Rocking job: Allison Murray, Designer

We meet award-winning designer Allison Murray, who has run some of the world’s most established agencies including renowned Coley Porter Bell, part of WPP.

Allison moved from London to the Cotswolds a few years ago and started her own agency – Allison Murray Design – working with well-loved names such as Made by Bob, Meg Rivers and Lynwood & Co Cafe.

We find out more about this thriving agency…

If you could choose any design campaign that you have always loved, what would it be?

The original BBC2 idents designed by Martin Lambie-Nairn’s using a big number 2, have become a design classic very different and led the way to how TV stations promoted their programs. Martin had become famous after the launch of Channel 4 with the broken 4 logo, but the simplicity of the graphic 2 being used in different ways was a game changer for Telly, it really sums up that branding does not have to be static.

My other recent favourite is the packaging branding for Seedlip by Pearlfisher. This has a really strong point of difference with the name, the clever illustration style, unusual bottle shape and the smart finish of the printed label. A non-alcoholic drink with a heavy price point needed to look and feel as good as good quality spirit and it does that.

What’s your favourite way to work with clients?

When I have a new client, I go through the brief with them, finding out about their background, their objectives and vision for the future. Who they see as their competition and target audience, what attributes they would like their brand to have and personality? I often ask them to describe their brand as if it was a person to understand what the personality traits might be. I don’t like using demographics to describe consumers for example BC1. Consumers are not a set of numbers and letters they have their own set of personal values and it’s very important to think deeper about them.

I very often bring the brief to life with a visual interpretation of it has part of the initial stages of design, after all my role is to turn the words into pictures, so getting the client thinking visually from the outset is often incredibly helpful. Words can have very different meanings depending on where you are coming from and I have a banned list that I will not allow on the brief; Contemporary and Modern are two examples both can be very misleading.

What was the first piece of work in your career and the most recent?

My first every piece of proper printed work was for a redesign of Soft & Gentle for Colgate Palmolive I actually put a nude woman on the pack with a S&G logo just covering her in all the right places. I have to admit I felt very proud seeing it on the shelves in a supermarket I was even more delighted when it was nominated for a design week award.

My latest piece is much tamer and for Sam & Jak, two chefs who run a catering business and are resident chefs at Upton Smokery in Burford. I used a big pneumonic of the Ampersand as the link between them and felt catering sounded very school dinners so on the van and menu’s it says ‘Sam & Jak are cooking’ which can then become Sam & Jak are cooking at the Smokery or as I did recently Sam & Jak are cooking at Daylesford. I like using copy to strengthen a brand message. If I wasn’t a graphic designer them, I would probably be in advertising.

 Tell us more about the fabulous Made by Bob’s branding – what was the process to get to the end result?

I had given up my career in London to move to the Cotswolds to bring up my daughter, my late husband Richard ran a design company called Williams Murray Hamm and so he was still travelling most days to and from the office in the capital. Before Lila, I had been running a design company called Ziggurat, a business that I part owned. Running the business and being a director meant I spent more time creatively directing and designing through the design team, doing the new business pitches and meetings and presenting rather than designing purely on my own.

I got to know Bob when he was the chef at the Swan in Southrop, I knew what a genius he was with food and we became friends with him and his wife, so I got to know him very well. I had given up my design career in London and had become a full-time mum so when Bob asked if I would look at his branding, my mac skills were at that time fairly limited. I remember presenting him with ideas and scribbles that looked amateurish to what I produce for clients now. However, I wanted to capture his idiosyncratic style and nature, Bob is a well-respected extremely creative chef I wanted the brand to promote this. Made by Bob as a name fitted perfectly, it was unique and encapsulated the brand, the chefs apron was his uniform so I used it as a graphic device across his carrier bags, packaging and livery the stripes were also picked up in the way the shelving was built in the restaurant.

What do you find easy about the design process and what do you find more difficult?

I love the exploration of the idea stage and problem solving, sketching thoughts, looking for a unique angle on their business to bring out the best in them. The most difficult and frustrating bit is trying to balance where a client wants to be with the reality of print costs and how important it is to print something well on the right stock in the right process. So many clients want a great brand then to decide they want to print it as cheaply as they can. It’s like spending money refurbishing a Georgian house and then putting plastic windows in because it’s cheaper you just shouldn’t do it.

You obviously love them all, but what have been your two favourite campaigns to date?

Nellie & Dove and The High field in Birmingham.

The High Field in Birmingham was another Peach Pub identity for a new gastro pub that they were creating in Edgbaston, the brief was to create a country feel that would still appeal to Birmingham urbanites. I came up with the idea of the cheeky fox chasing the hare and to make the signage out of metal to reflect a metal gate. What I love about this piece is how it developed because after the launch of the pub, Peach then bought the house next door and made that into hotel. I was asked to develop the The High Field branding further so it worked for the Townhouse and I was able to bring the fox and hare character to life across the do not disturb door tags, hotel directory and even designed the room numbers in the metal work style. I love jobs where basically I can make the brand live across different elements, I strongly believe branding is more than just a logo it can tell a story it, creates a personality.

The other is Nellie and Dove this came to me as a recommendation via Peach Pub. It had been Helen Spencer’s long-time ambition to open a fashion boutique, she had a logo designed from a London agency at great expense but didn’t know what to do with it. I learned from the first meeting with Helen that she had an eclectic taste in clothes and vivacious creative flair that her shop would become more of an emporium of texture and colour. The identity she had was timid and did not reflect this character at all. So, I wanted to bring out Helens creative spirit in her brand. The identity started on her carrier bags and tags using artistic brushstrokes and marks. Then through her shop I created an illustration scene for her changing rooms and even designed her mannequins. A fantastic creative project, Helen appreciates my skills and has always had confidence in everything I deliver for her.

You are co-founder of a new campaign called The Cotswold Challenge for teenagers to showcase their talent in the lockdown period.  What advice would you give a budding designer?

Learn about the industry, build up a portfolio full of ideas rather than just style, give 110% when you are at college and never give up your dream. At interviews make sure you know the company and what they have done, be prepared to work at the bottom and work your way up and never stop learning or pushing what you do but also enjoy it.

 How did you become a designer?

I was always good at art at school, but I had no idea you could make a career out of it. I found myself at a bit of a cross roads at 18 I just didn’t know what to do my parents were concerned that I would become a penniless artist but it was my art teacher Miss Lake who saw an ability in me and came to my parents house to persuade them to let me go to Art school. She explained the different careers that could be open to me and so I and truly found my vocation. There are not many roles in life that allow you to carry on with what you loved from school to college till now. I also sculpt as a hobby, so I do keep a bit of the fine art side going

What’s your favourite work mantra?

Keep it simple, beautiful but effective (but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring) One of my favourite identities was for The Black Horse pub in Woburn they needed new signage and I turned the Horse into a graphic chess piece which is very effective. 

What’s been your favourite design project to work on to date and why?

I love projects where I get to take the brand across everything. My clients are often surprised at what I can achieve for them. I loved what I did for the Corn Hall in Cirencester because it was about creating a brand and a system for them to promote the individual markets. I am still proud of my design for Cradocs as my work took them from the farmers market to Fortnum and Mason on to the main supermarkets.

Where abouts do you find inspiration in the Cotswolds?

Everywhere it’s a very creative place the colours, the changing landscape there is nowhere better. I really love the community spirit here compared to London, people are incredibly supportive, and they value and embrace talent.

What would you like to achieve next in your career?

I have actually looked into design lecturing I would love the opportunity to give something back to the youth coming through. I have been involved with the school’s careers fairs and in the past with the student D&AD scheme (Design & Art Direction). If not, full time I would love the opportunity to be a visiting lecturer.

This is why The Cotswold Challenge is so important to me, I ran a yearly Art award at my daughters’ school, The Hatherop Castle called the Shine award until she left, it was in memory of my husband Richard who died of cancer when Lila was four. I wanted to do something positive from this tragic situation and for Lila to be proud of her father’s legacy.  I asked two professional artists to come and help judge the children’s work and the winner received the Shine award, at the end of school term. The Cotswold Challenge is the next step on from this really, helping to inspire young talent in difficult times is a positive step and out of adversity can come amazing achievements.

How different has it been for you moving from London with agencies such as WPP and Coley Porter Bell to working for yourself in the country lanes of the Cotswolds?

I deliberately wanted to work with smaller businesses rather than big multinationals, working directly with the person who owns it is far more rewarding than big companies. There isn’t the pressure to pitch and perform in a presentation or the overheads or politics of having to run a big organisation and team. I don’t have the ‘all-nighters’ that we used to have to do in London.

The life balance is more important to me these days, and because it’s only me I can decide who I work with, projects are much more collaborative, many of my clients have become friends. I am honest about deadlines, I see the project through from brief to printed completion, the downside for my clients is that it is just me and I can only take so many jobs however the upside is that they never get palmed off with the ‘Junior’!

What are your favourite kinds of projects to work on?

 I really enjoy projects where I get to do everything for the brand and can really bring it to life across different application. Hotel and restaurants are lovely projects to work on, but I love a challenge for me it’s about the client first whatever they require me to do for them. I also love FMCG packaging brands as this was my core background for many years working with companies such as Cadburys, Unilever and United Biscuits. I created a brand called Hope & Joy which is a premium online cake gifting service, I worked with Jessica White the owner of Meg Rivers bakery to come up with the name and the proposition, “Giving is a piece of cake” with each gift purchased there is a donation to a cancer charity. Giving Hope to a charity and the Joy of the receiving a delicious gift. I designed the packaging for this, the gift cards, the tissue paper and designed the apron for one of the gifts. I enjoyed being heavily involved with the total creation of the brand.

What do you find the best measurements are to gauge if you’ve had a successful project or not?

The nature of how I work means that I can’t present precise facts and figures to demonstrate how my work has grown these businesses financially as in many case this is hard to differentiate but I think it boils down to client satisfaction, the ongoing relationships I build, recommendations I get from clients and reaction from consumers. I also see a change in my clients once they have the new branding this newfound confidence is often the leverage the business needs to kick start it success. For example, Lynwood Café owned by Rob and Kat Broadbent have now gone on to open four establishments.