If you’ve ever launched a business yourself, you’ll know there are countless decisions to be made and numerous things to do. Moreover, there are endless sleepless nights as the feelings of excitement and trepidation merge, mingle and grow, the closer launch day looms.
And that was certainly the case for Dan Gilbert as he prepared to open Design Incorporated in the autumn of 1997.
Prior to this, and having graduated from art college, and through gaining enough experience working both full-time and freelance in a number of creative agencies and print studios, the decision was made to strike out on his own.
The brand name is key
Prior to the launch, Dan played around with potential brand names for the company. Ultimately, Design Incorporated was selected. The name just sounded right. As a start-up creative business, Dan knew that projects would likely be diverse in nature but he committed himself to the promise that ‘great design would always be incorporated in all we do’. The company name was born, although it was regularly shortened to the more friendly ‘Design Inc’.
The early years
The early days saw Dan living and working out of his bedroom in his mum’s house. He owned a desk, a chair, a phone and a Power Macintosh 9500. Back then, Quark was the design platform of choice and litho print was still king, along with cumbersome plates and cromalins for proofs. It would be another four years, 2001, before Design Inc would have its first website and Dan had an email address!
The first couple of years saw Dan juggling time. Half the day was spent pitching for new business, the rest of the day and most of the night was spent providing the design services for the work that had come in. However tiring it may have been, this approach proved successful and clients were showing loyalty – always getting back in touch when they had a new requirement.
The pivotal phonecall
In 1999, Dan received a call which would fundamentally change the direction of the business. It came from the UK office of Flexjet, a Canadian business aviation company owned by Bombardier Aerospace. On the face of it, the request was simple – a single CD to be burnt and replicated. The problem was that they needed it within hours and they’d exhausted all other routes.
Dropping everything, Dan rose to the challenge and delivered the job on time.
That one success led to Flexjet coming back to Dan on a number of occasions that month. The number of requests continued to grow and Design Inc became established as Flexjet’s UK agency of choice. This relationship provided invaluable insight into the aviation sector and that knowledge and connections enabled Design Inc to start supporting other companies in the industry.
In future years to come, Design Inc would become the UK’s leading agency for private aviation marketing. But for now and the next few years, however, Dan continued to burn the candle at both ends, although a growing client list meant more creative work, which meant very little time left for much needed commercial activity and project support. Something had to change.
Securing a business partner
It was late 2001 when Dan reached out to Frank Norman. They had previously worked very successfully together at a print and personalisation company and Dan had heard that Frank was leaving that company to go traveling. Seeing an opportunity, he approached Frank with an offer of employment upon his return. In September 2002, Frank joined Design Inc as Sales and Project Manager. He was highly successful in attracting new business into the company and driving new creative projects through the studio.
The next five years would see Design Inc move into new premises, which would be the company’s home for the next 20 years, and become a limited company with Dan and Frank both company directors. Moreover, the company steadily grew in size through the employment of a talented team of designers, web programmers and marketing specialists.
Although still a relatively small company, the Design Inc team always strived to embrace new technology and innovation and the coming years saw huge changes in marketing activity.
The introduction of the iPhone would dramatically change the way individuals interacted with the internet and each other. Companies were falling over themselves to update their websites to be responsive and accessible on smaller screens.
The rise of smartphones increased the use and reliance on social media as another way for companies to engage with their audiences. This led to new, exciting advertising opportunities as this media could reach a targeted audience faster, cheaper and more effectively than traditional campaigns.
Even something as simple as the introduction of the front-facing phone camera would lead to a shift in the use of new media as the world went crazy for Instagram.
Websites became ever more powerful and the demand for SEO solutions led the way.
Embracing these marketing advances directly helped Design Inc secure new clients from a range of industry sectors. In fact, the company spent the next few years actively pitching into several specific sectors in order to establish a core portfolio, including:
Venues & Hospitality with clients such as The Royal Opera House, Roof Gardens and London Film Museum…
Offshore & Engineering with clients such as Subsea UK, Harkand and NOV…
Freight & Logistics with clients such as OCS, Volga Dnepr and Rico…
Meanwhile, the commercial team was working very hard to grow the portfolio of clients within the Aerospace Aviation sector. This effort was rewarded in 2011 when Design Inc proudly won the global advertising account for Airbus Helicopters (formerly Eurocopter).
Success breeds success
More wins have come since. Not just major client wins but awards and commendations, too – from the mayoral commendation at the National Calendar Awards through to the Best Digital Marketing Award at the MIMA Awards for the campaign we created for Royal Opera House. Design Inc is also proud to be recognised closer to home, having been awarded the Best Business in Staines award in 2021.
Challenges make us stronger
Of course, the past quarter century has not been without its challenges. Many were internal and to be expected – HR, IT, workload etc – in a growing business. However, some external factors have proved more testing, not least the Covid pandemic over the past few years. Fortunately, unlike many other small agencies, Design Inc had secured enough ongoing work to avoid both redundancies and furlough. However, the government’s work from home directive and a four-day week for the majority of staff in 2020 changed the corporate dynamics as well as testing the strength and resolve of the team. Design Inc is very fortunate to have a great team – without exception, everyone dug deep, worked hard and the experience saw the company come out the other side stronger than ever.
25 years of ideas
The last 25 years has seen Design Inc deliver tens of thousands of creative projects to thousands of clients within hundreds of different industry sectors.
Those projects have called upon a vast number of different marketing disciplines, skills and tools. And, whilst the marketing landscape may have drastically changed since 1997, the company’s commitment to high level creativity and exemplary customer service is as strong as it was during those first days after launch.
So, whether the latest project is the creation of a company’s new brand identity, an out-of-home advertising campaign, a series of digital brochures, a new corporate website, an explainer video or even an engaging exhibition stand, you can be sure that design is incorporated into everything Design Inc does!
Reflecting on 25 years in business…