Inkbot Design (Belfast, U.K.) and DDCo. (Dallas, U.S.) / Creative Director/Partner
With a B.A. (Hons.) in Illustration from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, Stuart’s print background has developed into Brand Identity Design and Strategy for hundreds of companies worldwide.
With 20 years of experience in the creative world, he has been awarded numerous creative accolades. With his work, he has helped establish brands, concepts and identities for some of the biggest names in the business.
Working across all industries, the notable focus has driven brands in real estate (California, U.S.), retail (U.K) and technology startups globally, with brand design, digital marketing and web design.
Amongst recent work has been numerous pro-bono projects for charities and non-profits looking to establish themselves and their causes.
Finally, as Editor of the Inkbot Design Blog, it has become well-known in the Design and Marketing industries as a go-to for informational content helping young designers and business owners grow through brand strategy.
Tell us about your definition of a good design?
Good design starts with simplicity. You don’t want to confuse people with too much going on. Less is often more, and that’s totally true with design. A clear message can be a powerful one.
Tell us a little about your background. How did you develop a passion for design?
I went to University with a plan to get a degree in Graphic Design, but ended up moving into Illustration. I enjoyed the literal approach to communication where when you illustrate, you’re visualising a story; something that easily transfers into building brands.
What attributes do you think makes a design stand out from the rest in Awards such as the IDA?
Communication across boundaries. Does the result tell the story? The story of the brand, the story of the product/service; and does it differentiate? If I go to the store to buy a product, why would I buy this over a generic or name brand? If your design answers these, you’ve done something right.
What advice would you give to future IDA entrants?
This isn’t advice regarding entry to the IDA, but advice regarding getting work that will win: – Ignore the brief. For one concept in presenting to clients, do your own research. Create a concept that will work in all cases, yet, the client hasn’t expected. If you nail it, it will open their minds to new approaches (as long as you communicate effectively)
What is your own guiding design principle?
Communicate. Beyond words.
Do you see design an expression of art?
Whilst it’s fundamentally different, there are overlaps. With a background in traditional art, I can see simple things that transcend, such as colour theory, knowing what looks ‘good’, and others like balance, hierarchy etc. There’s a lot of psychology that comes into play regarding design, which ties into my previous point of ‘design is communication’. When you’re designing anything, you are trying to send a message in the best way possible – there may be no ‘perfect’ but we all try to get as close as possible.
Do you believe there is a design ethic?
I live by my own ethics. Be good, be honest, treat everyone kindly. If you want me to rebrand your racist or homophobic business, good luck, that $50k cheque will be shredded.
How do you feel design has evolved over the past years and how do you see it evolving in the future?
Design hasn’t (at its core) evolved much over the last xxx years, it still functions as it always has. Consumers have though, and in doing so, design has adjusted to meet those demands. In the next 5 years, there will be a shift to AI, and what we will see is a bunch of brands using it to the point that it will become a cliche, and at that point, brands that ‘humanise’ will stand out and do well.
What do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities in your career/industry now?
Educating clients. Why do you want to use that colour? Oh, it’s your kid’s favourite? Good argument, but maybe Fuschia isn’t best for a car dealership… insert a link to an article I wrote on colour psychology.
How do you decide to take on certain projects?
Whilst being very open-minded, I enjoy projects where clients are doing something different. Having a client use the term ‘carte blanche’ is a nice one, rather that a client who just wants me because I know the tools.
What do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities for a designer today?
Challenges: standing out amongst others, showing their skills, marketing
Opportunities: all of the above. Your skillset should cover it.
Is there anything in particular that you look for when judging a design award?
I can answer that by repeating #1 (Good design starts with simplicity. You don’t want to confuse people with too much going on. Less is often more, and that’s totally true with design. A clear message can be a powerful one.)
What did you most enjoy about the IDA judging process?
I appreciated seeing a much more global perspective on design. With most of my own clients being from the US/UK, seeing how others approached a design was a refreshing experience.
After reviewing the IDA projects, did you see evidence of current trends or challenges in the design industry?
I’m not sure this is a trend per se, but I saw it a lot when looking at other categories, such as architecture and advertising – be bold. Try something that a client would say “wow, I didn’t expect that!” What’s the worst that could happen? They say I don’t like it, and you waste a day? Be bold and step up, you’ll experience something new in the process, and that’s never a ‘waste’.
If you were to offer advice to a designer on how to succeed in the industry today what would you tell them?
With 20 or so years of experience, I don’t feel experienced enough to advise. I always told myself I wouldn’t teach before I knew enough and I guess that in itself would be the advice. Get the experience, however you can.
How much influence does your own personal taste influence your decisions in judging a design award?
I try to be as objective as possible, but yes, sometimes we all get the ‘oh that’s nice, I wish I had done that’ feeling when seeing a design result. When judging, I put myself into my ‘brand audit’ mindset for consulting, which is just where I have to be as objective and critical as is needed.
Can you tell us how you approach the jury process?
Grab a coffee, find a quiet space and take my time. I noticed myself being more extreme in the reviews. For example, if something was right down the middle, say a five out of ten, I’d pause and reconsider, asking why am I giving this a somewhat neutral? Is it not succeeding? Do I hate that colour clash? What am I missing?
It may be a conflict with trying to be objective and subjecting my opinion on a design, but if something else is rated highly, and then I see an ‘average’, it’s basically a back-to-the-drawing-board response.
What would be your dream design project?
This might be an unexpected answer, but working with branding connected agencies. I’ve done a lot of work in the past with people who advertise for luxury realtors, they forward a lot of design work. So in a sense, that’s a dream connection. They’ll tell me “I’m advertising this client and their branding is a little off, would you be interested?” I don’t even have to pitch, they’ll let me know where the budget lies and I tell them how I can help.
What did you learn from this IDA Jury experience, and is there anything that you learned that you will take back to your respective to influence your business?
Pay attention to other industries. Look at fashion, architecture, music and anywhere else where lessons can be learnt.
What are you working on, what is in the pipeline for you for 2021?
Well, as of writing, I’m trying to educate as much as possible. Two books published and maybe one more, but I’m not sure. If you want a rebrand, give me a buzz! 🙂