Ten Questions for – Algy Batten

Algy Batten is co-founder of consultancy Fivefootsix and has previously worked at studio Browns as well as Nokia and Unicef. As Fivefootsix marks its tenth anniversary, we caught up with Batten to talk about learning, ex-girlfriends and standing up to bullying clients.

Algy Batten

When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?

I spent a lot of time as a kid removing the labels and stickers from anything I owned; bikes, sports equipment, clothes etc. Sometimes if I couldn’t peel them off or unpick the stitching I’d colour them in so they were less visible. I think it must must have been about hating the idea of showing allegiance to any particular brand or trend, or something. At the time I didn’t associate this with design in particular, but looking back it may have suggested some relationship with design, although you could argue an odd one. But it was on art foundation that my ambition to become a jewellery designer was quickly replaced with wanting to become a graphic designer. With graphic design there was a far greater opportunity to communicate and I realised I had a lot to say.

What was your first job? 

I had millions of jobs as a kid from pork-pie factories, to building sites, to door to door selling. All contributing to a hard work ethic. But in design it was with Browns, just a few months after they formed. I’ve always been proud to say I was their first full-time employee, even though the experience almost killed me…

How would you describe what you currently do?

I’m learning. I’m learning to be less hands on, whilst contributing and directing where needed; whether creatively with the team or visionary with our clients. And I’m facilitating. Facilitating for the team at Fivefootsix to be able to do their best work. We have a great team here and a great culture, and it’s been hard to create that. And now we need to make sure we all have the right environment to be brilliant.

What has been the biggest change in design since you started?

Fuck. Technology, deliverables, time, budgets, value, expectations, processes, culture, the commoditisation of design, where do you start? The world is always changing on so many levels, and in this industry you have to embrace or adapt where necessary to stay relevant.

What is your favourite project, that you’ve worked on?

That’s a bit like asking who’s your best ex-girlfriend. So it’d feel weird to pick one. But it’s the current project that’s always the most important (and girlfriend too, Caroline, if you’re reading).

What is your favourite project, that you haven’t worked on?

Michelle Pfeiffer

What was your biggest mistake?

Not believing enough in Fivefootsix in the early days to have stood up to bullying clients that at the time I felt we needed for our future, but in hindsight we didn’t. Great work is better achieved when the respect between client and consultancy is mutual, and when the value of the project is mutually appreciated.

What is your greatest ambition?

To continue to build strong relationships with clients (old and new) and to continue to build on the amazing team we have. Get those two things right and we will continue to deliver better and better work for bigger results. Fivefootsix will never be a finished product. Wabi-sabi is a term I’ve recently become to appreciate.

Who is the most inspirational person you have worked with?

This is a bit like the girlfriend question again! But I have been lucky enough to work with some brilliant people. The three founding partners of Browns had a profound effect on my future, and probably nothing shaped me more than my first few years there. But in all honesty it’s the partnerships we’ve formed with some brilliant collaborators and clients at Fivefootsix that gives me the greatest stimulation.

What piece of advice would you give to people starting out in design?

Go at every opportunity with as much energy and passion that you can sum up without bursting and never ever stop asking questions. Oh and yes the detail really does matter…

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