Luke Manning

A man drawing at a desk

The creative director and founder of Pencil Studio shares his top five tips for kicking off the design process

Anyone who has worked in a creative industry will know the challenges of starting a new project – there’s nothing like endless possibilities for bringing on bouts of decision paralysis and imposter syndrome. When these moments hit, having your own fail-safe design process will steer you out of blind panic and into something more productive.

Luke Manning is the founder and creative director at Pencil Studio, a brand and design agency based in Somerset in the UK. He has worked with dog hotel and day spa Urban Mutts, Entheos psychedelic centres, and drinks brands Retribution Distilling and Reverend Hubert, among others. 

Here, the Babington House member shares his top five tips for kicking off the design process.

‘First of all, it’s good to have some music in the background. For me, it’s usually some Chicago house; if not, Radio 6. This helps create a backdrop to the studio. Then, I grab a coffee and take five minutes to settle in.’ 

‘It’s all about getting under the skin of the project: understanding the brand, the people behind it, why the brand exists (that is, its purpose). Identifying who engages with the brand, and how or maybe why they should. Understanding and, where possible, challenging the brief. All of this helps shape a tone of voice, and physical set of personalities and objectives to the brief. A project is only as good as the brief; as long as the brief is well crafted and concise, you have no excuses.’

‘For me, it’s about exploration through doodles. I love how a pencil sketch is something that can easily develop, grow and adapt – unlike the permanent feeling ink has. Pencil is more free and unrestrictive, and it holds more possibilities. Here it’s about the idea, not the execution.’

‘Review your sketches and compare their strengths to the objective of the project, weighing up which ideas capture the essence of the brand and answer the brief best. It’s OK to have crap ideas, as long as you can identify that when comparing them with the brief. Distill initial ideas into real contenders, then further test and develop them to ensure they truly reflect the brief.’

Collaborate and execute
‘A good idea can really fall flat if it’s not executed correctly. We often collaborate with illustrators to help enhance a visual, so connect with other great creatives – illustrators, UX and UI designers, letter artists, and everyone in between. Collaborate to bring their craft to the project.’