Claire Brennan & Freddie Stevens are partners running a creative agency specialising in design, brand identity and communication over the last four years. They discuss their origins and the distractions while dining out.
“Being able to get to the root of disagreements has definitely helped us communicate in our own relationship”
How did brennan & stevens come about?
Before setting up as a studio, we spent a couple of years working on some really lovely freelance jobs, together and separately. We worked from home, or from cafes, or clients’ restaurant tables, depending on the job. We had both always intended to set up a business of our own and the projects we were working on were gaining momentum and leading to bigger jobs so we decided the time was right to set up fully. We took a few weeks away from work, found a studio space, and launched brennan & stevens.
The upsides of working with your partner?
A lot of people can’t understand how we work together at all, but we’ve found a pattern that suits us. One of the upsides is being able to speak openly with each other. We are sharing the running of the business and have to be able to discuss ups and downs in an honest way. If we were friends or purely business partners some of these conversations could be tricky, but we know each other so well we can say what we mean without taking offence!
We are also complete opposites to each other in a lot of ways. We have always had very different design styles, something we were aware of since studying together in college, but our working styles are very different too. We’ve always said the business wouldn’t work if we were both like Freddie or both like Clare. The balance seems to be what makes it work.
Any downsides? Be honest 😉
It’s become impossible to eat out without looking at the experience as we would look at a project (we have unofficial brand audits of every Dublin restaurant we’ve eaten at in the last few years). So we don’t really switch off from work in that way. We’re constantly looking, thinking, wondering about certain elements. We love our job but sometimes we have to stop and say, let’s just eat.
We also had to learn how to communicate with each other creatively. It sounds funny, but when you’re working in a creative environment you need to be able to read the other person’s design and thinking process and be able to give and take criticism quickly and move on. Being able to get to the root of disagreements has definitely helped us communicate in our own relationship.
You do a lot of work for the hospitality industry. Was that a conscious decision or did it just happen that your first client was in that space?
It has been a conscious decision, really. Hospitality design is an area we have always been drawn to, there are a lot of opportunities in this sector. A brand is so much more than a logo over the door or a good-looking instagram profile and as this market continues to be more competitive it’s even more important to be able to stand out. A strong brand is a big part of that and we hope we can fill that space. Hospitality design is unique because it’s an area within the private sector that allows for creative outcomes. We really enjoy dealing with business-minded clients to help them deliver their goals in a smart way.
The perfect client is…
Open-minded. Plain and simple.
The perfect project is:
One with an open-minded client! We really love being brought on-board at the very early stages of a project, and we’re lucky that it happens quite often. We’re often hired before there is a name for a particular restaurant but sometimes it’s before the type of product or service has even been established. That makes a big difference to the brand because you build it while the physical space is being built and everything can align. Of course, in the early stages this also means that everything can change overnight, but when you’re invested in the project you learn to roll with the changes. And you build a good relationship with the client and brand during this time.
How would you describe your approach to your work?
People come to us more and more because they want to do something different. Our ideas are definitely what brings in new jobs. So our approach stems from that. If our USP is that we’re fresh, we need to stay fresh. We generally meet our clients when they’re stressed and tired and incredibly busy. If we show up to a meeting just as stressed and in a state over our workflow we’re not going to be any help to them. We need to be loaded with ideas and energy. If we feel our energy slipping we address it. We ask if we need to take on more staff for the workload, or if we need to give the project more time. We check-in with ourselves to see how it’s going. It’s something we are building into our whole approach as a studio.
How do you stay inspired? Who inspires you locally and globally? Where do you find inspiration?
We take time out for a pint and chats away from work. We go to other cities to see a different design perspective and we pick up a lot of ephemeral design while we’re away. We look for design in the environment rather than on-screen or in a book. We want to see how things really work. A pretty menu online is nice but what does it look like when it’s been used a few times, or when it has finger prints on it? How does a display sign grab your attention on a street? Looking at this stuff keeps us excited about what we do. Other business owners and leaders are also a source of inspiration. We’re always interested to see how something in another industry could be re-interpreted and have an impact on our own.
In a way I see you at the heart of the energy which is changing the seafront of Bray. Do you see the impact you’re having over graphic design and branding?
It’s a fast-paced industry so we don’t spend time dwelling on things. But if a project has gone well or has been recognised we’ll give ourselves a little pat on the back before moving on to the next thing. We do get a lot of interest in the work we’ve done, particularly from design students and recent grads, and that is always lovely. We set high standards for ourselves for each job we take on, so if we meet those standards and the client is happy, then we’re happy.
Where do you see yourselves and the business in five years? More of what you do now, global domination or somewhere in between?
We’ve grown a lot each year but 2018 was a big one for us. The studio has expanded a lot and we’ve got a really strong team who are enthusiastic about growing the business with us.
That kind of positivity is incredible and keeps us looking and moving forward all the time. But we’re not going to get too comfy where we are. We have some exciting things lined up for the next year or so and we’ve got plenty of energy to keep building!
Words: Richard Seabrooke