A tale of discovery and redemption in India is not your average myth of origin for a design group, but then The Nest comprises designers with a slightly different agenda. Located in a newly purchased and renovated ex-silversmith workshop, the 18-odd-people team prides itself in creating an assortment of branding, packaging and marketing jobs that ‘aim to make the world a better place’.
This virtuosity might sound banal marketing talk to cynics, but it has valid roots in an Indian experience. While Alex Willcock was creative director at Conran & Partners he decided to investigate the group’s supply chain. ‘I encouraged the business as a whole to explore its ethical trading issues,’ explains Willcock. ‘We conducted a very thorough investigation checking all our suppliers and their subcontractors. At one point we realised that we were, indirectly, employing children.’ At the time the shock of the news hit him hard, yet Willcock today acknowledges the difficulty for any company to have a grip on its supply chain abroad, since most of the work gets subcontracted. While the immediate reaction was to pull out completely, Willcock eventually decided to help the community there and set up a school to educate the working children. A sustainable model, it was built with help from the Prince of Wales Leaders Forum and funded by Conran & Partners, its suppliers and agents.
Willcock recalls his first visit to the school as a life-changing moment. ‘There were 60 kids who just eight weeks ago had been working 14 hours a day. I saw what could be achieved by being determined to do something. ‘When Willcock returned to the UK, he gave in his notice to Terence Conran. The following six-month notice period was fraught with communication problems. ‘He didn’t understand,’ says Willcock. ‘He thought I had other motives. It was very difficult.’
Willcock left in 1999 with Russell Pinch and Rachel Marshall from Conran & Partners and set up The Nest. ‘We wanted to create a brand development group that would bring together commercial knowledge with talent, and encourage people to think differently. Along with the brief, we always offer something off brief to the client. A few of those ideas are eventually adopted. So a bit of the innovative stuff always filters into the work,’ he says.
When discussing The Nest’s composition, Willcock is equally idealistic. ‘Everyone inputs in creative decisions, it’s a flat structure and we have a zero staff turnover rate,’ says Willcock. I would say that 40 per cent of our clients fall in line with our initial philosophy. For example, the company Trucost has developed an environmentally sustainable index, which interrogates and betters companies’ sustainability records.’ Other clients belong more to the bread and butter variety, and include the licensing of the Roald Dahl merchandising, the Eden Project, First Great Western trains and a visual style guide of marketing concepts for the re-launch of Concorde for British Airways. A recent appointment to work with Cadbury’s brand Milk Tray on pack design and a secretive venture with a luxury UK brand is on its way.
Last month, The Nest joined forces with Ian Logan Design Company (DW 20 September). Again, an unlikely story of family and locality seem to have played a part in this. Willcock’s wife, Charlie Kinsman, art director at The Nest, is the daughter of furniture entrepreneur Rodney Kinsman, who not only owns a building up the road from The Nest in London’s Clerkenwell, but is also an old college friend of Logan’s, another Clerkenwell resident. ‘We knew that Logan really wanted to get back into a broader scope of design discipline and also wind down the day-to-day operational hassle of running his own company,’ says Willcock. ‘But he didn’t want to suddenly stop and do nothing. He wanted to continue his involvement in design.’ Willcock calls it a ‘perfect match’. Asked what The Nest gets out of this deal Willcock replies, ‘Logan brings his company and himself. This means a great deal of experience, fantastic contacts and the real ability to talk with people and generate business. His company brings some key experienced staff, a historical collection of work and key rosters (such as Tesco and Boots the Chemists). There is no doubt that The Nest will benefit from this mix, combining worthiness with commercial values, and democracy with the respect for the previous design generation.