Turning values into profit

 16 March 2011

Heather Kerr is an illustrator, designer and animator. With two friends she set up Atto, a multidisciplinary design agency. She spoke about the values important to a creative brand.

"We're not afraid of charging good money for what we do, because our work is of real value to our clients."

Finding a place for your creativity

"I'm just a person. Business is a tool that I use to allow me to work for the people, causes and companies that I care about.

The rewards of working with clients who share our values is much more exciting than the money.

"I've always been highly motivated and interested in how ideas work. In the final year of my Visual Communication degree, I started working on interesting side projects with my friends Karys and Pete, including slightly weird interactive children's books.

"After graduating, Karys and Pete went off and got real jobs in design agencies and I worked as a freelance illustrator, but my main focus was trying to work out how the three of us could work together all the time."

Get a business plan for your creative ideas

"I took some of our interactive book ideas to NESTA. A year later, I had a NESTA Creative Pioneer award, lots of business training and some funding to start a new company. It was time to jump in the deep end.

"Pete quit his job, we got married and started Atto, a multi-disciplinary design studio. We decided on a couple of simple rules to get us started:

Rule 1: We won't lie to, or for, our clients.

Rule 2: Business isn’t just business.

"So Atto was born with its flagship project: WeCanFly. We enjoyed saying that Atto (which covers areas like design and branding) was the Clark Kent side of our business and WeCanFly was the stuff that made our socks roll up and down (interactive children's work).

"We were getting to do lots of interesting work for great clients and a year later we stole Karys from her job in a top agency. Somehow it worked and the three of us were actually working together."

Identify the brand values of your creative business

"Atto kept getting great new work for great clients, all by word-of-mouth, but Atto's success meant that WeCanFly work was always at the bottom of our ever-expanding list.

"Then we started to join the dots. We realised that WeCanFly was all about 'super-ethical, super-creative communication to children'.

"All of a sudden, WeCanFly became a huge part of our day job. Within a few months, we were doing interactive children's work for Sesame Workshop, the BBC and a new super-ethical children's food brand."

Creativity that reflects your values

Business isn’t just business.

"The outcomes of our work are so varied that it can be hard to describe what we actually do for a living, as it can involve brand development, illustration, animation, interactive stories, web design and even knitting.

"The common threads are a belief in the client and the work that they do, coupled with a belief that design thinking can change the world. This was one of the biggest breakthroughs and became our third rule:

Rule 3: We only take on clients whose projects we want to be (massively) successful.

"This seems stupidly simple, but it took us quite a while to catch on. We can be most effective for our clients when we're personally invested in their success."

Understand the value of creative work

"Money's handy, because it frees you up to do great work. We're not afraid of charging good money for what we do, because our work is of real value to our clients. But really, the rewards of working with clients who share our values is much more exciting than the money.

"The challenges of late nights and tight deadlines are soon forgotten when we get to take a breath at the end and feel happy and excited as the job gets let loose into the world."

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