As one would expect, hat-trick design was formed by three creative directors—Gareth Howat, David Kimpton and Jim Sutherland—with a direct nod to sports, in this case cricket. While hat-tricks in football (think World Cup) and hockey happen more than you would think—the scoring of three consecutive goals—in cricket, a hat-trick is rare. A bowler must take three wickets (dismissing three batsmen) in three consecutive deliveries. Dignified, prized and so very English.
In 2009, after nine years, Kimpton left hat-trick to go it alone. “Obviously we're called hat-trick design,” explains Howat. “But we’ve decided not to do anything about that and carry on.”
And carry on they have, from their studio in Southwark, not far from London Bridge and around the corner from the aromatic adventure that is Borough Market where gourmands and Gordon Ramsey wannabes will find octopi draped on display and simmering baths of curry.
The third-floor studio hums with energy. It's not loud, but busy. Both Sutherland and Howat are admittedly workaholics, and expect the same of the designers they hire (“like-minded people with different approaches”)—within a normal, but extremely productive, workday. Which explains how a 10-person company (9 designers and a studio manager) has, at press, 39 active projects for clients ranging from Royal Mail, Kew Gardens and the British Heart Foundation to the Royal Shakespeare Company, National Institute for the Deaf and Twickenham Stadium, among others.
“It’s intense,” comments Sutherland. “We’re prolific. We go through an awful lot of work very quickly. We like producing lots of stuff, and that can be anything from a one-off brochure to a big branding project—and everything in between.
“The pace is quick, which is good, because we'd just get bored otherwise.”
It’s no surprise that many assume hat-trick is much bigger than it actually is, considering the office is teeming with creative projects. And while the opportunity to expand has knocked at the door plenty of times in the last decade, the decision to keep the firm small is a deliberate one. “We’ve worked at big agencies in previous lives,” says Howat, “and our ambition is to stay small and really focus on the creative side.”
“We’re still very involved with the work,” adds Sutherland. “If we get bigger, we’ll be trying to get other people to do stuff—when actually we’d like to do it ourselves. We really like designing.”
Their appetite for design is apparent and very much part of hat-trick’s appeal. Catharine Brandy, design manager at Royal Mail, concurs, "Our design team is always looking for new designers and image makers to contribute to our stamp program. When we first met hat-trick on that quest, they came across as fresh-thinking, intelligent and absolutely passionate about design. We commissioned them almost immediately.
“We have worked with them ever since and I can honestly say that I look forward to every project with them. They always deliver beautiful, considered, appropriate designs, with remarkable attention to detail.” Hat-trick’s 7-year relationship with the Royal mail has produced 32 stamps.
Howat and Sutherland work well together, on everything (and have for a long time as they and Kimpton met at The Partners 21 years ago). While one may take the lead on certain projects, as Sutherland explains, "Fundamentally, both of us are completely involved from start to finish."
"We don't really have separate teams. In fact, we don't really have any structure," Howat adds with a laugh. And, they don't. "It's pretty fluid. Stuff comes in and then we start working on it." Though the form is loose, it does begin, according to Howat, with simplifying clients' needs as much as possible. "We brainstorm ideas at the beginning, then we allocate it to one or two designers to develop. Discussions around the table nearly always lead to solutions," says Howat.
"We work a lot on trains," adds Sutherland. "It's not something we switch off from. Your brain is always thinking."
They've found that clients want to speak with the creative team, so there are no account managers at hat-trick. "We manage all our own projects," explains Sutherland. "And that's certainly a reason why we can't get too much bigger, because we can't stretch ourselves any further."
The fact that the creative leads have stretched themselves across many business sectors has kept hat-trick buzzing, with everything from stamp design to wayfinding to a plethora of identity work—despite the challenging economic climate of the last few years. Serendipity or, one might say, curiosity has kept hat-trick's eggs in a variety of baskets.
Case in point: Land Securities, a large property company, that over six years has become one of hat-trick's biggest clients. Property development isn't the sexiest of sectors, but when a client understands design's potential, it makes for interest-ing creative projects.
"Over the years hat-trick has become the guardian of our London-based businesses' creative work, delivering all 'corporate' London business materials and a number of the scheme-specific projects," says Land Securities's Anna Chapman. "Their approach has drawn credit from the most unusual of sources—property agents, generally not known for their creative flair, have been proud to use their work and other property companies have coveted their services.
"Their team is the most committed and the creative direction given by Gareth and Jim means you can be 100 percent confident that you will get more than you briefed. They work too hard (as far as I can see), but that's what sets them apart."
How to approach work is something Howat and Sutherland learned while at The Partners, a firm run in "semi-Pentagram" mode (one of its founders was a Pentagram alum). "It was very multidisciplined," recalls Howat. "The Partners really rubbed off on us: The idea of working with an open mind. We like to try our hand at anything we can get a hold of really, just to try things out."
"When we were there, it was very much about creativity," Sutherland explains, "for a wide range of clients. And that's pretty much what we've carried on with hat-trick."
Both creative directors agree that they were lucky to begin their careers at a firm that was on its way up, especially straight out of university. Howat saw the D&AD annual with its pages filled with work from The Partners and decided to give them a call. Sutherland took a similar route to The Partners: "I didn't know any design companies at all, saw the annual and thought, I'll write to them."
When asked about the future—where hat-trick will be in five years—Howat responds, "Good question, can you tell me please?" Which is in keeping with the loose structure that keeps the studio thriving. "Although our work is graphic design in the classic sense," comments Sutherland, "we would love to collaborate on, or even tackle, other types of design, such as interiors or architecture projects-even furniture design."
"We like the idea of being able to apply ideas to different mediums. And we're always up for a challenge." ca