Being one half of an outstanding brand and communications studio is one thing, but doing it with a smile and use of wit is truly a feet in itself. Originality of thought and style has been the hallmarks of Nick Finney as he made his way from Pentagram to setting up the award winning studio NB. With seemingly effortless ease Nick manages to execute the simplistic of solutions to briefs that would have other designers running scared and all with humility and wit.
Talking electric pencil sharpeners and the ability to step back and think, it is a real pleasure for me to introduce Mr Nick Finney.
DJ: Going back to the start, how did you get in to the world of design?
I was pushed. I was at college and on a foundation course struggling with an art project. The tutor told me my work was ‘too tight’ and that I would make a great designer. Sadly, I believed him.
DJ: Who or what has been the biggest influence on your career / best piece of advice you’ve been given?
I wish I could answer this succinctly but I don’t honestly think there is one person or event. People have come and gone with nuggets that I have been taught, or more often gleaned throughout my career. The most exciting thing is the realisation that you never stop learning or being influenced by the people you meet.
DJ: What keeps inspiring you after all your years in the industry?
Having a family at home and at work. Alan Dye and the other spectacular people I work with at NB.
DJ: As one of your earliest inspirations… are you still a member of the ‘Puffin Book Club’ or collect any other 70’s children books/magazines?
No, I’m afraid not. I still have some old ones, and every now and again I have a quick look on eBay for bits and pieces. I think I may join for my children. I don’t have the collector’s obsession, compulsion, the urge to complete, to have every version or iteration. I do have some great books, posters, albums which have, by dint of time or by accident, become valuable, but I don’t have the attention span to focus on any one genre, category, stream or subject.
DJ: What has been the most rewarding project you have worked on?
I’m quite proud of the latest annual review for British Heart Foundation as it was a great solution to a tight brief and it built on the previous years concept we produced with them. Rewarding because it took a great deal of effort to create and source materials for. For a good cause and an appreciative client.
DJ: How important are ‘non-client’ projects to your work and mindset?
Very. Although finding time to do non-client work is difficult so we generally create a brief for ourselves around self-promotion. Most enjoyable recently has been ‘Why Us?’, a collaboration between NB and some great friends: super-talented animator Johnny Kelly, the unique genius that is illustrator James Graham, and brand guru and all-round sage Michael Wolff.
DJ: How would you describe the culture within the corridors of NB, and the influence it has on the outcome of your work?
We don’t have corridors, rooms or doors to shut – we’re open plan and open-minded. We’re relatively small. There’s 10 or 12 of us depending on interns and freelancers. We’re hard-working and collaborative. We try to have fun while we work and we allow our team freedom to experiment and to play as much as we can as that’s what life is all about.
Alan and I try to avoid a ‘them and us’ culture as much as we can with our team, we try to respect all ideas and individuals on an equal basis. Whether it works is something you’d have to ask the team; but we feel that we’re generally quite nice people to work with.
We have ideas and working processes that we’ve put in place over the years which help us ensure the client gets the most effective solutions we can give them. I doubt that these processes are unique to us but they help us navigate. We thrive on intuition routed in rigour.
DJ: With Communications, Collaborations and Coffee describing the essence of NB, do you have a biscuit of choice to accompany your beverages?
Not really. We work next to Borough Market, a foodie heaven in Southwark, South London. There’s a relentless selection of artisan cakes, biscuits and snacks available to go with any occasion. We get weekly boxes of fruit delivered to the studio to try and counter the unhealthy stuff.
DJ: NB Studio has a reputation for wit and clarity of communication. Was this introduction of wit into your work forged out of all the late nights you had a Pentagram?
We didn’t work late at Pentagram (just kidding). Yes, I guess we learnt a hell of a lot and we owe a great deal to our time at Pentagram, to our bosses and the people we worked alongside. But we have moved on, and it’s great for us to be able to choose to work with our own friends, our own clients and experts, to take our own path down life’s road.
DJ: It seems that there is a natural migration for designers who work at Pentagram to form agencies together. Did you feel this while you where there or was it just a natural migration?
It sounds pretentious, but once I’d worked at a design company with such a great reputation, and rubbed shoulders with such talented designers, I felt there was nowhere else I wanted to go or could go. I couldn’t imagine taking a job in any other place and enjoying it. So, there nothing else to do but form my own design company with my friends.
DJ: What was your leaving gift from Pentagram and where is it today?
Ha! Who have you been talking to? John Rushworth bought me an electric pencil sharpener, which at the time, I failed to see the significance of (I wanted a pony). I don’t know where it is. I left it behind when moving out of an architect’s studio we used to share. So, Arthur Collin may have it? He lives in Sydney.
DJ: How do you instil the NB Studio culture in to younger designers that come in?
We try and spend as much time with them as we can. We try to explain the ‘whys?’ to understand the client needs and the business case. And to help them to challenge a brief if they don’t get what they need from it. We endeavour to give them as much input as they need whilst letting them develop as designers and discover for themselves. We drop them in at the deep end and watch them swim beautifully. There’s not much treading water here, there’s no time.
At the end of a long week we have something called ‘Chantelle’ on a Friday afternoon (originally named Show’n’Tell). It’s an excuse to sit down with a glass of wine/beer and catch-up. What’s everyone working on / is there a spotlight project people want to canvas opinion on? Often to brief a new exciting studio-wide brief or listen to an talk on a totally unrelated subject that someone is keen to give. This Friday we have client friends coming over for a quiz and nibbles. It’s always fun and it’s a nice way of getting together without the pressures of phone calls, e-mails, meetings, presentations, work and the usual studio day-to-day.
DJ: How do you see the next generations? Do you encounter young designers all driven by stardom and not on the craft itself?
Future generations of designers are getting better and better, adapting to new technologies, new techniques, new challenges and they’re able to cope with the seemingly frantic speed at which things progress. The ability to step back and think is what we look for at NB.
We don’t have time for stardom or big egos, we need designers who can work as part of a team. I’m constantly impressed by the interns we get through the studio; at the levels of talent.
Alan and I find it impossible to see everyone who gets in touch with us, so our designers interview and vet the interns, after all, they will potentially be working closely with them. They do an amazing job (Thank you Chelsea Palmer). We’ve had the most talented, hard-working, team players and I find it hard not to be able to employ them all at the end of their internship.
DJ: What do you value the most from what you do?
That I work in such a creative atmosphere surrounded by talented and inspiring individuals.
DJ: Is there any project or any piece of design that you would really love to tackle, something you have not managed so far in your work?
Something highly visible.
Something that makes a difference.
DJ: What’s a typical day in the life of Nick Finney?
I’m afraid to admit it’s rather unstructured and the patterns will alter depending on what needs my attention from one day to the next. Some days I can spend hours at my desk. Reading, writing, reading, responding, thinking – I’ll sometimes don headphones as a ‘do not disturb’ notice – this trick rarely works. On other days I can be much more hands on with the designers, running through briefs, putting presentations together, sitting down together to chew-over ideas and drill down to ‘the one’. Other days, client meetings can mean that I’m out of the office for most of the day, and that feels productive and unproductive in equal measure. Then home, dinner and if there’s still time, read with the kids.
DJ: If you retired today, what project or piece of work, big or small, would be your legacy?
I’d like it to be a client project. But it’s not… it’s the self-promotional collaborations, the ‘This Year’ cards, the ‘Why Us? animation.
DJ: What has been the soundtrack to your life?
It’s not over yet, but;
Today it would be: The Mountain – Heartless Bastards
Yesterday it was: Once in a Lifetime – Talking Heads
Last Thursday it was: Logic’s American Household (front hug mix) – Her Space Holiday
DJ: And finally… How do you kick back, away from design?
Hanging out with Sarah and the kids.
Cake and fine wine*
*this is not true.