In the Studio With — Studio Makgill talk projects, process and what it means to think big while staying small

Posted 16 May 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun

Brighton-based creative director Hamish Makgill founded Studio Makgill as a one-man operation in 2007. Ten years and four new team members later, this studio by the sea may have grown in size, but its philosophy to create beautifully simple work remains unchanged. Extracting only what’s essential in any given project, Studio Makgill create clean, carefully crafted work that avoids excess but adds real value for a wide-ranging but selective list of clients including G.F Smith, Nike and ONCA. Here, Hamish gives us an insight into projects, process and what it means to think big while staying small. 

Studio Makgill

Founded

2007

Based

Brighton

Team

Currently five: four creative, one project management

Hours

9am to 6pm

Clients

G.F Smith, H Furniture, Purple PR, Nike, Wiper and True, Inglis Hall, ONCA, abundance, Breed, U+I, Bruichladdich

Website
Social Media

Oliver at work

Overview

In essence, Studio Makgill has the same philosophy now as it did when I (Hamish) started it – and that’s to create beautifully simple work. We have a detail-focused approach to design which often feels like the path of most resistance, so it’s really key for me to have a team that truly understands that ethos.

We specialise in designing for small to medium-sized brands. Depending on the needs of the client, this could include anything from the brand strategy and identity, website, exhibitions and interiors to art direction, ad campaigns and books. We also occasionally work on self-initiated projects alongside our other jobs that form part of a larger creative body of work for our clients. We are in a fortunate position where we are proud of virtually everything we produce. 

“We are in a fortunate position where we are proud of virtually everything we produce.”

Inside Studio Makgill

Outside Studio Makgill

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The Work

When a new project comes in I like as many people to work on it as possible. The feasibility of this is based on other commitments and workloads within the studio, but it always feels like a good way to start. As the project develops and a solution is chosen, the designer of that route often becomes the lead designer of the project.

“Being a small team, everyone has to step out of their roles from time to time to help, and there’s a great attitude towards sharing responsibility for the studio’s output.”

One of our clients is H Furniture, who we recently worked with on a limited edition of their WW Chair – one of H’s best selling pieces. Whilst the creative process felt similar to many aspects of our other projects, it was really interesting and refreshing to work outside of the traditional client and agency model. We don’t see this as a new direction for the studio, but our ability to diversify and work across print, digital and physical spaces is something that we always want to be a part of Studio Makgill.

Work for GF Smith Gmund Applied, 2016

Work for GF Smith Gmund Applied, 2016

Work for GF Smith Gmund Applied, 2016

Design collaboration with H furniture, 2016

Brand identity and website design for gallery ONCA, 2017

Brand identity and website design for gallery ONCA, 2017

Brand identity and website design for gallery ONCA, 2017

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The Team

Finding the right fit for the studio is really hard. I look for personality, skill and enthusiasm. When you get the mix right, it has a hugely positive effect on the studio. Our team is normally five or six people: Ollie, our design director, our designers Laura and James, project manager Roxy and me – creative director, MD, FD, HR (I have a lot of hats). We are quite traditional in our structure but so far it has served us well.

Being a small team, everyone has to step out of their roles from time to time to help, and there’s a great attitude towards sharing responsibility for the studio’s output. We often find the need to regularly collaborate with other creatives, and most projects will involve conversations with photographers, illustrators, copywriters, developers, artworkers, exhibition fabricators and signage companies – the list goes on. We’ll go through phases of using freelancers, but if we manage the projects well enough and keep on top of timings, we find that we can mostly do without. But having said that, sometimes it’s just really good to have them in the studio; the good ones always bring in a burst of creative energy. 

Inside Studio Makgill

The team at work

The team at work

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Environment and Culture

Brighton’s lack of an industrial past leaves us short on the good, cheap, warehouse-like spaces that you find in East London. Most spaces in Brighton are either tiny or just very characterless. Our studio is a really good-looking conversion of an old garage situated right in the North Laines area. There’s lots of light and it’s a really quiet street.

It’s a great area to be in, and there are plenty of places to eat and drink. One of the benefits of being a small team is that we can fit around one table. We enjoy a team lunch and the occasional night out – either to celebrate a job won, a job well done, a farewell or a hello. Or just because we can.

“Living in Brighton is often a lifestyle decision, and it’s important to recognise that.”

Work for the Boxpark, the world’s first pop-up mall

Work for the Boxpark, the world’s first pop-up mall

Logo for Nike Western European Football, 2016

Book and website design for the It’s Nice That 2014 Annual, 2015

Book and website design for the It’s Nice That 2014 Annual, 2015

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All staff get the same holiday allocation of 22 days a year plus half a day on your birthday. We also like to do away days twice a year as a team. It’s quite a new initiative, but everyone takes their turn to curate a day. They’ve all been in London so far, but that doesn’t always need to be the case. Staff training is also on offer, but I like to let them decide if that’s something they want or need and let them approach me with a proposal rather than enforcing it upon them.

The most important thing for me is making sure that we all have a good work-life balance. It’s so easy to over commit in this industry and take too much on. I think you get much more from everyone if they feel that they can go home at a reasonable time most days. Living in Brighton is often a lifestyle decision, and it’s important to recognise that.

Posted 16 May 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Photography: Hannah Mornement
Collection: In the Studio With
Disciplines: Graphic Design, Design
Mentions: G.F Smith, H Furniture, Nike, Hamish Makgill, Laura Darby, Roxy Rafter, Oliver Tyrrell

Creative Lives from Studio Makgill

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