Maven Design is a small graphic design agency based in North London. They provide graphic design through branding, corporate literature, digital media and print. Founding partners Uri and Alex have 25 years of combined industry experience and consider themselves to be ‘designers who deliver’.  They met in 2006 through a mutual friend, and in 2008, after discovering that between them they had a strong skill set, Maven was born.

Inspired to ‘go it alone’ by a desire for their own freedom – to work for themselves and be responsible for their own work – they have now been going strong with year on year growth for the last five years.

1. What have been your key milestones and how have you celebrated them?
AA
Winning our first big digital project. We won a site for a complex organisation, it was a big learning curve for us. We were working with new technology and a new client; applying our design skills and developing a strategy to make the site work. It was challenging and highly rewarding. Seeing the client work with their new site and update it themselves was also hugely rewarding – seeing your work in action is great.
UB
Reconciling the bank accounts every month is a milestone for us. When it all works out and you know you’ve done all the paperwork and you’re not behind; I feel that’s a milestone. It means the accounts are in shape and we can get on with design work.
AA
We also do a quarterly financial synopsis and it’s always been better than the quarter before for us. Our growth has been small and steady. It’s a milestone each year to see that we are making progress. As long as we’ve got a mix of good clients both financially and creatively – at any given time – we deem ourselves successful.
UB
The celebrations tend to be food related. For small wins – it might just be a KitKat … for those big successes – we might splash out on a three-course meal.

2. Have you had any setbacks or disappointments along the way and what have you learnt from them?
AA
Any job we’re not getting is a setback. We had a really good lead a couple of months ago that was going really well and in the end we lost out to another company who was prepared to do provisional work for free. It was a fairly substantial contract. When you put time into trying to get a job and think you’ve done what it takes but you don’t win it, that’s the most disappointing thing.
UB
We have learnt that downtimes are the time to spend on the business. We’re motivated by helping other people and their businesses but sometimes neglect our own, so any quiet times are an opportunity to do business development work.

3. Have you taken any chances or risks that you feel have really paid off?
AA
A big risk for a start-up is not knowing that there will be work. I was younger when we set up so it was easier to take that risk. Even once you’ve decided to make the leap, there’s still that on-going sense that your livelihood is in your own hands for good or bad.
UB
On a day-to-day level, there are basic risks involved when you have to estimate what to charge for a job. Sometimes you simply don’t know how the job is going to play out, but with experience you generally get it right and it pays off.
UB
Some jobs today require us to work with third parties. We take a calculated risk when we tell a client we can deliver a whole website for example, even though we rely on other people to deliver certain technical elements, such as a complicated database or ecommerce work. We have to trust them to pull it off against what we’ve promised the client.
When we pitch or meet a new client there’s risk. But, when a prospective client relationship clicks and our ideas meet their objectives, that’s a real gem of a moment. You see it in their face, they get it and they’re totally engaged. You’re working in partnership and it’s what we work for.
AA
There are certain jobs where everything just falls into place and it feels right. You do a creative job for the client, they’re delighted and they want to carry on working with you and build the relationship further. That’s the pay off.

4. Tell us about your work life balance?
AA
I leave here at around 6.30pm to be home for the kids. That’s switching off for me – I don’t have time to think about anything else when I’m with them messing about at bath time or reading bedtime stories. Once it’s done though you’re always thinking about the day-to-day stuff – I might check my emails or spend some time looking at design resource sites.
UB
As a designer there’s really no such thing as work life balance. You’re always looking at things and being inspired by ideas that might influence what you’re doing creatively. When it feels like there are a huge number of things to do then it can feel overwhelming but when you break it down into a list and you separate tasks out and cross them off, it becomes more manageable. I’m a big fan of lists.
AA
My wife is really supportive but I still feel the pressure to ‘provide’. I care about work more now I have my own business because it’s more personal for me – it’s our reputation to build.

5. Where have you taken inspiration from?
AA
We are inspired by being in control and having our own freedom – to work for ourselves and be responsible, and not have someone looking over our shoulders all the time. Most people who start their own businesses have a sense that they don’t want a boss. We were able to take the opportunity and it made sense for us to move from doing it for someone else to doing it for ourselves.
UB
Maven is an English word that comes from Yiddish. The route of the word maven is ‘understanding’, and for us as designers it’s all about coming to understand our clients and providing them with solutions that fit their needs.