Meet Natalie Heaton of Elegant Scoundrel: designer, entrepreneur, and judge for TechPitch 4.5 Sports and Health
TechPitch 4.5 Sports and Health takes place next Tuesday, 18 October 2016, with startups presenting a range of business models – from cricket simulators to a healthy food finder, from smart technology helping diabetics maintain blood sugar levels to NFC tags linking to instructional videos.
Our expert judging panel will include the head of music at BT Sport, an innovation academic from Loughborough Univeristy, a lawyer and a journalist. It will also include Nat Heaton, Creative Director of Elegant Scoundrel, who recently designed the logo for Olympic dressage champion, Charlotte Dujardin. We caught up with Nat to ask about her work merging sport and design, and what she’s looking forward to seeing at TechPitch 4.5 Sports and Health.
-Nat, thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your professional background (pre Elegant Scoundrel)?
I graduated from Lancaster University’s Fine Art course in 2006. Towards the end of the course, I was concerned that my studies still hadn’t led me to a career I was interested in, where I would be able to use my degree. I didn’t particularly enjoy the course, which was extremely traditional in its content and execution, and I knew I didn’t want a job in the Fine Art world. Luckily, at the very end of my course, my tutor went on maternity leave so we had a new tutor for the final semester. He was a graphic designer and he introduced us to Photoshop. I remember the moment I first used this software, which was completely new to me (I didn’t even know graphic designers existed), and finally had that long awaited “Eureka” moment! It captured my interest and imagination instantly – I knew I had found what I was looking for: a career I was interested in and which suited my skills perfectly.
My course finished and all my friends were taking up jobs in the local pubs to earn money over summer, but all I wanted to do was get started with the next phase in my creative development, so I chose to start learning the craft of graphic design. Having had only one semester using Photoshop, I was still very much a beginner, and had a lot to learn.
The day after my course finished, I started calling design agencies in the North West to ask if I could work for them for free, in return for training. Only one company in Liverpool was interested, and I was invited to show them my degree work to assess if I could be of some use. I was offered a three-month unpaid work placement. I travelled from Warrington to Liverpool five days a week for three months, and at the end of that time, I had learned the basics of Photoshop, Illustrator, and Quark. I had managed to create one calendar, which had pictures of horses for each month. I still have it. It is hideously and hilariously badly designed; however, I have kept it as a reminder of such an exciting time in my life. The start, in fact, of all the fun to come.
I was very pleased to be offered a full-time role at the end of the three months, but I had already found my first paid job back in Warrington, which turned out to be the hardest, but best job in the world. Talbot Malone had various small-to-medium accounts and I started as a junior/tea maker/biscuit fetcher. I was shouted at all day long about attention to detail and getting my typesetting and logo placement just right and was constantly told I would be a junior for the next ten years if I didn’t learn how to work within my grids! Looking back, I am beyond grateful to Jeff Talbot and Dave Malone’s for constantly telling me off. They were passionate about their job, and passionate for me to learn the correct way from the start. I would go back and work with them in a heartbeat. I owe them a lot.
After a year, I was headhunted by a design recruitment agency, and found myself travelling to Stoke-on-Trent to work for John Caudwell (billionaire owner of Phones 4U) in the in-house design department at his children’s charity. It was a challenging time, going from a small, friendly business of three people to a large team of people who had all worked in the financial division of Phones 4U. Team morale was not a priority there; however, it certainly gave me an edge of determination and grit that has stood me in good stead since. Again, a valuable experience and one that I do not regret.
I then took a job back in Warrington as a junior designer at a small marketing agency, working mainly for large hotel and fitness chains. It was my first taste of design and marketing strategy combined, and I became confident and proficient in taking briefs, designing the campaigns from initial concepts and, once developed and signed off, rolling out the design across all the collateral needed for all the sites. The problem was I became too good at it and wasn’t allowed to work on anything else. The frustration from not being allowed to develop, and not being considered for promotion due only to my age – rather than my ability and achievements – was to become the driving force behind my next career move: starting my own company.
As I left on the last day, I remember thinking that I should be feeling scared and regretful that, at the start of a recession, I had just walked out of a permanent and secure job, but I felt quite the reverse! I felt alive and excited and thrilled at the prospect of doing what I have since come to adore most about working for myself: making things happen!
-What are the origins of Elegant Scoundrel, and what are your main activities?
Elegant Scoundrel was born eight years ago from my desire to develop powerful partnerships with clients and work collaboratively with other creatives. We have been lucky to work with both global and start-up brands, on both online and offline projects. We are a collective of skills, and we pride ourselves on questioning, listening and challenging, with a passion that generates truly creative work for clients by combining great ideas and world-class business strategy with the very best design. Our intentionally small team works closely with clients as creative partners to develop powerful brand identities and digital communications that engage audiences and drive results.
It has grown organically, which has been a really exciting process. It has been very hard work and many a tough lesson has been learned, but I wouldn’t change a moment of it. My advice to anyone starting a business is to trust your gut instincts, work harder than you ever thought possible, and always say ‘yes’ to every opportunity, even if it means figuring out how to deliver on that ‘yes’ once you’ve said it!
Over the last nearly decade, we’ve delivered all manner of projects to all sorts of clients for all kinds of markets, but we’ve always done so across a very defined set of sectors. Whether it’s a rebrand, an advertising campaign, a digital project, a fashion shoot or a video piece, we create work that truly engages audiences.
-You designed the logo for Olympic dressage champion, Charlotte Dujardin. What was that experience like creatively?
I believe it is incredibly important to work closely with all clients as creative partners and involve them in the process from the start of any project. We have a formula at Elegant Scoundrel that works on any creative project, no matter who the client is.
We don’t start by designing. We start by asking questions and listening to the answers. We question and question until we know everything about a client – we do this to make sure we know exactly how we can find a solution to their problem.
Often clients tell us they don’t know what they want and ask us to design something for them that we think is right; however, I have learned the (very hard and expensive way) that this is not a productive way to work, nor does it drive successful results or create satisfied clients. We believe that, in fact, clients DO know what they want but they just haven’t been asked the right questions. Having had those conversations, we can efficiently generate a truly accurate brief, and start work on a project with a full understanding of the client’s requirements.
We then work with the client to explore all the possibilities. This is an extremely productive phase of the design process. We involve the client every step of the way, so that by the time any actual designing commences, the client is already happy with the direction and also feels they have been an intrinsic part of the development of their project.
Charlotte’s logo was born of this proven and successful formula. I presented her with mood boards and tear sheets with lots of different logo designs and she was drawn to a few that were all of the same style. This gave me a starting point.
Consider, for example, McDonald’s’ golden arches, Apple’s half-bitten fruit or Nike’s swoosh: every successful brand has a strong, striking image. I wanted to create an immediately distinctive identity that set her brand apart from other equestrian personalities and companies by purposely avoiding the use of anything distinctively equestrian. Her logo needed to be relevant to her current position as the world’s number one dressage champion, but could also be a brand mark that would still be as strong when being used elsewhere as her brand grew, such as partnering with other brands, for example, on her new range of Kingsland clothing or on her international event collateral at the clinics she is now holding across the world.
I really wanted to create something using the traditional skills I had honed all those years ago at university (surely they had to come in handy at SOME point!) so I set about creating Charlotte’s brand mark using good, old-fashioned pencil and paper. I felt it was important to have an icon with meaning. Her initials were to become the icon, which stands strong with or without her name to accompany it. I developed it to have the continuous qualities of the infinity symbol to echo the never-ending journey of training and learning that a dressage rider embarks on each time they ride their horse. I also wanted a seamless quality to symbolize the poetic nature of the movements of dressage.
The logo was crafted and re-crafted by hand until those qualities had been achieved. I then finalized it digitally and Charlotte’s logo is now the icon of her rapidly growing globally recognized brand.
-In your view, how do sport and creative design intersect?
Those sports organisations that understand the power of branding have been able, through its implementation, to significantly improve general public interest, push participation numbers at grassroots levels and raise overall revenues. Branding in sport could be the most important tool that organisations and individuals need to use in order to find new growth opportunities.
I think today’s social media tools allow athletes and sportspeople to leverage the power of content marketing to build a relatable and captivating brand, find sponsors, get funding and communicate with fans, which can unlock incredible value beyond their sporting achievements. That’s where we, as designers, come in – by creating a compelling story around athletes and helping them to brand themselves by creating a profile image and engaging content that fans find interesting, can relate to and will share.
-We’re looking forward to having you on the judging panel at TechPitch 4.5 Sports and Health on 11 October 2016. What are you most looking forward to at the event?
I’m delighted to have been invited to judge on the panel for TechPitch 4.5 Sports and Health. Meeting entrepreneurs who have worked hard to identify problems or gaps in a market and commit to solving them by harnessing their passion and skills to develop something they believe in is going to be immensely interesting and exciting.
-What will you be looking for in the startup pitches?
I am really looking forward to hearing how the startups have set about developing their brands creatively to diminish barriers to entering the marketplace and increasing avenues for reaching and serving new potential customers or users. Setting a startup apart from the crowd visually is important and I would like to see how the use of good design has been utilized and considered to make their products or experiences remarkable and the overall user experience incredible. I would like to see how the startups have positioned their visual identity and taken into consideration how their branding will continue to add value to the business for years to come, and be able to adapt as customer behavior and trends change and technology continues to advance rapidly.
TechPitch 4.5 Sports and Health will take place on Tuesday, 18 October 2016 from 18.30 at the offices of Lewis Silkin in London. Get your tickets here.
Our first collaboration with Hasbro – TechPitch 4.5 PLAY – will take place on 2 November 2016. The deadline to apply to pitch is 21 October 2016. If you’re a startup with a technology, platform, app or API that could be applied to the toy industry, you don’t want to miss this chance to pitch it to one of the largest toy manufacturers in the world. Apply now.