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5 Lessons of 2021

ShopTalk Creative Director & Co-Founder, James Wood, reflects on what he’s learnt returning to the office, balancing studio time and remote working.
Last week I shared my thoughts with Creative Boom on what I thought were the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the last 12 months and what I will be doing differently in 2022. It was interesting to read the thoughts from other industry leaders on the subject. I always try to note things down towards the end of the year but these days it seems even more important to do so — as I write this, the COVID pandemic has shifted once again. Here are the 5 things that stood out to me:
1. Structure is vitally important
We pride our design service on efficiency and delivery (it even makes an appearance in Our Approach), but it wasn’t until we started to balance our time in the studio and remote working (we do 2 days in the studio and 3 days remote per week) I quite realised how important structure is for a creative agency.
Balancing remote working and studio time requires top notch creative processes and organisation. From our daily stand ups, to presentation proofing methods, to capturing client feedback – all these elements are rooted in structure. We introduced a number of these processes during the early lockdowns, but they are now part of our daily routines.
Ultimately structure allows you to spend more time on design and creative work, reducing time that’s often lost finding, understanding and delivering internal requests. Structure keeps our teams connected in and out of the studio, and we will continue to look at innovative ways to bring structure and creativity into our studio in 2022.
2. Celebrate the unsung heroes
Rightly so the focus for most design agencies is on design output, but one thing I’ve noticed this year above all others is that to do this well there are certain people that are needed behind the scenes (so to speak). As a designer by trade, I’ve always leaned on the design first approach, but the last 12 months demonstrated that if you have a strong way of working and culture that isn’t solely driven by design, it can in fact breed better creativity. It’s often the smaller things – the person that goes above and beyond to proof a presentation or the person that organises the latest template structure – that make a big impact.
We recently introduced a company initiative we call ShopSpot that celebrates these small, unsung moments and those who go above and beyond to help keep the wheels moving forward.
3. Getting to know people is good for business 
Despite the virtual beers, team quizzes and cake deliveries nothing beats a conversation with the person next to you. The quick pint after work or the time spent deciding what lunch street food stall to visit – it’s in these small moments away from a computer screen that you uncover someone’s passion. An odd album cover they love, a niche design software they use or an exhibition they visited on the weekend. Relying on a computer screen to recreate these moments when working remotely never quite matches up. People miss out. You miss out.
Since partly returning to the studio our work has become more interesting and varied. Ideas are more exciting. There is a natural energy that human contact brings. I for one will be continuing to get to know my team better next year, hopefully uncovering new passions and concepts that feed into everything we do here at ShopTalk.
4. The art of conversation
I’m not going to lie our first ‘in person’ team meetings were awkward. No one knew where to look. Where was the screen to stare at? Looking people in the eye felt like a distant memory. Thankfully once this was out of the way we soon realised the importance of a physical creative meeting. It creates better ideas and better solutions. It creates more topics of conversation. It involves everyone in the room. People must focus. People must contribute.
Whilst we embrace the role of remote working moving forward there’s no denying that we’ve enjoyed returning to the studio and with that, the energy and enthusiasm that talking about ideas and creative in person has generated. Hopefully 2022 will bring more meetings in person.
5. Everyone is human after all 
One of the most surprising observations to come from the first year of COVID was how many of our relationships with our clients improved that year. We had been welcomed into people’s homes. The curtain had been removed. We got to see their walls, their pets, their children, their new-born babies. Despite the lack of physical interaction, it brought an honesty and openness to many of those conversations.
Thankfully this has continued in 2021. Relationships are still at the heart of communication and when this translates to our client relationships, it naturally improves our work. Our team has also enjoyed meeting clients more, getting to know them, talking with them. They feel more involved and part of the project. Before COVID there was always a tendency on both sides to keep some guarded distance, but now it’s much more open, more honest. People working together to produce the best work – as it should be.
Read James’ contribution and others on Creative Boom
James Wood
Co-Founder & Creative Director