News+Views: Press

Achieving a work/life balance

Sometimes you need to take a deep breath and a step back in order to take a quantum leap forward. Form Partner Paula Benson was asked to share her thoughts on the new Form working model and achieving a work/life balance for this months Computer Arts magazine (issue 249 out as of 8th Jan). Here it is in full:-

In the early nineties I co-founded the award-winning, London branding and design studio Form® with Paul West (my Partner in life and business). Our work has taken us around the world and enabled us to meet the most inspiring and forward-thinking people and we’ve always loved the challenge of creating print and digital communications for music, entertainment and events. The flip side is a fast-paced lifestyle, long hours and the need for regular reinvention to keep pace with snowballing technology changes and to continue to surpass client expectations.

In 2012 we celebrated the studio’s 21st anniversary with an exhibition, a book and a week of events (with D&AD tie ins). Our profile had never been better, yet Paul and I had been thinking for some time that we needed to address our work/life balance. We were still as passionate as ever about design and branding but wanted to rethink the business model to ensure Form® remained nimble for the fast changing times ahead. It was impossible to address these matters whilst we were in the middle of it all, fire-fighting clients and studio issues on a daily basis, so we took a mammoth (and in retrospect, brave) decision to take a year’s ‘sabbatical’. After a year of careful planning, in 2013 we waved sad goodbye’s to all our staff, rented out our office and drove off to Northumberland for a break.

This wasn’t without risk, because we had often defined ourselves by how busy we were and, truth be told, we were concerned our clients (and peers) would think we’d dropped off the end of the earth. We pictured what made us personally happy about ‘being creative’ (hours, clients, type of work) and focussed on that, turning down work that perhaps we’d once needed to support a larger studio.

Only a couple of months in to this new adventure, we were invited to rebrand Latitude Festival. It had been one of our favourite UK summer festivals for several years and it was exactly what we had had in mind as a perfect job, so Paul and I got started – just the two of us working from home. Although we’ve always both been fairly hands-on in the way we work, we’d felt ourselves being distanced from the studio’s output after years of art-directing other designers in the studio. On our own, it was like the early days again – ideas-busting the second we left the briefing, ready to execute the ideas by the time we got back to our desks. It was exactly what we wanted, and a super-efficient way of working to boot.

Then, just as the Latitude project came to an end, we were asked to work on a major pop band. It involved art directing each and every photoshoot which is always fun, and saw us solid for months. Then a complete honour project came our way – the rebrand of Abbey Road Studios. All exciting challenges we simply couldn’t  turn down.

So we never quite had our year off after all! We realised that we had (by luck or design) walked into a whole new way of working. No more head-scratching needed. We reconfigured our home to allow us a fabulous home studio and importantly, the new set up allows us a very flexible way of working – flexible in time and flexible in place of work.

We work the hours we want and have more time to explore other personal projects, ­ which was one of the main reasons we wanted a change of scene from the confines of running a company with staff. I set up Film and Furniture – a lovingly curated online resource showing you where to find the furniture, homeware, décor and art you spot in your favourite films. From the Djinn chairs in Kubrick’s 2001 to the luxury furniture in Christian Grey’s apartment in Fifty Shades of Grey, we show our readers where to find and buy those exact pieces with a healthy dose of design provenance. The site is growing fast and we’re gearing up for the next stage in it’s development. Paul has been devoting more time to his artistic side, and the resulting paintings, charcoals and print editions are already in demand. He recently launched a new series of leaf etchings called ‘Silent Voices‘.

We can work from wherever we please ­ from – from café to home, from welsh country cottage to Northumberland caravan. As creativity is mobile, we don’t need to be in a fixed office.

It’s not all fun and games. We’ve chosen not to employ full time staff, so doing everything ourselves ­ – from learning the ins and outs of WordPress, SquareSpace and Mailchimp to answering the phone – takes up a lot of time and can break concentration. The grood news is the feeling of space, flexitime, and realising that our clients don’t care that we don’t have a grand Shoreditch studio and teams of designers on call, as long as the work is as great as always.

A head of marketing visited us recently. He walked into our home studio, looked at our vinyl toy shelves, record wall and open doors to the garden and said ‘I’ve just walked into the perfect work/life balance’ and for that alone, the journey has been worth it.