STAY SMALL AND SUCCESSFUL
Meet the small team behind awardwinning consultancy Rose
When you’re always hearing about a studio winning awards, or landing major clients, it’s easy to assume they’re a global behemoth, with thousands of full-time staff. And you’d certainly be forgiven for making the same mistake about Rose.
Despite regularly ranking among the world’s top creative branding agencies, winning more than 100 international creative awards, and continually popping up in the design press, Rose consists of just six full-time employees. And they have every intention of staying that way.
We sat down with Rose’s designers to chat about the secret to their longevity, their 20th anniversary celebrations, their unusual workplace, and more.
What’s the story behind Rose?
Simon Elliott: Rose was founded in 1999 by my good friend Rebecca Oliver, the ‘Ro’ in Rose, and myself, the ‘se’. We’d both worked in several famous agencies, and learned from the best people, before deciding to create our own independent business.
Garry Blackburn: When I started working with Simon in 2003, the studio had become renowned for publishing, print, stamps and marketing campaigns. My background had been in branding and we both felt our skills would complement each other. Since then our focus has been on branding, which is now what we’re best known for.
Twenty years in business is certainly a great achievement: can you tell us the secret to your longevity?
SE: We’ve never been a fashionable agency. On the contrary, the word that makes us happiest, when people describe our work, is ‘timeless’. In an industry as transient, fast-moving and fickle as ours, we’re proud to have remained consistent and relevant in what we do.
GB: Our intention has always been to stay small. We chose to work in the creative industry because we love creativity. Staying small gives us that luxury, so we never have to say yes to anything and everything just to feed a lot of mouths. Being the size we are, we can be more selective, which also helps us manage our workload. We get to plan projects and dedicate time to clients, big and small.
SE: People who don’t know us often see our client list and assume we must be much larger than we are. But we’re proud to be only six people full-time. Garry and I don’t need lots of people, just really good ones! We like the freedom of not having to say yes to everything, or creating a monster that needs constant feeding.
And now you’re publishing a special book to celebrate?
SE: We are! It’s a little ironic, but designers don’t usually spend enough time on their own brands, and marketing themselves. So part of the reason for our book is an unapologetic celebration of our 20 years. It’s also been cathartic to remind ourselves of projects we were once so proud of, but had almost forgotten about. Most copies will be going to clients, collaborators and friends, but we’ll be selling a limited number ourselves.
How’s your work with English National Opera been going?
Abbie Edis: The release of English National Opera’s 2019-2020 season of marketing images was my main highlight from the last year. The whole process from mood-boarding to shoot day is such a collaborative process between ENO, ourselves, copywriter Andy Rigden and the various commissioned artists and photographers. It took a lot of behind-the-scenes work, but the final set of images were definitely worth the blood, sweat and tears.
Joanna Waclawski: Some concepts do require a bit of problem solving. One example was the recent image for Orpheus & Eurydice, where the client loved the simplicity of a woman falling through the air. Simple premise, but with a small budget it had the potential to be the most complex to do it justice and more importantly, safely - because she would be falling backwards from a height. I looked into specialist locations like trampoline parks and found a great gymnastics club where she could jump off their apparatus and fall into a professional foam pit.
Next was finding someone who’d be graceful but athletic enough to deal with multiple takes. Another of our clients put us in touch with her friend, a pilates teacher and dancer. Throw in a top photographer and it couldn’t have gone better. After experimenting with different jumps, we got the perfect shot of her falling through the air, and the team even wrapped early on the day.
A very different client is online betting service 10bet. What have you being doing for them? Rémi Mortimer: The brief was simple; to help it define what makes it special. After several stages of presenting and developing different design routes, we devised a clear message for 10bet to rally behind, that would impact everything it does: “For the bettor”.
This was the catalyst for implementing the brand assets, selecting a distinct typeface, and creating a simple UI experience. This included collaborating with illustrator Dave Flanagan, to compose a library of illustrations that allowed for quicker UI download speeds, and working with Nick Asbury on a tone of voice that speaks to bettors, rather than shouting for attention.
Betting regulations and the importance of providing a responsible gaming environment were among the challenges we had to address. And we did so by ensuring everything was as transparent as possible, and aiming to put the bettor first.
What’s it like working at Rose?
Yafet Bisrat: There are two things you notice straight away. One is the electric pace we’re expected to work at: time is money, and time waits for no one. The other is the importance of a great idea. Our unwritten rule is to make sure everything we design, from a quarter-page advert to a global rebrand, is underpinned with logic.
One of the reasons we’ve forged long-term relationships with our clients is our knack of producing challenging, award-winning work that answers the brief while still being able to deliver on time and within budget. That’s a win-win-win situation for the client, their audiences and ourselves.
JW: It’s worth noting that where we work is very unusual. The Old School in Rotherhithe is over 300 years old, so there are some creaky stairs, random bees escaping from the chimney, and antique interior details. But it all adds to the character of the place! We occupy the entire building, which gives us plenty of space to work, spread ideas out on walls and host clients, but it also stays very peaceful.
“Everything we design, from a quarter-page advert to a global rebrand, is underpinned with logic”
What are you working on at the moment? GB: A really exciting and diverse range of projects, from gin packaging to Royal Mail stamps, to an identity for one of the oldest law schools in London. We’re also rebranding a national music charity and a major London cultural venue; creating a big fundraising campaign for King’s College London; and rebranding a group of regional theatres.
How do you think your work is likely to change in the coming years?
RM: The development of storytelling is going beyond still imagery and becoming increasingly reliant on moving image or motion graphics. With attention spans diminishing, we have to consider motion to deliver a brand message directly and clearly to relevant audiences.
AE: The way technology is rapidly advancing, at some point it’ll be the norm for us to use VR to sell a concept to the client. They’ll be able to see and experience the brand as if it’s already there. So that just leaves the challenge of learning to use it…
YB: Tech and new marketing innovations are helping push branding into new areas and require designers to think one step ahead, which is great if it’s done with purpose. The only problem is when those outputs - which are effectively tools act as the starting point and drive the idea.
Left: The entire team, in front of Rose’s studio at The Old School in Rotherhithe, London. Front, left to right: Simon Elliott and Garry Blackburn. Second row: Abbie Edis, Rémi Mortimer, Joanna Waclawski and Yafet Bisrat.
Left and below: Posters for English National Opera productions Madame Butterfly, Salome, Aida, and Orpheus and Eurydice. Right: Rose has been working closely with sports betting platform 10bet to help define its strategy and identify its brand personality and values.
Below: Six years on from designing Bletchley Park’s brand identity, Rose was asked to create a campaign identity for its new cinematic exhibition, celebrating the role of the code-breakers in D-Day, 75 years on from the invasion.
Below left: The Hastings Contemporary art gallery benefited from a new look and brand identity, courtesy of Rose.
Left: Rose crafted a brand new look for the Fresh Awards for 2019.
Below right: The Bletchley Park Gin bottle design takes inspiration from codebreaking activities.