POV: Interview with Jim Sutherland, Director at Hat-Trick
Jim Sutherland is the creative director and co-founder of the London-based Hat-Trick Design. Prior to founding Hat-Trick in 2001, he worked at The Partners and HGV.
What led to the founding of Hat-Trick design? What were the first years of the agency like and how did you find success?
I’d always wanted to run my own studio. I met Gareth Howat while working at The Partners, and knew I wanted to work with him. In 2001, we founded a small shared studio. We had no work and no money, but it was a very exciting time. We gradually picked up a few clients and started to get noticed. We won a few key projects: Natural History Museum, Land Securities, Salvation Army, and that really got us going. We tried to make the most out of every small opportunity. Every project had the potential to be our best one.
What is the point of differentiation that brands can expect from Hat-Trick? How do you stand out against other creative agencies and branding firms in your market?
There are a lot of great studios out there. I think you simply try to do your best work all the time, treat every project as the most important, keep pushing yourself and treat every client as your favorite. We work very hard and have a huge variety of projects to keep us busy. We love doing this and hopefully that comes across in the work. We don’t take on any projects we don’t want to do.
What are some of your favorite projects you have worked on and why?
We have worked on more than 1,000 projects — choosing your favorite ones is always tricky.
I’ve picked out five that mean a lot to me.
Prostate Cancer UK
A recent project for a great cause and client. We wanted to stand out amongst a lot of charities for men. There are lots of symbols of men already out there. Rather than create a new one, we wanted to use all of them, from road signs to toilet signs. We wanted to appropriate them all. We created a ‘man of men’. We then used them in literature, around their offices and digitally.
Managing to do jigsaw-shaped stamps for Darwin’s studies was amazing. You can literally connect an orangutan and Darwin, both with matching beards. We have done a number of stamp projects and they are wonderful to work on. It’s great doing projects that have some longevity.
Natural History Museum Learning
We did their branding early on and then moved onto specific projects. This was a project for schoolchildren visiting the museum. We created tear-off covers that became masks the children could play with.
This was a great project for the British Heart Foundation. It is a resource to help children cope with the death of a loved one. It was written brilliantly by Katrice Horsley and illustrated beautifully by Rebecca Sutherland.
This was a very personal project about my dad that I did with my daughter. Making spiders and robots from stuff in the garage was more fun than it should have been. I love the idea of making magic from the everyday. I’m currently making a film about it with my other daughter.
Hat-Trick created some amazing brand identities for organizations such as the Imperial War Museums, Wimbledon and Breakthrough Breast Cancer. What is your branding process like? What inspires your team during these types of projects?
Branding projects are what we do the most of. They are hard, but the most rewarding.
You are trying to reflect an organization — to get under their skin and really understand what they do.
We discuss and review ideas a lot. We have a large metal wall where we put up all our ideas to review and talk over. It’s the best way for ideas to come and develop.
What do you think makes a brand’s identity “good”? Do you have a certain criteria for creating a logo?
It needs to be simple, memorable, distinct, relevant, engaging and interesting.
Hat-Trick also works to create environmental designs. Describe some of the challenges and exciting aspects about these types of projects. What trends do you see in environmental design over the next couple of years?
Environmental projects are one of my favorite types of work. There’s a permanence and scale that I really enjoy. They are normally very collaborative; you get a chance to work with great architects and spaces.
How do you collaborate with external resources to create the best results for your clients? What types of relationships and artists do you look for?
We work with a number of amazing people, from architects and illustrators to writers and consultants. You want to work with people who are the best at what they do. People who are as obsessive, passionate and interested in design as we are.
Many designers have gone fully digital, but you seem to sketch out your work quite a bit in the beginning phases. What about the relationship with a pen and paper helps you to focus and hone your ideas as a designer?
We do still start with drawing ideas out. I am constantly scribbling and drawing, and I find it really helps to do that before sitting down at a computer.
You never know when an idea might come. There is something about the act of drawing an idea — it develops a life of its own. We are obviously working more and more in the digital space. The key for me is still to apply thinking and ideas and use the amazing things you can do in an amazing way.
What design trends are you tired of? What individuals and/or agencies do you think are doing incredible work in design and advertising?
I am tired of designers who talk a good job, but when you look at the work it’s not as good as it should be. The Internet has allowed a lot of people to voice an opinion. I want the work to speak for itself.
Favorite Branding or Artwork: The Bruno Munari book about forks. Genius.
Mentor: Ray Gregory, my tutor at Norwich School of Art.
Must read book: My current favourites:
“The Art of Looking Sideways” by Alan Fletcher
Naoto Fukasawa’s book
Anything by Bruno Munari
All Bob Gill books
Anything else you’d like to add? Answering these questions is harder than designing things.