Naomi Atkinson

Naomi is an English designer and illustrator who is passionate about brand, regardless of the medium. After years of experience across London-based web, advertising, and branding agencies, she now runs her own studio Naomi Atkinson Design. As well as being awarded 'The Next Best Thing' and nominated as 'Designer of the Year', she's been seen to frequent the pages of Design Week and .net Magazine, as well as presenting at conferences and events around the UK and Europe. A connoisseur of good things, she appreciates a milky cup of tea as much as scouting markets and shops for original design gems.

Naomi occasionally tweets, too @naomisusi

Published Thoughts

Many people—perhaps even you, reading this—make their own physical products, usually with a website to market and sell them. These products are usually unique, original designs, supported and marketed entirely by independent individuals or companies; this is usually in a conscious bid to avoid needing large manufacturing processes, or middlemen diluting the quality of the original design. There are many of us creating truly beautiful products, and taking great care to ensure that quality spans from the ideas to their execution, from their packaging to their website.

A pattern I’ve spotted, however, is that the majority of us who do this usually do so on the side of our day job. This could be for any number of reasons, but the most common one is simply that sales from these avenues alone wouldn’t cover our required (or preferred) income.

A second notable issue is audience; we tend to sell online—to other designers and creatives in similar circles—often missing out on a much wider audience—the general public—that more cash-rich high-street brands can take advantage of far more easily. After all, having a physical presence in a city centre is bound to have a proportionally bigger impact than just being another one of over 640 million websites!

Some third-party websites, such as Etsy or Fab, have done a great deal to help mitigate some of these issues—and you can’t deny that they do a fantastic job of supporting independent designers and producers across the world—but I still feel like that one crucial piece of the puzzle is missing: a physical shop where people can see and actually feel the products, before they buy.

I want to help find that missing piece.

I want to offer support to all designers who sell quality products, helping them to receive more recognition, and, ultimately, make more money by taking them to a different, wider audience. Instead of selling online, to other designers, I want to take these designers’ products to the high street!

I’m extremely excited to announce that the summer of 2014 will bring with it Whosit & Whatsit (W&W)—a boutique, physical shop selling independent designers’ products to the general public. It will play host to products for yourself—jewellery, clothing, books, publications, etc.—and those that span the full range of home and office living—furniture, prints, and accessories.

W&W’s focus is on fostering and nurturing the livelihood of the independent designer. This means that, naturally, there will be a lot of emphasis on quality and individuality but, more importantly, accessibility. I’m taking a more unusual approach with the shop in an attempt to keeps costs for the designer as low as possible: instead of the more traditional model of buying stock from a supplier and then marking it up to sell on at a profit, I’m working to a model whereby you set the prices, and you keep any profits. All W&W does is ask for a small monthly subscription fee to cover our costs of keeping the doors of a physical shop open, anything else made from the sale of the products goes straight back to the designers.

The service is offered via the way of a submission, meaning everyone is welcome to submit to sell through W&W (international and UK designers alike). Places are limited—due to the limitations that come with physical space, of course—however more places will become available at key points throughout the year(s) after opening.

Interestingly, due to the nature of this unconventional business model, there is another exciting avenue that W&W will be looking to head down. Because W&W’s aim is to take as little as possible from the independent suppliers, there will likely be the need to subsidise some of the running ourselves. With this in mind, we secured a property large enough to allow us to hold events, meetups, workshops, exhibitions, conferences’ fringe events, and a lot more. These events will a) allow W&W to subsidise running costs, keeping the costs to the designer as low as possible, b) provide a local scene and meeting place for like-minded individuals, and c) allow people to host and attend design events whilst surrounded by inspiring and purchasable design products.

Renovations to the first property in the W&W family—a Grade II, four-storey building on Newcastle upon Tyne’s Quayside, in the north of England—are currently in progress, and the call for product submissions is open! Do you have a product you’d love to see for sale on the high street? Now you have the perfect opportunity! Don’t have your own products, but know someone who does? Let them know about us!

W&W is only one small part of this story; the designers, the makers, the independent artists and producers, they’re the main characters on this journey, and we’re on the lookout for all of them.

I, and the wider W&W team, all have a passion for beautifully designed, carefully crafted, high-quality products, and we want to help independent designers by sharing this passion with a far wider audience—an audience who might otherwise never even know such products exist.

Here are a few links in one handy list for you:

Here’s to 2014, the year of the independent designer!

Wishing you good health (and wealth)!

At the beginning of this year I hung a poster. A poster created four years ago that I finally got around to buying.

I hung it in my bedroom; it’s the first thing I see when I wake, and the last thing I see before I sleep.

Things this year have been especially challenging. I’ve hit many hurdles, as we all do—professional, emotional, and financial. Let’s just say it hasn’t been easy, so I’ve been very aware of the things and the people around me that have lightened my load and given me comfort.

This poster has most certainly been one of those.

I honestly believe that it’s helped motivate me. It’s picked me up, reminded me to stay passionate (or otherwise question what I’m doing), and above all it’s given me comfort and confidence in who I am.

This is your life. Do what you want and do it often.
If you don't like something, change it.
If you don't like your job, quit.
If you don't have enough time, stop watching TV.
If you are looking for the love of your life, stop; they will be waiting for you when you start doing things you love.
Stop over-analysing, life is simple.
All emotions are beautiful.
When you eat, appreciate every last bite.
Life is simple.
Open your heart, mind and arms to new things and people, we are united in our differences.
Ask the next person you see what their passion is and share your inspiring dream with them.
Travel often; getting lost will help you find yourself.
Some opportunities only come once, seize them.
Life is about the people you meet and the things you create with them, so go out and start creating.
Life is short, live your dream and share your passion.

© Holstee Inc.

I’d strongly recommend that you hang one of your own. This is your life—it’s worth it.

My genuine thanks and daily appreciation go to Dave, Mike, Fabian, and Rachel.

A mindset.

We live in an overly immersive world; one where the division between what is online versus offline—what is digital versus physical—is diminishing.

  • The kiosk in our local supermarket: online or offline?
  • What good is a printed barcode (physical, offline) without something physical to read it, and a digital (online) interface to interpret the data into something useful?

Not only are the lines between these things blurring, they often need to work together seamlessly.

We live in such a world that it should be becoming harder and harder to label ourselves a web designer, or a web developer, or a digital account manager.

If you label yourself a ‘web designer’, are you saying that you only design for the web? If working for a client, do you only think about their website, disregarding the rest of the brand and communications? I’m sure you don’t.

I’d like to suggest that we’re belittling what we do—everything that makes up our role—into a two or three word title. This is often simply for the sake of other people, for the sake of us fitting into a corporate structure, or even to make it easy to introduce ourselves.

I believe that the only thing that describes the true us is what’s at our core; the central part of us around which all our other talents and interests revolve.

My core is simply designer. This is the thing, the part of me, that influences and leads a lot of the other things in my life; how I arrange my furniture, the clothes I choose, the films I enjoy.

Others peoples’ cores could be anything; Engineer, Marketeer, Educator, Artist, Musician, Mathematician. Their central interest or passion that leads a lot of the other tangential things they do.

If you take away all of our tools (whether that’s Photoshop, a code editor, a computer), our core should still remain. We should still be able to look at the world—and solve problems—with our core passion alone.

As a Designer, my core would still allow me to be able to design a teapot, a city’s road layout, or a car’s dashboard.

Tools and knowledge can be learned. What’s at your core cannot.

Reminding ourselves of who we are at our core makes us far more aware of the opportunities we have available to us right now but, more importantly, the opportunities we can create for ourselves in the future.

Let your core steer your decisions and plans in life and forget about the obvious, or the mundane. Let what’s at your core do the thinking for once. It’s what you’re good at…

I’d say I’m a pretty private person. I avoid sharing personal things about myself with the masses. I much prefer to share everything—most likely too much—with my close friends and family either on the phone or in person, over a cup of tea. It is for that reason I struggle with a lot of social media and often find I actually end up resenting particular networks and their apps.

Being a web designer—and an advocate of online products and services—this isn’t something I usually share. In fact I’m rather surprised to find myself sharing this with you at all…

I love our industry, I love the fact that it’s built largely on the back of us sharing so much. But I continually ask myself: Is it all just a bit much? Are we simply oversharing?

I think we are, and oversharing brings the need for filtering.

We filter our Facebook feeds, we unfollow on Twitter, we carefully choose whose pictures we see on Instagram, and yet, despite all this, our feeds still bloat quickly, and the generation of content only seems to accelerate.

In our physical world we are creating ‘things’ at an unprecedented rate; we always seem to make space for another Starbucks, supermarket, or housing estate; we continue to build on every inch of free land we find; we create waste as such an alarming rate that we struggle to manage it, opting to bury it in landfill sites with no thought as to the long-term.

Is our virtual world, the internet, simply going to follow in the same footsteps? Will this article, for example, follow the fate of the used crisp packet, buried deep underground somewhere, unreachable, yet still somehow existing?

If this is to be the case then I’d certainly be challenging myself as to what I leave as my ‘virtual legacy’. If the abundance of content we each create will always exist in some form then I would personally like to make sure that—when I do share—I do it to spread good.

I challenge you to think about how your virtual legacy would be read.

I’ve recently returned from a week-long Whisky tour of Scotland. I was already a fan of Scotch Whisky before the trip, however being taught the extensive processes involved — learning each distillery’s story and the individuality in each of their products — has changed my perception and appreciation of many whiskys and, in turn, informed me of why I like or favour others.

It all served to remind me of one extremely important factor in selling any product: storytelling.

Offering a customer (or client) a finished product without sharing any part of the story that led up to it can lead to any of a number of issues on a project:

  • Requests to see other options

    This is due to them asking themselves “Well, what other options are there? Is this really the best one?”

    Sharing your process enables them to see what other options (including the awful clichéd ones that you explain as such) you have decided not to pursue, and why. You don’t need to share fully worked up designs — just sketches, layouts, or thoughts.

  • A lack of respect for you and your work

    Many clients may presume that this is all you have done, therefore it was somehow ‘easy’ or ‘quick’ for you to get to this conclusion. They’re paying you for a service, and they want to know that you have spent a good amount of time on their project.

    If you jumped straight from a brief or discussion to a full comp, or coded up version of a design for example, what is that client meant to think?

    Include them in your thinking, share your process and progress (even if that’s just in word format for the most part), make sure that they’re aware of your time spent on something. Respect is very much a two-way thing for a successful relationship.

  • They may even want to pay less

    I could talk about time-based invoicing versus value-based pricing here, however it’s not really about that.

    Even if you’re at a point in your career where you can go to a client with one solution and say “take it or leave it”, I would still argue that sharing the story of how you ended up at that point is imperative to gain the respect that is needed for the client to be happy to pay their invoice(s).

  • The client’s inability to explain their own brand’s project, meaning, or feel

    Sharing the story — and explaining your work properly to a client — enables them to become their own ambassador of that work. This is crucially important, as you will likely not always be around to support that client.

    Giving them a story to tell, or a one-liner of why something is the way it is, I have found to be one of the most successful aids for a client and their piece of mind.

Storytelling. We all grew up around it. We all have a story to tell. Don’t let it stop when it comes to your work.

I’m often asked “Do you need to be a Jack of all trades in the web industry?”

I believe there’s a place for two very different types of creatives within the industry (and I’d hasten to include others such as graphic design, advertising, branding, and pretty much any company offering a service):

Those who are passionate about an array of trades (let’s call them “The Jacks”), and those who are passionate about one very specific thing (“The Jills”).

I’ve worked with some extremely talented people over the years, and they include both types — neither the Jacks or Jills being more successful, nor more respected.

Mixing Jacks and Jills creates a winning team.

One problem that I’ve seen many agencies (or studios) face however, is that they have a Jill overseeing or running a project, or indeed the whole company.

Who they really need in this role is a Jack. Someone who is wired to think about every area, the biggest picture — not just the management itself for instance.

By this, I don’t mean to pigeon-hole Jills into lower-level roles. A Jill is required at Director level too — just in their specific area — a technical, or creative director for example. But the key here is to make sure that there is always a Jack present.

So there you have it — a nursery rhyme for agency success.

Today is a sad day. This morning I received a long, tearful email from a good friend telling me that her husband has been diagnosed with Leukaemia.

I instantly wrote back (understandably she wasn’t strong enough to talk), and as I was crying, pressing send — there was a knock at my door.

My mum.

Intuition, following your gut, instinct, a sixth sense, telepathic tendencies, a genetic bond — however you like to refer to it, my mum has always had it when it comes to me.

Her explanation for turning up was simply “I got a sudden feeling about 10 minutes ago that you needed me”. I of course was more than grateful to have a shoulder, hers especially, to cry on.

Earlier this year, I’d taken myself away for a weekend. I needed to think about some pretty difficult decisions and required space to do it. I don’t believe I even told Mum when I was returning, but as I got off the train she was there to meet me with flowers and my dinner for that evening. She simply asked “What’s wrong darling?”.

She stayed with me for the next few hours. I’ll never forget that. And she was right, I really did need her.

All I want to share are two things:

  • Follow your gut. Always.
  • Never stop appreciating the people you love. Life is short.

Dedicated to my incredible and loving mum, Bernadette.

Memorable information. Even the label is ironic.

It has now got to the stage where, to access my online bank accounts I need to remember the following:

For my personal account…

  1. User ID

    Something given to me that I cannot change. I use my preferred browser to remember this, and as a back-up (as we all know how we cannot rely only on this due to different devices) I keep a scrappy card in my purse that my bank supplied me with when registering for online banking. My User ID is written on it — luckily, I used a biro.

  2. Password

    As it says on the tin. Something we expect, which can be easily remembered as we set it ourselves.

  3. Memorable info

    Three digits from my memorable info required. See below on how easy it is to forget such a thing you set at sometime in the past.

  4. Security number

    Something I discovered when trying to change my memorable info to something more… memorable. After requesting the change online, I then got told to call the bank and quote a

    • Reference number (something different again, given to me then and there on the screen). I then got told on the phone that I would be sent a
    • Security number in the post — when I receive it, I should call back.

    Four days went by before I received the Security number (as it was over a weekend), meaning I could not access either my personal or business account for that time. I then called — had to give the reference number (I hadn’t written this down so had to request to change my memorable info again, just to get it), and security number, before then being told I could access my online accounts again.

    Oh, and I need to ‘memorise my security number and throw it away’.

For my business account (in brief)…

  1. User ID

  2. Password

  3. Pin number to be used via a card reader supplied by the bank

  4. 8 digit code given to me from the card reader

  5. Security number (if I wish to edit anything within my account)

This of course is not including what I need to know for someone to be able to pay money into my account. For that I would need:

  • Account Number
  • Sort code
  • Bank name and address

And for my international clients:

  • BIC / Swift number
  • IBAN number
  • Bank name and address

Having fallen victim to fraud in the past, I’m very aware of the dangers of it — in my case it was in the USA where they take your card away from you, you then sign (and tip) after they return it, meaning they have to hold your card details for a period of time. Something I never feel comfortable with.

It had nothing to do with someone accessing my account through online means.

Being able to access, move around, and be fully aware of my own money whether that be in person at the bank or more conveniently (and importantly to me), online — is one of our most important rights, as a human being and as a paying customer.

We line the pockets of the banks by giving them interest on the money we keep with them. In many a scenario we pay them for other services and privileges also, but the point is we pay them for a service, much like we do any other.

I would like (us all) to challenge the banking industry. I would ask them this:

“If you could design a service that allows people to do as they like with their money, that’s safe, simple, and removes all of the archaic nonsense we’re now simply used to — what would it be?”

This of course would be backed up by us giving the industry all the help and expertise they need to make such a thing happen.

Food for thought.

Designer.“What do you design?”
Designer & Illustrator. And repeat.
Maker of designery things. A nervous giggle, followed by “What kind of…”
Web designer. Their head floods with preconceptions, coupled with “Oh, I know someone who does a bit of that”.
UI designer. “What’s UI?”
Digital designer. See two above, minus the reply.
Brand designer. *Insert vacant stare here*.
Designer of Brands. They may as well not have asked. They’re none the wiser.
Creator. No chance.
Design consultant. A little bit of sick just appeared in my mouth. Never again.
Consultant on all things design. “Yes, I really do think of myself as the next Steve Jobs, or Dieter Rams”.
Ninja? No. Just no.

F*?! it.

Hi I’m Naomi. I’m stupidly passionate about designing and creating things — for myself and others.

“So, what kind of things?”

In a world where the physical is replicated in a digital format so frequently, you would think that our processes would have evolved — some time ago — to support this.

It would seem not.

I’d like to bring attention specifically to publishing — where a publisher has a physical magazine, for example, which they are also offering as a digital download (whether that be hosted online, or offered within their own app).

Many of the publishers I have created artwork for will use the same artwork that is sent to print to create their digital version.

This is a huge bug-bear for designers and brands alike, as the artwork created for print is set in CMYK colour. When this is used on-screen, which uses the RGB colour spectrum, the artwork is simply wrong.

This is not the only issue caused by using the same artwork (another is opacity fringing which only appears in digital versions), however it is certainly the most poignant.

We’re all very aware of what a huge role colour plays in representing a brand. And this is a simple case of the publisher’s process prohibiting us from representing a brand’s colour palette correctly — whether our own, or a client’s.

So, I challenge all print publications out there to allow us to supply two versions of artwork. Please let us offer the high level of service we strive for, throughout all of our communications.

I’ve always been supportive of charities, caring enough about the good work they do to give a one-off donation, sign up for a monthly payment, or offer fundraising to those taking up challenges. I’ve also been lucky to have worked with many charities over the years.

That said, I still find myself awkwardly trying to avoid, or talk myself out of being stopped on the street by the people in a particularly colourful jacket or bib.

My awkwardness was squashed a couple of months ago by a colourful jacket informing me that all I had to do was send an SMS. That was it. Nothing to fill in, and no catch. He showed me a card with the number to text, as well as three suggested donations: £2, £3, or £5.

Within 30 seconds I had donated £5 which would simply be added to my next phone bill. I went on my way. Brilliant.

Or so I thought. I have since received calls to my mobile every few days. I prefer not to answer calls from unknown numbers, due to the sheer amount of cold-calls I seem to receive (people wanting money in some manner, like this charity who obviously wanted more of it). These unanswered calls continue to this day, almost 3 months on from the original donation.

What promised to be a quick, easy, ‘no strings’ way to donate, quickly morphed into the typical guilt-ridden process of avoidance. This is the opposite of how one should feel when giving anything to charity.

If Apple were to share our contact details (a phone number, postal address, or even just an email) with the developers of every app we download — well, it goes without saying that we would simply cease to download anything.

I suggest that charities might look at examples like Apple’s App Store as a great example of how to earn people’s pennies painlessly, and more frequently, as well as how to make the process as positive as possible.

Now, if my text message donation had been the end of my conversation with this charity (and others took up the same offering) my reaction to being stopped in the street would have changed based on that one experience, which would be a vast improvement from the norm.

However, the App Store model could be taken on in a more direct sense — where one charity takes the lead in setting up a secure system that they use themselves (e.g. Apple’s own apps), and make available for other charities to use. The SMS number could stay the same, with each charity given a unique label, and donors choosing how much to donate.

An example call to action could then be:

Text ‘Macmillan £10’ to 88811

No phone number (or other info) would be saved from your donation — this protection of privacy would quickly become public knowledge, and the method trusted. With only one number for everyone to remember, and thus one number for all charities to promote, the frequency of donations would be more likely to increase (if you’re feeling good on payday, why not text an extra £5 to your three favourite charities this week?).

Of course, we’re seeing some great modern solutions to fundraising start to emerge — especially in the social arena with services such as the following:

  • — born in the North East, recently receiving $960,000 in funding, Givey encourages fundraising between friends and allows donations via the site, text message, or tweet.
  • — a small group of London-based designers and developers, offers people and charities a better way to connect with one another. They want to hire the best people there are, to tackle an industry that has seen little innovation over the last few decades.
  • — ran by the team at Leukeamia & Lymphoma Research, Pledegit calls to our mischievous side, by encouraging us to challenge our friends. If enough people sponsor the said challenge, then just how can we say no?

So, there is certainly positive momentum in the world of social, which is truly great to see.

I’d simply love to see how this kind of thinking transfers to the charities themselves when communicating on the street, the TV, or through our letterboxes.

Can we truly reflect a product or service’s brand if we only create one small part of it?

In my personal experience, I can easily say that the projects where I’ve had complete control or continuous input into all design and communication decisions have been by far (and continue to be) the most successful for client and studio alike.

We all know that a brand is so much more than a logo, typeface, and colour palette. So why is it that we accept projects where these may be the only things supplied to us?

I’ve found myself challenging this over and over again since starting my own studio, especially coming from my previous role at a respected London branding agency. Every time I work with a new client who has an existing identity, I educate them to understand the importance of a cohesive brand experience — usually through sharing improvements to, and further applications of, their current brand language1 rather than trying to find the right words.

These clients have very quickly come to appreciate the importance of us taking their whole brand into consideration, before jumping straight into “what they need”.

This is, interestingly, the way it always goes too. Never have I had a new client approach me who already had a brand that spoke volumes, always with a consistent style, tone, and message. If they did, I would have to challenge them on why they are only now turning to me, when they are quite obviously in complete control. Why would they want to jeopardise the strength of their brand by involving someone outside of the thinking to date? With the correct answer, I might choose to take them on as a client — but if they didn’t know why, I’d advise them to continue using whoever they had been using all along.

Whether it’s a brand’s main website, a private customer area, an app, a digital or physical banner, an exhibition space, business card, door sign, a sub-brand, a customer email, how staff converse, what is sent out in the post, or how the brand attracts new business, there always needs to be someone thinking at this elevated level. Even if it is not you who creates all of these elements, you should always make the effort to be aware of all of them, advise on them if you can, and offer your expertise while wearing their brand cap.

To sum up — as designers, we need to take on the responsibility of a client’s entire brand when accepting work. If you simply “do your bit” without thought into how it fits into the bigger picture, you’re doing yourself and your client an injustice.

1 Brand language is a term I use to encapsulate all…