We’ve won SME of the year in Brighton’s business awards! As one of our values is ‘share-learn, learn-share’, here’s an overview of some of the things we talked about in our entry.

Alex Higgs
Alex Higgs
2 weeks ago

We’re very lucky at Clearleft that our work and reputation often precedes us, but every now and then it’s nice to get recognition beyond our work on the way we approach business. When Carden’s Accountants put us forward for the Brighton and Hove Business Awards 2019, it seemed a nice opportunity to reflect on what makes Clearleft tick. We wanted to share this with you.

A bit of background

Since 2005 our purpose has been to advance the practice of design to transform organisations and people’s lives for the better. We’re a multi-disciplined team of designers, technologists and consultants with a worldwide reputation. Since 2005, we have helped over 100 clients in 5 continents embrace digital to become more efficient and competitive.

We use research, design and strategy to enable innovation, deliver products and services, build design capability and transform the design function of organisations. We were the first User Experience agency in the UK and have since grown to work with design leaders across a multitude of sectors including travel, education, healthcare, finance, government, retail and entertainment.

The events side of our business has inspired over 15,000 designers and leaders from across the globe in our London, New York and Brighton-based conferences, workshops and retreats.

Chris running a design sprint workshop in a large glass room at UX London
Chris and Jerlyn running a Design Sprint workshop at our 11th UX London conference

Challenges and change

Design is a serious, often significant investment taken from a capital expenditure budget. The more enlightened organisations are moving design out of cap-ex and into operational expenditure, but along with this comes a big challenge to design agencies – the emergence and growth of in-house design teams. Many of us are still used to a world where work is out there and we compete with other agencies to get it. Now those projects are being kept within the organisation, so, on the face of it at least, we’re also competing with in-house teams for work they might be better placed to do.

We believe that engaging an external agency is often the best approach to achieve effective (efficient) innovation, strategy and change, while in-house teams are best placed for ongoing business-as-usual iteration and improvement. Through our consultancy, we now work alongside emerging and established internal design teams to great mutual benefit.

Driven by a desire to improve and professionalise the design industry, we realised we were often supporting designers newly promoted into leadership positions. In response to this, we started our Leading Design Conference which has grown in a few short years to be a core part of our business, and a vibrant, supportive community in its own right.

A group of clearlefties sat at the board room table smiling
Some of the team at our Monday Morning Meeting

Making meaning

While turnover and profit are important, they are not our main drivers, the impact of the work we do is. We call this ‘meaningful work’ and we assess this as part of an annual staff survey.

The vast majority of our work is repeat business and referrals. This is not by accident, and not because we have a retainer-led business (quite the opposite). While we consider all of our work to be a partnership - we love what we do and we get emotionally invested in our clients’ products and services - we’re about transforming organisations so that, over time, they don’t need us any more.

At 30 people we’re modestly sized, and intentionally so, but we punch above our weight and often pitch alongside huge companies such as Deloitte and McKinsey, meaning we’ve been able to help many household names. We’re ambitious in this regard, but we’re always driven by our purpose of impacting businesses and people’s lives for the better, above any outright desire to maximise profit.

Consequently, we have loyal, motivated staff who love what they do and have the autonomy to do it in the best ways they see fit. We’re a local employer with an international reputation in our field, meaning we’ve invested in local talent, from taking on interns to continually developing our employees.

It’s also important for us to give back to the design and coding community, with our facilities at 68 Middle Street made available for free to grassroots meetups, and encourage staff to participate in and run community events for underrepresented groups, and lecture at universities and colleges.

Ben, Alis and Alex with Caraline Brown, Founder of the Brighton and Hove Business Awards

It was great to see past and current clients as finalists and winners in the audience. The event was a good moment to also reflect on how Brighton is now very much a destination for digital excellence and progressive business. As much as our clients and events span the globe, our HQ and hearts will always be here in Brighton.