This article was first published in Director Magazine, October 2001
Jim Northover and John Lloyd are partners in identity and design specialists Citigate Lloyd Northover. They have been business partners since 1975 and friends since 1965.
‘Our industry is not known for its great business partnerships. Many such alliances are marriages of convenience – a business brain combined with a creative guru is the typical model. But our partnership is a real merging of equals to create a business that is much more than the sum of its two parts.
We were friends before we were business partners, so the relationship can take a few knocks without falling apart. And after 36 years, it shows no signs of doing so.
We have a number of things in common – an interest in the arts, a belief in robust solutions, a scepticism of fads and fashions and woolly thinking and a pragmatic outlook on life. I think we both believe in the art of the possible: design ideas must become real and work if they are to be of any use in the world we inhabit.
The office environment is serious but relaxed – most of the time it’s pretty calm, with the occasional frenetic moment. The energy comes from exchanging ideas. Observing how a client organisation looks, feels and works is a key part of our work. Both John and I ask “what do our eyes tell us?” It’s very important to be able to articulate our thoughts out loud, as well as by writing and drawing. We take these skills for granted, but today not all designers are trained to work that way.
The business has moved ahead largely by consensus. The fact that we are still together has proved that you need to be quite resilient and tough at times. I believe creative tension can be good, but it should focus on resolving the creative solution without becoming personal.
John and I will disagree about things, more often in public than privately, but our differences are a debate rather than a conflict. We tend to know where the other is coming from, and make allowances for this.
A good partnership means you need to trust your opposite number implicitly. John is always civilised, consistent and committed to doing the best work.
Both of us trained as designers, but neither has had a day’s training in running a business. Everything I learned about running a business either came from my parents or from working alongside some brilliant CEOs over the years. Really inspired leaders are pretty rare, although there are many clever people out there. In my view, that’s not enough any more – we need really exceptional creative minds in business that are also equally at home with logical analysis.
It’s hard to think of any role models or heroes. I am content to find my own way in the world, drawing inspiration from wherever I find it. Different cultures are always a great inspiration for me. Working in Asia and America over the last ten years has helped me shed a parochial UK-centric view of the world. It puts a different spin on everything you do and, perhaps, has been the greatest reward of my career.
My next “life project” could be to transfer some of the things I’ve learned in the corporate world to help communities and places articulate their identities more clearly. I’m always looking for a bigger canvas to paint on.’
‘Jim and I met 36 years ago in 1965 as graphic design students at the London College of Printing. We became friends right away and soon started collaborating on freelance projects. We shared a love of typography, a passion for art and design and a belief in the social value of visual communication. We really though that we could, through design, make the world a better place. I think it is true to say that we still share that view.
Our lives have been remarkably similar. In the year that we founded the company we both got married. We both have three kids, our wives know and like each other and we still meet socially.
Our working relationship must be one of the most enduring in the design industry. The fact that we have been able to stay close friends through some very good and very difficult times has ensured the survival of the partnership. Our relationship is a bit like a marriage. I seem to know what is going on in Jim’s head and we often think of, say or do the same things at the same time. I tend to plant thoughts in Jim’s mind and leave them to grow there. If we do disagree, it’s usually over the details.
We are both relatively quiet people, both involved in the creative process and both work on client business. Latterly, though, Jim has focused a bit more on management and on our business in Asia and the US, while I have concentrated more on European clients.
Jim is much more last-minute then I am, particularly when it comes to presentations. I like to be ready well in advance. Of the two, I tend to be the more anxious one, trying to anticipate potential pitfalls while Jim just assumes that it will all work out fine.
In the early days we shared a desk and worked as a creative duo. Now, we have our own clients and fewer opportunities to work so closely together. But I still welcome Jim’s involvement in solving tricky problems. We have found that sparking ideas off each other is an efficient use of time that often produces unexpected solutions that we wouldn’t get in isolation – much of our best work has resulted from our creative chemistry.
We have always striven to find the very best solutions, regardless of who had the idea, and we still encourage teamwork today. A bit of creative friction is a good thing but should never be about personalities and individuals “owning” solutions.
Jim is a thoroughly decent person who treats everyone with good humour. He has never lost his belief in the value of what we do and I think his heroes are, like mine, the great masters of design such as Saul Bass and Paul Rand, who took corporate design into the boardrooms and made it a top management priority.
I think the next challenge for us is, as part of a wider communications group, to place corporate and brand identity at the heart of the communications mix. In our industry, you hear a lot about integration. But, so far, no-one has genuinely been able to deliver a seamless blend of public relations, advertising and corporate design. We have that opportunity and we are determined to go for it.’