Founded by creative direction trio Ross Goulden, Alex Swatridge and Jacob Vanderkar, DutchScot is a London-based design and branding consultancy that believes in creating surprising and intelligent work for fascinating individuals. Upon the launch of their elegant new website, we checked in to see how they did it, how they coped with lockdown, and more.
The Brand Identity: How did the studio start out?
DutchScot: Alex and Ross are partners in life as well as work so that was a natural progression! Ross and Jacob worked together for a number of years while at another agency and also worked on a number of projects together ‘on the side’ and after that too. The three of us bring different things to the table but share the same philosophy when it comes to work and design. There are a lot of plates to spin when running a studio, between us all we just about manage!
TBI: What have you learnt along the way?
DS: Wow, where do we start? No two projects or two clients are the same so there’s so much that you learn on what feels like a daily basis. Just when you think you’ve figured it out something will come along and throw a cat amongst the pigeons. This is what makes it such an interesting industry to work in though, it’s certainly not repetitive. We’ve realised that you’re never the finished article, nor should you want to be. It’s normal to feel like you don’t know what you’re doing if you’re trying to create something original. Surround yourself with people you like and work well with. Collaborate with people who are at the top of their game. Stick to your guns when you really need to. Try to have fun and enjoy it too.
“We’ve realised that you’re never the finished article, nor should you want to be.”
TBI: How did you adapt during the lockdown? Has it made any permanent changes to the way you work?
DS: Usually changes to how the studio operates are iterative and democratic but lockdown was unique in that it forced dramatic change literally overnight. Much like other studios we have been working from home and chatting and sharing work over Zoom. We’re obviously lucky that we can do that with today’s technology and it works relatively well to a degree but there is no substitute for actually being in the same space together and being able to have those spontaneous chats about projects and looking over each other’s shoulders to see what each other is up to. ‘Maybe give this a go’ or ‘nudge that a little bit left’ is trickier over Zoom. It’s still too early to see which changes are made permanent, but a bit more flexibility in how, when and where we work might be one of them. What we do is truly a studio based vocation and working apart has made us appreciate even more how lucky we are to work closely together (from a safe distance) as a team of like-minded and ambitious individuals.
“Never underestimate the clarity a fresh set of eyes brings.”
TBI: Talking of the studio, what would you say defines a successful working environment, both visually and culturally?
DS: We’ve tried to create an environment where people look forward to coming to work. It sounds basic but we’ve found that a positive atmosphere tends to lead to the best work and it can be easy to forget this with the everyday challenges of running a studio.
We encourage everyone to get involved in all projects in some shape or form. Projects kick off with us all around the table which means that everyone can contribute ideas, but as the project develops, we want the team to continue to offer their opinions and suggestions. The most useful input down the line can come from somebody who has an understanding of the brief, knows the project, but has a bit of distance. Never underestimate the clarity a fresh set of eyes brings.
People should have the time and opportunity to explore, try new things and not feel pressured to find the quickest path to the end. It’s good to meander and go off-piste at times to see if there might be a more interesting way of doing something. Collaboration is important inside the team and out. We do a lot in-house but it’s lovely when you bring in a great illustrator, writer or animator and it’s this cross-pollination of references, experience and people which we aim to bring to every project.
“A surprising amount of work goes into the detail of how a website feels.”
TBI: Congrats on the website relaunch. How did you begin the process?
DS: Thanks! It’s certainly been a labour of love. It slowly became a thing we needed to do as opposed to just fancied doing. The silver lining of leaving it a little while is that it gave us some clarity in understanding ourselves as a studio. After that, much like any other project we work on, it started with us sitting around a table chatting about what the site needed to be and asking big questions about how we could show the outside world what we do and how we think. We work in a fairly natural way, with lots of talking and sketching, but eventually what’s right for any project becomes clear and undeniable.
TBI: How long did it take from start to finish? Studios often describe rebranding themselves as more gruelling than any client work.
DS: It is challenging to separate yourself from your own work, but this is a skill you need on every project. The real back-breaking work comes in documenting years of projects then finding a way of distilling this work into individual case studies that can demonstrate big thinking as well as show the smallest of details. In terms of timings, we’ve been lucky enough to be busy on client work for long enough that working on our own site would often inevitably end up towards the bottom of the pile. For actual design and build, we properly sat down towards the end of January this year and said ‘right, this thing is getting done’. We weren’t working on it constantly from that point but that’s when it started to go from conversations, lists and sketches through to something visual in XD, which we started using this year. Once we were happy with the design at our end, we then handed it over to the developer we work with regularly, Neal Fletcher. That process then probably took a good couple of months on and off as he was perfecting the behaviour of the site. A surprising amount of work goes into the detail of how a website feels.
“The value of a successful studio isn’t only in its visual output, it’s also how it thinks and works.”
TBI: How about the task of describing who you are, what you do and how you do it. How did you approach that?
DS: You hear the phrase ‘the work speaks for itself’ a lot but it’s also important that people understand what goes into the work and how and why the outcomes materialise. The value of a successful studio isn’t only in its visual output, it’s also how it thinks and works. How we work comes naturally and organically to us but there’s plenty of method and rigorous thinking hidden behind each project that needs to be gently communicated throughout the website. We also love the work we do and want our collective personality and passion to come through in how we talk about ourselves and our process. It’s actually quite a few different things to balance out but in that respect, it’s no different to any design project.
TBI: It feels clear from the new site that the studio isn’t defined by a house style – would you agree?
DS: Research and concepts are the foundation of our work, we try not to have any preconceptions on styling, because of this we’ve naturally ended up with a variety of aesthetics within our portfolio. Plus it’s fun to start afresh with each project that comes in. Sometimes it feels like we’re making our own jobs harder by not leaning on the same aesthetics, typefaces, colours, formats and layouts for each project but it’s the thing to do if you want to create something that cuts through and remains relevant for years to come.
It’s not necessarily a conscious thing that we set out to maintain but we want the work to stand the test of time and we’ve always known that a ‘house style’ could be popular one minute but ordinary the next. In this day and age, it’s even more important to develop your own principles and sense of individuality and using this to guide your work instead of what everyone else is doing.
“We’ve naturally ended up with a variety of aesthetics within our portfolio.”
TBI: You mentioned earlier about how the unpredictability of it makes our industry interesting to work in. However, if you could change something about the industry, what would it be?
DS: If we had to ask for anything, can we have a bigger budget and more time please?
TBI: Now the website’s out of the way – what’s next for DutchScot?
DS: The website has given us the chance to reflect on all the work and great clients we have collaborated with over the last four years, which we’re really proud of and now we’re excited about the next few years. As individuals, we have worked in a variety of sectors and it’s this variety that we thrive on. Ultimately, we want to continue to work with the loyal clients we’ve built up whilst exploring new areas and collaborations, bringing our experience with us to continue to create exciting new work.