Studio Visits: SB
SB is a design agency based in Liverpool, established in 2009 by Benji and Nicola Holroyd. They’re a team of six with wads of experience, knowledge and keen eyes for design. With studios located in Liverpool and London, they have clients spread right across the UK, including Playstation, Everyman & Playhouse, Storyhouse, RIBA, Vitra Design Museum and Unilever.
With a little curiosity you press your nose up against the shop front window to have a peek inside, and then that’s when you realise… It’s not one of those lovely boutique bookstores with a healthy stock of contemporary books and magazines, it’s a design studio. Charmed by its simplicity and attention to detail, you knock on the door and they welcome you in. It’s not long before you feel right at home at SB.
“There was never an intention to set up a studio. It happened by accident.” say Benji, Founder and Managing Director at SB “After a decade spent working for some of the UK’s finest agencies (Uniform, Music, KentLyons, DixonBaxi, MARK, Modern Designers) I started to build my own client base, and in the first three months, we won a handful of new clients; British Ceramics Biennial, National Centre for Craft & Design and the Sunborn Group and of course the infamous rebranding of Lagos City, Nigeria.”“ Time flies when you're having fun, that's always been a driving force for SB, to have fun and I think that shows in the work we produce. It certainly an important part of the process for us. Smiles and lots of them.”
“We built a super-group of designers and set up shop in an old converted warehouse. I’d worked for hospitality brands over the years and this quickly became a specialist area for SB and from there our portfolio grew — from food & drink to arts and culture, retail to fashion.”
SB are predominately a brand agency working with businesses large and small — across most sectors. “We don’t specialise in any one thing, but brand is our business,” he says, “most of our output is now digital but we still dabble in print, production and publishing when it’s needed.”
It’s been nearly a decade since starting and already they’ve created a type of design, a look and a feel that’s so distinct you can recognise the work of SB anywhere. “Time flies when you’re having fun,” he reflects, “that’s always been a driving force for SB, to have fun and I think that shows in the work we produce. It certainly an important part of the process for us. Smiles and lots of them.”
It’s a hard task when you have a portfolio like theirs, but we brave it and ask him what some of his favourite projects have been so far. “Two projects stand out… Firstly, The Brink, a beautiful project that still fills us with pride. Liverpool’s first dry bar. Who’d have thought? We tackled this project very different than anything we’d ever worked on. We had too. We built a memorable, evolving and collaborative brand for a community in recovery. The guys recovering from alcohol and drug abuse became part of our team, and it was this approach that made the Brink so special. For those that don’t know about The Brink, it’s on Parr St. Go.”
“And secondly, LEAF. Our longest standing client. A brand we’ve built from scratch. We set up at the same time and still work together today and it’s clients like LEAF that make it hard to call this work. Launching a tea shop in the midst of a coffee revolution is no mean feat. Since that first identity in a leaking warehouse we’ve helped grow the brand to become one of Liverpool’s favourite and most loved venues. People still tell us how much they love LEAF, and we always ask the question… what is it you love so much? the answer is always — ‘I don’t know’ — LEAF is an experience you can’t bottle. It’s built for everyone. That’s pretty special.”
There are six of them in the team and it seems that the job titles on their business cards are more of a representation of their responsibility in the team, rather than where they sit in the hierarchy. “We don’t have a hierarchal structure at SB. We are all involved in projects, and our space is a ‘warts and all’ kind of experience. The whole team work on one desk and are exposed to the highs and lows of running an agency. We don’t have ‘senior’ staff as such — just a friendly bunch trying to do the best work of our lives.”“ We don't believe in perfection. But, we're relentless in our pursuit to challenge the status quo, disrupt mindsets and make things a little bit better.”
“We’re a vibrant mix of mums and dads, a farmer, knitters, makers, bakers, a street food vendor, a restauranteur, horse rider, fitness fanatic and part-time florist courier — they all just happen to be incredible designers, developers and project managers.”
The industry can be quite a hard one to crack when you’re just starting out but finding the agency that’s right for you in regards to fit is important, we ask Benji what he looks for his new starters. “No BS. Smiles. Enthusiasm. Passion. Graft.” And now more than ever are people beginning to exploring the idea of culture and sometimes culture isn’t the thing that makes a team work it seems, particularly for SB. It’s the values of the team that brings everything together. “I’m not sure we have a culture, but values we hold close is everything we do, we believe in creating experiences and things that mean something and make a difference.” He says, “we don’t believe in perfection. But, we’re relentless in our pursuit to challenge the status quo, disrupt mindsets and make things a little bit better. We think that’s enough.”
In addition to all of this, they don’t just stop at creating beautiful designs, digital experiences and meanings brands, there are a few other things about SB that people often don’t know. “We also have a growing family of other businesses. Morning Noon Night being one of them, a modern bistro and coffee shop in Cheshire, The Cow&Co Café being another and The Liverpool Craft Beer Expo. 5000 people over four days drinking amazing craft beers, gin, street food, music and good times. Tickets on sale in Feb 2018!” he says, “oh also what SB stands for.”
When asking Benji what the future looks like for SB, he says “just like yesterday. Busy.”