The Design Economy 2018 – Studio Moross
As part of our flagship Design Economy 2018 research, we present seven case studies, which bring to life how a selection of different firms use design. For an introduction to the case studies, please see here.
Studio Moross is an interdisciplinary design and creative studio, specialising in work for the music industry, entertainment and broadcast sector, consumer packaged goods, and food and beverage. The company culture of collaboration and openness is reflected in its approach to recruitment, working practices with clients, and project selection. The studio’s stated work ethos contributes to the success of their clients’ projects – whether that be through increased ticket sales and visitors, reaching new audiences or helping to generate social media buzz.
Location: London (Stockwell) and small satellite in America
Size: 12 (11 in London, 1 in Atlanta)
Design discipline: Branding and illustration; logo and graphic design; and broadcast and moving image design.
The changing nature of the music industry over the last decade has meant a new relationship to the approach and structure of design. During the shift to digital streaming, many labels disbanded their in-house creative and packaging design departments – services which have since been outsourced to agencies and vendors. And while CDs as a physical music product are being phased out, vinyl releases of albums are now seeing a resurgence.
In addition, the last decade has seen a proliferation of music festivals across the world, with more and more musicians earning a greater percentage of their income from live performances than album sales.
Studio Moross was started by Kate Moross in 2012 as an opportunity to transition her success as an illustrator into a wider career in design and art direction. Since then, the studio has evolved to a team of 11 in London and an expanding presence in North America, growing their capabilities from branding, graphic design, illustration and packaging to moving image design, animation, and broadcast design. The studio has a large client base across the entertainment sector (with multiple Viacom brands including MTV and Nickelodeon), with a strong foothold in the music industry, working with labels, leading artists (such as One Direction, Sam Smith, Disclosure) and music festivals, as well as consumer branding work.
As a full service design and branding studio, the Studio Moross team create everything from logos and visual identities, packaging and apparel design, to music and lyric videos, live show design, and TV commercials.
As the company has grown from taking on small design and branding projects for friends to large-scale and complex contracts for multimillion dollar productions from some of the biggest brands in the world, the studio has prioritised maintaining their original ethos – continuing to take on ‘passion projects’ which not only feed the team’s creativity but support the firm’s progressive values—although they do acknowledge the challenges of this approach.
At the beginning, I was more driven by work than budgets which meant we did really fun work which attracted people to work here. This creativity is harder to maintain when you have higher overheads and bigger budgets.
As a young and self-described ‘approachable and collaborative’ design firm, Studio Moross approaches their design process and team structure in a flexible, non-hierarchical way. There isn’t a distinction between design and project management roles within the company – all designers handle some degree of project management, lead client relationships and the allocation of work is typically based on expertise rather than seniority. This differs from the structure of many design firms and agencies which separate administrative roles and design functions.
Collaboration with clients is a core part of their approach, with many clients opting to be directly involved in the design process throughout. Studio Moross are consciously deviating from a previously common approach in the advertising and design industry where the firm receives a brief then works on it in isolation and presents the final version to the client. Operating from a core philosophy of transparency, designers at Studio Moross show work to the client early on to get feedback across a number of rounds, creating an iterative process where the studio can integrate changes quickly and where the design work develops as a joint product.
Studio Moross has a general policy of not working with other designers’ previous creative work – instead working with the clients from the beginning and creating custom concepts and design work from scratch, which makes them less of a reduction company that handles individual design elements piecemeal.
The leadership team at Studio Moross make a distinct point of elevating and engaging emerging talent. Unusually, everyone at the firm – including interns – has the opportunity to be client facing, and many of the ideas that are generated and used at the company come from young and junior staff members.
Everybody involved has the opportunity to leave their mark on a project – they have personal relationships with clients, they attend meetings and shoots, pitch ideas – they’re not just one cog in a big machine.
The company is taking conscious steps to implement best workplace practices. Kate Moross has sought to do this by conferring with every designer on the team about what their pain points have been in previous roles and in other firms and designing a unique company culture that takes all of those into consideration. Designers at the studio typically put in seven hours of work per day – a practice that runs counter to most other practices in the industry where staff regularly work at least ten hours a day.
Creating more defined boundaries for when designers are expected to work has increased productivity at the studio, requiring more efficient processes and communication, reducing unnecessary administrative work on projects, and has required using collaborative software tools for project management. Although Moross admits that in some cases this approach of hiring more team members and working fewer hours has meant a higher turnover but lower profit margin.
I want people to have good things to say about working at the studio – that they get paid for the time they work and that they’re respected and empowered. I want them to be proud and feel good about their job. There’s this illusion that if you work in a field you love that you have to give your life up for it.
Most designers at Studio Moross identify as interdisciplinary. In the past few years, the studio has expanded its capabilities in animation, moving image and broadcast design. This expansion has reflected clients’ increased demand for packages of cross-spectrum design services supporting integrated campaigns – whether it be for an album release, a destination or festival relaunch, or all aspects of design for a broadcast awards show. The firm has adapted their capabilities to provide more for clients, meeting all of their design needs in-house, with the exception of certain technical skills around web development, 3D design and cell animation.
Now everyone wants something that is flexible. People are investing more in a branded whole package than before because they’re expected to externally communicate a larger visual output than they used to.”
The studio has used new projects and clients as a way to expand their capabilities. According to Moross, they use those projects to take risks on developing new technical skills but not on visual or graphic style – so using a new technical ability or designing for a field or at a scale they haven’t worked in before.
For example, with their work for globally renowned pop band One Direction, the studio had to learn to develop designs for 32 meter-wide video LED surfaces, and for MTV’s Video Music Awards they took on an integrated broadcast design project for a show viewed by an audience of millions. Moross noted that they’ve been lucky to have clients who have been confident in their abilities and have been willing to guide them through the process in these areas. In some cases this beginner’s mindset has allowed them to approach the work in more fresh and innovative ways since they’re not bounded by previous design convention.
The rise of social media – Facebook and Instagram in particular – has also changed the kind and scope of content they’re expected to create for brands. This has meant developing a range of designs that are flexible enough to be adapted depending on the platform. Studio Moross has carved out a place for themselves in the music industry, working directly with the client to quickly generate affordable content for musicians – a capability that the studio is finding attractive to brands as well.
We can create something cool for brands and labels much cheaper and more quickly than an agency can. Nothing is lost by the fact that we’re smaller or less experienced. Also it’s a really great way of working when you are able to cover everything the client requires.
Impact of design
While Studio Moross doesn’t actively measure the quantitative impact of their design work on clients’ business objectives, their output has contributed to a host of both measurable and immeasurable positive impacts on clients including increased product and ticket sales, the ability to reach new audiences, and generating buzz – whether through their destination and festival posters which can be found plastered all around London or through the social content generated.
Their contribution to the musicians they’ve worked with has been more intangible, but in the time they’ve been working together have seen clients in the industry go from relative unknowns to globally renowned artists selling significant numbers of records and selling out gigs across the world.
In the case of Parklife, the annual music festival in Manchester has been collaborating with Studio Moross over the last three years on a new identity for the festival and more recently working together on a three minute launch video (which saw hundreds of iterations). The result of the new visual identity and integrated content they’ve jointly developed has been three consecutive sold out festivals.
Studio Moross’ design work has helped move Parklife from being considered a regional event to being a premier international music festival. Moving the design and marketing up a level with an aesthetic that was more considered has elevated the brand and presented us as a top tier event.
For the relaunch of the destination and theme park Dreamland Margate, Studio Moross developed identity and branding in support of the project – including the advertising campaign which ran across London’s subway system and the wayfinding and environmental design onsite.
According to owner and developer Olly Bengough, the hand drawn poster – featuring over 100 custom brightly coloured icons – created an imaginative brand as creative, fun and whimsical as the destination itself. The launch was viewed as a success – 40,000 people came to the opening weekend and the park’s seasonal festival lineup sold out. But – more importantly to both Olly and Studio Moross – the new identity helped Dreamland draw in new audiences, including local visitors, families and young people traveling in from London and across the UK.
Studio Moross has also developed a concerted diversity policy to encourage those from a variety of backgrounds to work at the studio.
It’s definitely something that’s front of mind for me. I previously came from a traditional point of view that the best person for the job is the best person for the job. But then I was opened to wider systemic issues. I kept on getting the same type of person applying to our jobs and wondering why we weren’t drawing in a more diverse pool. So we’ve made moves to readdress how we appeal to people.
Specific efforts include:
- Hiring people in unconventional ways and through unconventional platforms – including Instagram.
- Reaching directly out to talent from more diverse backgrounds: ‘messaging people whose work we like and asking them if they’d want to come in for a chat’.
- Using the agency Creative Access to give people from BAME backgrounds the opportunity to intern at the studio.
- Adjusting the language they use in job adverts and where they place them – making clear that applicants who don’t meet all of the listed criteria are still welcome to apply
Kate Moross has also taken on more speaking and writing in the past few years, wanting to elevate non-traditional voices – in her case, LGBTQ+ and non-binary – in the industry.
Research and case study development by BOP Consulting (Rebecca Greenwald, Eleanor Jubb, Callum Lee) with input from Dr Lucy Kimbell, Professor of Contemporary Design Practices at University of the Arts London.
List of contributors
We would like to say thank you to the following people at Studio Moross and their clients for their time and input into the research:
- Kate Moross, Founder and Director
- Alice Best, Studio Manager
- Oliver Chapman, Senior Project Manager
- Oscar Torrans, Graphic Designer
- Leio Kirtley, Graphic and Motion Designer
- Linus Kraemer, Head of Video and North America Lead
- Ashley Park, Designer
- Will Orchard, The Warehouse Project / Parklife
- Olly Bengough, Mint Group / Dreamland Margate
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