Grandson’s Killian Walsh on flying the flag for Irish design on a national and international scale
Dundalk-based design studio Grandson believe in thoughtful, tangible design and long-lasting, transparent client relationships. Established in 2013, the Irish studio got its name from the fact that they’re based in the same building in which founder Killian Walsh’s grandfather ran his family business for over 40 years. Be it fate or a fortunate coincidence, the studio are proudly continuing his tradition of professionalism. Following the launch of Grandson’s illustrative rebrand and new website, we caught up with Killian to learn more about their practice.
EM Hi Killian, how’s the first part of 2022 been for you and the team at Grandson?
KW It’s been good thanks. We are still working hybridly but coming back into the studio moreso when required for meetings and workshops in person. It’s good to see things coming back to normal but also want to keep the work/life balance of working from home, along with meaningful in-person studio time.
EM You mentioned to me that the studio has been going for nine years now, which is quite the achievement. Has running a design studio been everything you wanted it to be when you started out?
KW Eh, tricky one to answer, to be honest! It has been extremely challenging with COVID over the past 2.5 years and that has skewed my opinion a little. Running your own independent studio has its perks in the sense you control your output and have the final creative say or freedom in the design process. But sometimes I explain it to friends as being a chef but also having to grow the veg, water it, pluck it, wash it, prep it, plan the menu, cook it, serve it, then bill for it! I would love to just be creating the dish and cooking it :)
EM What’s been the most difficult experience of those nine years?
KW Finding clients with adequate design budgets and in turn them having trust that you will do the best job possible.
Running your own independent studio has its perks.
EM And how about the most rewarding?
KW Creating something that employs people and we all make our livelihood from design. Some pro-bono work we have done is also hugely rewarding. I am most proud of the fact we have been independent for nine years, working out of a small town in Ireland, but producing work nationally and globally.
EM How much do you go out looking for new clients vs those that approach you via recommendation?
KW 15/85 split probably. Power of referral is huge and the social proof aspect. Occasionally we will approach a client that we think would be a good fit and we’d like to work with them but haven’t been introduced yet, but generally, it’s someone coming to us off the back of a client we worked with or project we have completed.
EM How have you found your role has changed as the studio has grown, in age and size?
KW Yes, but sometimes the balance between administrative tasks can be greater than the creative ones, and you need to keep this in check. People work optimally focusing on their own skill set and what they are experts in. But as a business owner and also CD, you have to juggle roles and tasks, and also understand the commercial aspects, along with the creative tasks and management of these processes, and have them all work in unison.
EM Do you have a project you are most proud to have completed?
KW Our book designs for Dundalk FC have been great, as a fan, it was amazing to work on these. But I am most proud of our work for a local village – Blackrock – whom we created a brand identity for based on their seaside locality and history.
We had a bigger challenge in being ‘design custodians’
EM Is that the visual outcome that makes you choose Blackrock, or something else?
KW Yes, I think it was that this project is the truest representation of good design we have produced to date. The client or shareholders here, being the general public and inhabitants of the locality itself, meant we had a bigger challenge in being ‘design custodians’ of this identity and making sure it was true to the essence of the place, and not overtly design-ey for no reason. Also, the context and concept being literal to the place, its visual make-up of rocks, sea, beach, mountains and shoreline. Sedimentation is the build-up of something over time, tangibly represented by the rocks of the beach’s shoreline, which was the concept we focused on and how this community formed over time.
EM What was the thinking behind your recent rebrand of the studio?
KW The name Grandson has a personal connection to the building we first worked from. Our current studio is in a historic building from 1888. We wanted to feature this in the identity and also to create a mascot to represent the ‘Grandson’ character. The building and name lend themselves to something more classic and ‘golden age of advertising.’ For this, we wanted to create something with character and resonance, and the illustrative element adds this personality also. We also wanted to produce a comprehensive brand identity for ourselves, treating it like a client project, taking the required time and processes to properly eek out the best solution.
We are very privileged to be able to make our livelihood from designing beautiful things.
EM Noticed the images of your studio on your About Us page – what’ve you found makes for a comfortable and positive working environment?
KW Honesty, respect, good manners and being a good person. We are very privileged to be able to make our livelihood from designing beautiful things, so the workplace should be conducive to allowing people to do their thing, respectfully, and without stress. And always be aware that, as important and noble as design is, it is only design, and we are not performing life-saving surgery on children (or equally important work).
EM How would you describe the culture and respect for design in Dundalk, and Ireland as a whole?
KW I am majorly impressed with the level of design work being done in Ireland. I have been part of the judging panel for the which selects the best 100 design projects produced per year in Ireland, so I get to see a lot of excellent work.
EM What would you like to happen for Grandson over the next decade?
KW We would love to continue what we are doing, grow slowly and steadily, employing the best young new talent in the country, and maybe attracting more designers from outside of Ireland to move over here and experience it. We would love to also continue our work in the local community through guest lecturing, workshops and pro-bono projects for worthy causes.