saves time as well as getting you access to new products faster.

What’s been your biggest challenge? 
Taking on the work. To go from doing ‘anything for the dollar’ to being selective for your company’s profile and progression can be very taxing. Sometimes it means saying goodbye to clients who were with you from the start. Hopefully those transitions are being dealt with better now than they were before. 

Is your job what you thought it would be?
Perhaps. I never expected to be a Laurence Llewelyn Bowen type, traipsing around with fabric samples, but now I am! But having said that, there’s also a lot of variety because we deliver the brand and concept side of things too. It can be difficult juggling all these formats as criticism can come from both the graphic and interior worlds.

Edinburgh Festival Theatre Café

Edinburgh Festival Theatre Café

Edinburgh Festival Theatre Café

Edinburgh Festival Theatre Café

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Thinking Ahead

What would you like to do next? 
A hotel is the dream and to be more involved with the architectural side of things, as well as producing a bespoke furniture line. Companies like Dimore and Campbell-Rey are forging inspiring paths on those fronts. 

We'd like to leave Edinburgh as a base and take on more projects abroad. The capital likes to think it's creatively progressive but it'll always be stifled by its Disney tourist image. The retail and fashion experience on the high street is fairly disappointing but we'd like to help improve the situation rather than moan about it!

Could you do this job forever?
Like. Literally. Forever. (I hate thinking about retirement.)

Words of Wisdom

What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become a producer?
It's about ideas, having confidence in them and communicating them to the client.

Clients don't think like you. They may have a strong idea in their heads that you dislike, somewhat. So it's about developing a middle ground that will give you the platform to push back in your own desired direction. 

But sometimes you need to put your personal agenda aside and think of, literally, the bigger picture. Doing the mainstream stuff will open up avenues to explore your own potential and eventually work for the people you truly admire and in an environment where there are no limits. 

Posted 10 March 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Collection: Creative Lives
Disciplines: Design, Interior Design
Mentions: Jaco & Co.
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