jim sutherland (hat trick design) interview
jim sutherland (hat trick design) interview jim sutherland (hat trick design) interview
apr 22, 2013

jim sutherland (hat trick design) interview

type(chess)set – limited edition typographic set



designboom talks (DB) to hat-trick design‘s co-founder jim sutherland (JS) about his studio’s work, personal projects and recent developments in branding.


DB: please could you tell us briefly about the evolution of hat-trick design?JS: I was lucky enough to meet gareth howat (the other creative director at hat-trick) at the partners in 1988. we have been friends ever since. after working there for 6 / 8 years respectively, we then worked at a number of other agencies before getting back together to form hat-trick in 2001. we set up with no clients or money and built it up from there. gareth and I work in a very collaborative way on every project, so all projects are jointed art directed. it’s an unusual way to work but we find the projects are better for both of us inputting on everything.



DECK – typographic playing cards



DB: which have been your most significant and satisfying projects to date?JS: we have been fortunate to work with some amazing clients over the last 12 years. winning the natural history museum branding, the salvation army signage project and leading the land securities roster were probably the three most important, formative, moments I think. working on stamps for the royal mail is still a privilege and we’ve been fortunate enough to do over 50 now.


on a more personal level, one of the most rewarding projects was a book about my dad’s garage, with my daughter.



garage book – personal project






DB: what is the attraction of identity design for you?JS: I think it’s the scale and relative permanence combined with the challenge of trying to sum up an organisation as succinctly as possible.  the most rewarding projects are the hardest ones to crack. you can really get under the skin of an organisation which is fascinating.


DB: what mistakes or ‘traps’ should a young designer avoid when working on a branding project?JS: try and make sure an identity has enough flex – consistency is obviously key in identity work, but creating something that has life and variation over time is equally important.




pencils set





DB: do you think it’s important for a graphic designer to be able to draw?JS: I think it’s different for different people. for me the physical act of drawing, writing, or cutting out bits of paper is key to getting my brain engaged. I cannot talk about work without a pencil in my hand. my drawing is terrible, but it’s a way of formulating and developing ideas.



art in miniature – an exhibition of stamps around london as part of the london design festival



art in miniature  – framed postage stamps



remembrance day postage stamp



royal shakespeare company postage stamps



DB: the work you produce is quite diverse, what are your thoughts on specialisation vs generalisation?JS: I think we produce better work when we work across different disciplines and sectors. I think if you specialise you start to produce work to a formula. we get bored very easily, so new ideas and challenges keep us enjoying it.


DB: are you conscious not to develop a specific house style?JS: we try not to, but that’s not for us to say.I like trying to produce work that surprises me.



cardinal cafe brand identity and environmental graphics






horniman museum brand identity – pamphlets




horniman museum brand identity – signage




prostate cancer UK identity – office environmental graphics



prostate cancer UK identity – pamphlets



DB: what do you think the most significant developments in identity design have been in the last few years?JS: I think identity work has become much more flexible and less rigid, which is all good. the side of it I don’t like is the jargon-filled nonsense that goes along with a lot of it. we should all avoid brand worlds and brand onions.




typographic landart for ebsfleet valley advertising campaign



natural history museum – school guide




DB: how do you think the popularity of online design resources has influenced design being produced today?JS: there are amazing resources out there. you can find references to great work from around the world which is inspiring and can creatively feed you. my only worry is that you can end up consuming rather than doing. create things rather than just curate them. do work that can appear on blogs rather than look at work by other people. ‘doing’ is key.



jim sutherland – creative director



DB: what lessons have you learned from a project that has changed your outlook on life?JS: we were lucky enough to work on an amazing project for the british heart foundation about children coping with bereavement. it was one of those projects that confirmed that design has the power and ability to make a positive difference. we should all be producing work that inspires, engages, entertains, and helps people – things that change things for the better. we are in a privileged position and we should make the most of it.

DB: what is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?JS: a few things things spring to mind: do good work and everything else will follow – focus on the things you’re good at.enjoy yourself and it will show in your work and you’ll have a nicer time. be yourself. show some the energy and enthusiasm you have in the studio to the client. be honest and tell clients what you think.


DB: what is the worst piece of advice you have ever been given?JS: that’s hard to say… I feel all the advice you get affects how you are, and how you develop and learn. I ask for a lot of advice and try to just keep hold of the parts that help me.

    have something to add? share your thoughts in our comments section below.
    all comments are reviewed for the purposes of moderation before publishing.

    comments policy
    LOG IN
    designboom's comment policy guidelines
    generally speaking, if we publish something, it's because we're genuinely interested in the subject. we hope you'll share this interest and if you know even more about it, please share! our goal in the discussion threads is to have good conversation and we prefer constructive opinions. we and our readers have fun with entertaining ones. designboom welcomes alerts about typos, incorrect names, and the like.
    the correction is at the discretion of the post editor and may not happen immediately.

    what if you disagree with what we or another commenter has to say?
    let's hear it! but please understand that offensive, inappropriate, or just plain annoying comments may be deleted or shortened.

    - please do not make racist, sexist, anti-semitic, homophobic or otherwise offensive comments.
    - please don't personally insult the writers or your fellow commenters.
    - please avoid using offensive words, replacing a few letters with asterisks is not a valid workaround.
    - please don't include your website or e-mail address in your comments for the purpose of self-promotion.
    - please respect jury verdicts and do not discuss offensively on the competition results
    (there is only one fist prize, and designboom usually asks renown professionals to help us to promote talent.
    in addition to the awarded designs, we do feel that almost all deserve our attention, that is why we publish
    the best 100-200 entries too.)

    a link is allowed in comments as long as they add value in the form of information, images, humor, etc. (links to the front page of your personal blog or website are not okay). unwelcome links (to commercial products or services of others, offensive material etc. ) will be redacted. and, ... yes, spam gets banned. no, we do not post fake comments.


    a diverse digital database that acts as a valuable guide in gaining insight and information about a product directly from the manufacturer, and serves as a rich reference point in developing a project or scheme.

    design news

    keep up with our daily and weekly stories
    493,013 subscribers
    - see sample
    - see sample