In the Studio With — Breaking out and building a brand by the sea: Meet Hayling Island studio, Superrb

Posted 09 October 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun

Just off the south east of England lies Hayling Island, where you’ll also find the surf-loving creatives at digital creative agency, Superrb. The six-year-old digital creative agency interchange between sand and the screen to work with a range of brands including Anglepoise and ILOVEDUST to develop identities and digital designs, and was recently named Creativepool’s ‘Emerging agency of the year’. Set up by a trio of friends looking to break out of the London bubble, this thoroughly down to earth studio has now grown to include leather-making developers and knitting account managers. What do you need to work there? A good attitude, and a portfolio full of goose pimple-inducing work. We spoke to managing director and co-founder Matt Pilkington about everything from project processes and internships to their eclectic studio playlist.

Superrb

Founded

2011

Based

Hayling Island

Team

3 designers, 4 developers, 3 account managers, 1 financial controller

Hours

Flexitime, between 8am and 7pm

Clients

Amy’s Kitchen, Anglepoise, Tens, Buster + Punch, ILOVEDUST, Golden Wolf, Benny Gold, Bored of Southsea, Awesome Inc, Rhys Frampton

Website
Social Media

Matt at work

Overview

We (Rory Berry, Giles Smith and I) started the company out of a desire to create something ourselves; to build our own business and brand. We had all worked for agencies in London, and wanted to break out and do our own thing by the sea with our friends. We never set out to get rich, but with a love for design and the creative process, we wanted to work with brands we admired. This is still as true today as it was when we started six years ago. Our philosophy has always just been a case of working hard and building a portfolio to attract more of the kind of projects we love doing.

We knew that starting a company was going to mean lots of late nights, so by locating the studio close to home on Hayling Island, we could spend our time doing something productive, rather than wasting it travelling back and forth. It’s an amazing place to live and is well-connected to London and other major cities via trains and motorways. We go surfing or paddle-boarding before or after work, and are only a 15 minute drive from the South Downs National Park, where you can mountain bike or motorcycle. Some of our staff live in Southsea which is just across the water so they just put their bikes on the ferry and cycle over. 

“Hayling Island is an amazing place to live. We go surfing or paddle-boarding before or after work.”

Hayling Island is located just off the south coast of England, in the borough of Havant, near Portsmouth

The Work

Primarily, we design brand identities and build beautiful, usable websites for a wide range of different clients and industries. A recent highlight was the launch of amys.com for Amy’s Kitchen [an organic food company], which was our biggest build to date. As we’ve grown, we’ve also recruited specialists to help with content and digital marketing, so we’re able to deliver a more holistic service all under one roof. Currently we’re working on the brand identity for a watch label, with a website project to follow. We’re also working with three different video production companies; they’re always good projects to get as the clients are creatives themselves, which makes the process very collaborative.

“We never set out to get rich, but with a love for design and the creative process, we wanted to work with brands we admired.”

Animation for Superrb’s website by digital designer Andrius

Artwork from Superrb’s homepage

From time to time we do work under the wing of larger specialist agencies when they need additional digital support. We also build a number of web apps for financial services which are less sexy, and don’t feature in our portfolio. It would be great if we could only work on projects we felt a personal affinity with but if projects get delayed it’s good to have a few on the back burner – especially when there are wages to be paid!

Work for Anglepoise

Work for Anglepoise

Work for Anglepoise

Work for Anglepoise

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Work for Amy’s Kitchen

Work for Amy’s Kitchen

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Depending on the scope and who the client is, we fine-tune our process to suit each job. A typical website project would start by defining project requirements, a rough cost and timeframe with the client. Then the account managers research necessary audiences and competitors and write a creative brief. After that, designers will explore different styles, present them to the client, and start to wireframe a desktop homepage. The client will then sign this it off after a couple of rounds of amends.

Next comes the production work to roll out the look and feel across all page templates. We compile a big UI sheet so everything’s nice and tidy for the developers to begin the build. The developers will build the templates directly into the CMS, rather than doing them separately. Once a site is built, it’s tested thoroughly by the whole team (giving feedback to the account manager) and then populated with content on our staging server. We’ll offer the client CMS training so that they can add their own content too. Then we’ll do one last review of the site, making last-minute tweaks…followed by beers and high-fives.

Work for Awesome Inc

Work for Awesome Inc

We often collaborate with other creative agencies, either on creating their own portfolio websites or getting them to create content for our clients. In the past, we’ve worked with Rhys Frampton, ILOVEDUST, Golden Wolf and Awesome Inc. For us, the best way to run these kinds of projects is to get the client involved during the concept stage. We then work on the page designs, before the client reviews them again, adding their own customisation and detailing. This approach ensures that whatever is designed is functional, accessible and lets the client put their own spin on things. These projects are always the most fun, but the least profitable. They often lead to many deep, philosophical debates about image cropping or typography, but the results are always stronger in the end. 

In the studio

In the studio

The Team

We have two tiers to our team: directors and staff. Pay is determined by skills and performance rather than time served; we make things simple by avoiding flashy job titles. Since winning Creativepool’s ‘Emerging Agency of the Year’ award we’ve welcomed some great new members to the team. Our current team is made up of a creative director and two designers; a technical developer and three developers; a marketing director and two account managers and one person in accounts and admin. While we do all our work in-house, we do outsource some of the content production to specialists, such as photographers and videographers. 

Everyone’s more or less the same age here (between 20 and 35). People enjoy hanging out socially and are generally into the same things. We have two office dogs, Rufus a golden doodle that’s completely nuts and a whippet called Kiki who looks upon Rufus’ antics with disdain. Dogs are really important in our office and after six years I genuinely couldn’t imagine working somewhere without one.

Inside the studio

Hayling Island

When recruiting, we look for attitude and ability in our team members. We can train you, but if your attitude stinks then it’s a non starter. Designers must have a really strong portfolio – so good that it gives our creative director goosebumps. The developers we look for are people who aren’t satisfied with the nine to five; they’re people who participate in open source projects or have their own hobbies on the side. Alex (one of our developers) makes great handmade leather goods, (we’ve had him make us some pretty random things to give to clients in the past) and Yvette can knit almost anything. As for account managers, they’ve got to be super nice people and good at communicating. We operate in a technical environment, so whether they are trying to explain the nuances of a font selection versus the functionality of a booking system, they need to be able to break things down so clients can understand what’s going on and be engaged in the discussion. Kev, one of our account managers, is pretty handy with a disk cutter, so he’s been helping pimp our new office which is currently under construction.

“You shouldn’t think of interns as free or cheap labour. They are here to learn and for you to feed off their new ideas.”

We get approached by interns quite regularly for placement opportunities. They are almost always from overseas students rather than the UK. I don’t know what it is about our uni system over here, but industry-linked courses like KaosPilot and Devine are killing it. It feels like we’re getting left behind as a nation and need to pull our socks up. The interns we’ve taken on have been amazing – very passionate, hardworking and full of great ideas. When we’re in the new office we plan to take on one intern each year as we’ll have a bit more space. You shouldn’t think of interns as free or cheap labour. They are here to learn and for you to feed off their new ideas. If you plan their projects carefully before they arrive, you’ll both get much more out of their time with you. 

Inside the studio

Account manager Becky at work

Environment and Culture

We don’t really like headphones in the studio, but they do help everyone focus on their work without being distracted by the phone and office banter, so they are tolerated. All our staff are into different types of music, so studio music tends to be a mix of hip hop, reggae or electronica, and sometimes a cheeky bit of metal or pop if someone’s loving a new album and wants to share it.

Internal projects range from building our own project-management system called Compass (a bit like if Basecamp and Slack had a lovechild) to starting our own motorcycle fashion brand and more recently a workwear clothing retailer. We also support staff with any initiatives they are working on; for example, James (the latest addition to the development team) has several open source projects of his own. 

Hayling Island beach

Holiday times are pretty standard, and we work on flexitime which makes a big difference to staff. We’re also keen to support training if we think it will add value to the business. Away days are fairly ad-hoc at the moment, but we’ve appointed Becky with the task of managing the social calendar so that something happens at least once a month. We all appreciate good food and work with quite a lot of hospitality brands, so most will involve a meal. Staff socials tend to descend into debauchery fairly quickly but they bring us closer together as a team. We’re a very young company and many of us were friends before we started working together, which makes for good banter; having a good sense of humour helps. 

Posted 09 October 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Photography: Superrb Studio
Collection: In the Studio With
Disciplines: Graphic Design, Digital, Design
Mentions: Superrb Studio, Matt Pilkington, Amy’s Kitchen, Anglepoise, Awesome Inc

Creative Lives from Superrb

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