Basically …

The Hackney Creative Collective can be thought of as a graphic design agency. Although it goes far beyond that. From creative strategy to music production, it was set up to be less rigid in its structure and delivery.

It is, obviously, based in Hackney, East London. And was started in 2016 and was born out of the ashes of 3 fish in a tree. Taking many of the best bits that defined agency and mixing them with a more holacratic approach. It is focussed on creativity. It is open source. It is flexible. Its MO is to look at each brief individually and come at every project afresh. There are no hidden agendas or vested interests. Just the best people doing the best work.


Before we start any work, we work on what we call the creative strategy. This is a way of picking out exactly what the creative piece is trying to achieve. It might be to sell more widgets, or get people to give you more work, or even just to look beautiful.

In theory, we approach every website brief, every large creative brief, in the same way. Not only insofar as our approach to the actual design is consistent, but we have developed a pragmatic way of questioning the brief and working towards a robust solution.

To be honest, our methodology is based pretty much on Louis Sullivan’s premodernist philosophy of form following function. I don’t need to explain this to you, but when applied to the function of graphics, interface design or website development, we believe it leads directly to beautifully simple and effective work. Work that just feels right. Work that doesn’t pander to modish design preferences or coquish features. The process we have developed to deliver projects like this has seven stages. We’ve been trying to give it a clever name, an acronym or something, but we can’t really come up with anything good enough to truly do it justice, so we just call it our seven phases of good design.

Phase 1 – Analysis

In this phase we question the client’s brief. This doesn’t mean that we don’t trust what the client is telling us, just that it is our job as designers to stand outside your operation. Marshall McLuhan, in his book The Medium is the Massage said: one can only observe a system when one is without the system. I think the idiom of not seeing wood for trees is a simplification. We are in a powerful position of being without your firm. We are far enough away to be able to see the wood and the trees. All this means that we can really question what you are asking us to do and why you are asking us to do it. The output of this phase is a discussion with the client and perhaps a repurposing of the brief. This is normally not a major rethink, but sometimes our suggestions at this stage raise a set of fundamental questions.


Phase 2 – Rationalisation

In this stage of the process we work with you to define a clear set of goals you need, or want, to achieve. Obviously some client briefs have these clearly defined from the beginning, but on complex web briefs it is sometimes very difficult to work these out without the formalisation of this phase.

Phase 3 – Define the creative strategy

The creative strategy isn’t a sales strategy or a marketing strategy. Now I read that back, it’s pretty obvious really, but sometimes when I talk about a creative strategy to clients they find it difficult to get their head around because they aren’t used to working with agencies who work with one; not in the graphic design arena anyway. Defining a creative strategy is a technique advertising agencies use to keep the message, the medium and the end result of a piece of work on track. We use it in exactly the same way: for us , it defines what the website or tender document or brochure says, how it says it and what whoever is interacting with it thinks and reacts. We believe it is the single most important stage in the process. It is the thinking before the acting.

Phase 4 – Ideas

This is the acting after the thinking. This is where we all get together and come up with ideas that do the strategy justice. This is not actually colouring the work in, that’s the next stage. Ideas are the raw materials of our business. You can mould them how you like by adopting different typefaces or colour palettes, but deconstruct any piece of our work and you will find an idea at its centre.


Phase 5 – Design

This is the physical resolution. The choice of typeface or colour palette. I think I once said in a meeting design equals creative strategy multiplied by ideas. It’s a little pretentious, but in many ways it’s true. If we get the creative strategy right and the ideas rock, then the design does itself. All we have to do is work it up and show it to you.

Phase 6 – Interaction

Most people call this feedback, but that seems a bit one sided: interaction is dialogue, not monologue. Obviously, we’ve been in discussion with you all through the process. We don’t run off and hide and suddenly appear two months later with a finished design; we are constantly working with you during all of the phases in this process. And, depending on the structure of the firm for whom we are working, this might involve sharing our work with a cross-section of staff or to the wider board or, if the firm is small enough, with everyone.


Phase 7 – Delivery

Finally everything is signed off, everyone is happy, everything is designed. Let’s get it printed or built or recorded or filmed. Let’s give it life.

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