“If we were meant to stay in one place, we’d have roots instead of feet, he said.”
A tagline quote that perfectly introduces the approach to life of nomadic designers, Kim and Sally, founders of independent design agency – Off Grid. The pair were inspired to set up their own company whilst walking by the canal during lunch breaks at their previous job in Manchester. In January, they’ll be celebrating a successful one-year anniversary of going it alone.
Off Grid is an example of the way Chester is currently blossoming with creative talent. Having grown up in the area, Kim and Sally have enthusiastically watched the city develop in terms of independent businesses. Now, they’re proud to have their own and seem to be living the freelance dream with a work ethic that’s inspirational in the frantic modern world.
We meet up to drink tea, toast the highs of freelance life, and discuss how getting outdoors is the best way to harness creativity.
What made you decide to go independent?
Kim: We worked together at a digital agency in Manchester. The company started moving away from the creative side. It felt like the right time for us to leave, but neither of us wanted to work for another agency. We worked together really well, so we thought ‘well, why don’t we start our own?’. We both like the outdoors, so we wanted to start a company where we could bring that into our lives, as well as working on projects we enjoy.
What does a typical day look like working remotely in the Off Grid ‘office’?
Sally: We both start the day with a walk – take the dogs out. We’ll quite often do a phone call while we’re walking, have a catch up and plan what we’ve got to do that day.
Kim: We start at the same time on Slack. We run it like a normal day in that we’ll start at the same time, both generally go for lunch at the same time and then we decide when to finish. It does help to have that structure.
Sally: We normally work on projects at the same time because we’re pair designing. So, we’re constantly reviewing what we’re doing, sharing ideas and sending screen shots.
Kim: And Friday afternoons are the exciting accounting days. I don’t know why, it’s always been Friday. When I can’t be creative anymore – I’ll just do something mundane (Laughs).
I’ve noticed your social media is full of photos of stunning landscapes and scenery – what’s that all about?
Kim: We like to remind ourselves to get outside instead of feeling like we have to sit at our desks on Photoshop all day.
Sally: We do walking meetings because it’s a lot easier to talk to people when you’re on the move.
Kim: Quite often we’ll plan a proposal while we’re walking and it takes away some of the pressure. Just the act of moving and being away from the computer – your brain works so much better.
Sally: Often, you feel like you’re being lazy if you take a break. But, if you take some time out, it makes such a difference. You’re much more productive.
What are the benefits of working together in this way?
Kim: Sometimes if we’re stuck, we’ll finish at about four o’clock. We’ll go outside, walk the dog and have a tea. And then we’ll spend a couple of hours in the evening instead. Giving ourselves that little bit of space, rather than sitting and getting nothing done just for the sake of being there until five o’clock.
Sally: It’s a benefit of working together because you can see when the other one is struggling. We’ll go and do something else and it really helps clear your mind, you can look at something with fresh eyes.
Kim: We’re getting good at being able to read each other.
Sally: We tend to panic at different stages .
What are you most proud of since starting Off Grid?
Kim: We did a project for Cheshire East on an international street art festival in Crewe called ‘Chalk It Up’. It was the biggest art festival they’ve had there, with artists from Mexico, America and Canada. We made the design look tactile with thumb prints and smudges. It was nice to see it all come together at the event. Everyone was wearing t-shirts with the branding on and the banners were everywhere. They made stencils and sprayed chalk paints on the floor.
Sally: The art was amazing and we had a lot of freedom on that project.
Sally: It was nice to work for the Cheshire Wildlife Trust as well. We did a campaign to save the meadows, with illustrations of all the animals, bugs and flowers that you find in the meadow. They were hand drawn.
Kim: There’s a few other projects coming up with them hopefully – it all relies on funding because they’re a charity.
Sally: They’re based on Bickley Hall Farm – you can walk around the meadows at the back and it’s gorgeous.
Where around Chester do you go to get outdoors?
Kim: We like Delamere Forest. I generally run around it and get lost! (laughs) That’s the fun of it and the adventure.
Sally: We went recently and walked up Pale Heights. It’s got a 360 view of Cheshire and you can see Liverpool on a good day. We also went to a shepherd’s hut to work from in the summer. It’s on the edge of Chester, in Wales.
Kim: They have a little writing desk – lots of creatives go there to have a bit of space. It’s amazing.
Sally: Lovely place to go for a walk. Although Betsy (Kim’s dog) rolled in fox poo.
Kim: She always rolls in fox poo.
Sally: And then tried to sit on my knee (laughs)
Kim: Another reason we set up our own company is so that we could have our dogs with us!
If you could go anywhere in the world as nomadic designers, where would you go?
Sally: I’d love to travel around New Zealand in a campervan.
Kim: I was going to say New Zealand. I’ve been reading a book about a girl who ran the length of New Zealand – I would absolutely love to do that. I also love Scandanavia.
Sally: We’re planning some Off Grid holidays, aren’t we?
Kim: Oh yeah!
If you won the lottery tomorrow, would you carry on what you’re doing, change jobs or stop working?
Sally: I think we’d carry on but travel while we were doing it. We’d be driving around in a campervan whilst working… or in a yacht!
Kim: We both really love the digital side and user experience. We’ve got quite a few ideas for things like apps in the back of our mind.
Sally: We also really want to illustrate a children’s book, so that’s probably what we’d do first.
Kim: We couldn’t just not work. That would drive you mad.
Finally, can I please meet your dogs?
Sally: Yeah definitely…
Betsy – young, excited about life. Knows exactly when it’s time for Kim to take a break from working. Likes: Rolling in fox poo.
Charlie – older and a bit grumpy (sometimes). Tolerates Betsy. Likes: Sitting under Sally’s desk while she works.