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Charlee Sully, Creative Director & Founder, The Usual Studio

4 min, 16 sec read
10:00 AM | 25 March 2016
by Adam Oldfield
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Charlee Sully is behind The Usual Studio, a graphic design studio based out of Coventry, England. Charlee established the studio to work with clients in fashion, retail and the arts who had a like minded approach to design.

Nine years on Charlee has worked on designing fashion magazines and look books, a CD for Grammy Award winning singer Kate Nash, rebranded a top milliner, created visual identities for ironmongers, schools, street food emporiums and a restaurant among others.

Describe your career path up to now

I worked in-house as a junior designer for an IT firm while I was at University, after graduation I spent two years at a small design studio, before starting The Usual Studio nine years ago.

"Keep learning, drawing, reading, practicing your skills..."

I’ve also taken on a few side-roles alongside running the business: for two years I was the Digital Director for The Industry an exclusive fashion members club, I’ve been a 'culture gatherer' for Australian global culture site Lost at E Minor and I was an organiser for the Warwick Rocks Food and Film Festival, which attracted over 10,000 people and won us an award for our work.

What pushed you to establish your own studio?

I’m fascinated by the richly visual language in society today, I wanted to create a design company which was part of that wave of innovation and creativity. So I set up the studio with the plan to create my ‘ideal' place to work; somewhere  with the freedom to work across multiple disciplines, experiment, learn new things and explore ideas.

"I set up the studio with the plan to create my ‘ideal' place to work."

I set out to collaborate with like minded, design-savvy clients who appreciate creativity and the benefits it can bring. I also wanted to take charge of my career, shape its progress myself and get better work-life flexibility.

What does your typical day look like?

It's a good mix of creative and business tasks, the earlier part of my day is usually spent doing creative tasks; working on brand identities, designing websites or doing layouts for one of the magazines the studio regularly designs.

I do a lot of writing; for the studio's blog, putting together proposals, speaking with clients and joining in with discussions online. When I have time I like to read, especially anything related to design, tech, business, fashion, arts and retail.

How do you approach a fresh brief?

Ask insightful questions about the clients business and plans, listen carefully to the answers, usually one or two phrases will plant the seed of an idea. Then research, sketch ideas, working up the best ones on screen to present.

"Ask insightful questions about the clients business and plans, listen carefully to the answers."

I'm keen to build collaborative partnerships with clients so they feel part of the design process and have a sense of ownership over the final outcome. I encourage clients to consider alternatives to what they’ve asked for in the brief too.

Any tips for designers that are thinking about going freelance or setting up their own studio?

It's not an easy route to take but it does have lots of benefits if you can find your niche and have the right skills. Get some experience in a studio or agency first, learn as much as you can, save up a good cash buffer, start talking to people about your plans to help you formulate your business idea or freelance offering. Give it a go and see what happens.

What’s been your most fulfilling project to date?

There’s two recent stand out projects; designing mens fashion magazine Candid was a real highlight last year, seeing the edition land in newsagents, fashion boutiques and being sold internationally was a proud moment.

"Seeing the studio’s work on outdoor cinema screens in front of thousands of people."

The other would be the Warwick Rocks Food and Film Festival in 2013, where we designed the whole visual identify, marketing materials, screen graphics, newsletter and merchandise. Seeing the studio’s work on outdoor cinema screens in front of thousands of people was a pinch yourself moment.

I’m excited to see our designs moving on from the screen or paper, and into physical spaces much more in the future,  whether that’s for restaurants, festivals, fashion shows, theatre nights or commercial spaces.

Any other tips or tricks for aspiring designers?

Keep learning, drawing, reading, practicing your skills and find an outlet for your creativity; that might be starting your own company or working for someone else. Always choose to do self-initiated projects over working for free or a low fee.

Lastly if you could share a desk with anyone from the past, present or future, who would it be?

It would have to be a quadrangle set of desks which I would love to share with: artist Jean Julien so I can see his process and persuade him to work on another edition of ‘Hoot Owl’ (genius children’s book), legendary artist James Jean and designer/Illustrator Mike Perry - who creates amazingly colourful, joyful designs.

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