Narrate’s Rachel Long-Smith on finding fitting clients and why she started the Making It podcast
Founded in 2015 by Rachel Long-Smith and Kelly Barrow, Narrate is a London-based design studio with a penchant for clients in the arts, culture, fashion and non-profit industries. Thriving from a collaborative ethos, they give opportunities to women and non-conforming people from a range of backgrounds and experiences; a trait highlighted by their inspirational ‘Making It’ podcast.
EM Hi Rachel, how are you?
RLS I’m very well, thanks. Just looking forward to the heatwave that is supposed to be coming. I literally hate the rain and my pug hates it even more so it makes it pretty difficult to go anywhere because he just refuses to leave the house!
EM Why did you choose the name Narrate for your studio?
RLS When me and Kelly Barrow set up the studio and started thinking of names we knew we wanted it to be simple and just one word. We came up with lots of names and for a bit, we were going to be called Lumiere but then we realised there was already a graphic design studio with this name. So we kept on looking and then Kelly came across Narrate in a book she was reading and immediately we both felt it was perfect. The only downside of it is that no one understands what you are saying on the phone. Everyone thinks we are saying ’The Rate’ so that’s a bit annoying having to spell it out most of the time.
We started the studio with no projects and no clients.
EM What’s changed about the studio, and the work you do, evolved since you began?
RLS In the beginning, we would take on any type of work. We started the studio with no projects and no clients and we needed money to live so we just had to say yes to everything. We had a list of dream clients from the start but we knew it would take time to get these and we wanted to make sure we could pay our bills in the meantime. This meant we did all sorts of work for various different sectors. Some of it was pretty boring and not the sort of work we set out to do as a studio but we figured it was better doing this work and working for ourselves than going back to working for someone else. We gradually started to get work with some of our dream clients and were then able to start turning down the work we didn’t want to do.
When we were starting out we did some small, basic jobs but they got us in the door of some great clients. Over the years the size and scope of some of our projects has also increased but we still like to work on projects with individuals and smaller organisations as it’s nice to have that variation. We are also definitely more conscious about the clients we work with now. It’s important that our work has a positive impact on society so we try to work with purpose-led brands and companies that align with our values.
EM What’s been the most memorable lesson that you’ve learnt over the years?
RLS If you have specific clients you want to work with you need to put yourself out there and get in front of them. If they don’t know you exist they can’t work with you. We spent far too long thinking if we just do good work great clients will just come to us and this was not the case.
EM If you could only show one piece of work – one to define the studio – what would it be?
RLS At the moment it would be the exhibition Breaking the Mould: Sculpture by Women since 1945 that we worked on for the Arts Council Collection which has just opened after being postponed for a year. The exhibition seeks to redefine post-war British sculpture by presenting a diverse range of work by artists identifying as women. It also aims to inspire future generations, supporting the maxim ‘if she can see it, she can be it’ which is something we believe is so important.
We particularly enjoy working on projects that aim to change attitudes and behaviours for the better and supporting and drawing focus to women in the arts is a subject that we feel particularly passionate about so being able to work on a project like this and give it the bold and unapologetic identity it deserves was an amazing opportunity.
It’s also the largest scale project that we have worked on to date and we feel like we have produced a strong piece of work that comes across because of our real passion behind it.
I know first-hand what a challenging place it can be.
EM Why did you decide to start the ‘Making It’ podcast?
RLS I’m passionate about supporting and empowering women in the design industry and I know first-hand what a challenging place it can be and how difficult it can be to be seen and heard. I knew there was a real lack of gender diversity at senior positions and even though a large amount of women study design, this is not translating into the industry and it is still overwhelmingly male.
In my efforts to help change this I was doing lots of mentoring, but I felt there must be a way to reach more women, and the idea of a podcast came up. I decided to interview women and gender non-conforming designers in senior positions about their experiences, find out how they got where they are today and how they overcame any barriers they faced. I also wanted to interview a range of different women and people whose stories may not have been heard before. So providing a platform for their experiences was important to me.
My hope is that the podcast will inspire and encourage people currently navigating their careers, shine a light on some incredible women and genre non-conforming designers, and ultimately make the design industry a more inclusive and diverse place.
It’s doing pretty well so far and got to number four in the UK Design Podcast charts. I’ve also had so many positive messages from people saying how much they enjoy it and how they have found it helpful, so that’s pretty ace.
Your friends and family are your most valuable network.
EM How challenging is it to start and maintain a podcast?
RLS The hardest part is setting it all up. I had a simple idea that I knew I could do easily and I set myself a date to launch it and I just about managed it all in a month.
Researching it took the most time as I was looking into a format that would be engaging, reading about what listeners like and then looking at what software and hardware to use. I feel like I have got this down now so if anyone is thinking of doing one themselves feel free to hit me up and I can let you know what works for me as there is so much information out there.
I decided from the start that I would outsource the editing and I found an incredible editor Emily Osborne who is a dream to work with. This allows me to just focus on the interviewing, creating the show artwork and publicising it.
I also planned to do the show in seasons with five episodes per season which allows me to take a break. And I found that releasing an episode every three weeks works perfectly, giving me enough time to manage my workload at the same time.
EM Do you have any advice for those looking to start a studio?
RLS Firstly just go for it, it’s great being your own boss and having autonomy over your work. If you don’t have any clients or work initially it’s really helpful financially to freelance part-time in other studios at the beginning.
Your friends and family are your most valuable network so tell them about your studio and the work you’re doing, you never know who they might know and put you in touch with. Have a list of dream clients and work out ways to get noticed by them and utilise social media, it can be a great place to showcase your work to a wide audience.
EM Ten years ago, what did you think you’d be doing in 2021?
RLS After just a year of studying graphic design, I decided that one day I wanted to be running my own studio. And 10 years ago I would have just got my first job as a junior designer, most definitely thinking “OMG I’m so rubbish at this I’ll never be able to run my own studio!” Even though I felt like this, I still really wanted it, so I suppose I thought I would be doing just this but I never thought I would be working with some of the great clients that I do now.
EM What would you like Narrate to look like in five years time?
RLS I currently work with quite a few art institutions. I love partnering with them and hope to continue with this. However, I’d also like to be working with more purpose-led brands in the fashion and culture sectors; especially ones that work to challenge and change people’s behaviours and perceptions around issues that affect women and girls.
I’d also like to be working in different mediums such as film and 3D and on more campaign focused projects. I now have an amazing, diverse network of creatives, with a wide range of skills so now I just need projects which will enable Narrate to explore these mediums with them.