Wild Geese: Niall O’Kelly, founder of O’Kelly Design and senior designer at User Intelligence in the Netherlands
A DIT graduate is running a design studio in New York and also operating in the Netherlands
Niall O’Kelly: still maintaining his New York company, but hopes experience in a Dutch studio will open more doors. Photograph: Irish Business Organisation of New York
June 2009 could have been an extremely difficult month for Limerick native Niall O’Kelly. The New York-based design company where he worked as a senior designer lost its main two retainer clients and with that O’Kelly was out of a job.
The day after being told the news, he decided to set up his own business – O’Kelly Design – and four years on it has amassed a slew of awards for work done for major companies including Lily O’Brien’s Chocolates, MindGames, ISPP and New York University.
O’Kelly completed a four-year BA in Visual Communications at Dublin Institute of Technology before going on to work for Dublin-based XMI Design, then one of Ireland’s leading branding and print design studios, for several years. Whilst there, he worked with clients including Bank of Ireland, GlaxosmithKline, Nestlé, Treasury Holdings and Ireland West Airport Knock.
He moved to New York in December 2006, and initially worked for Empire Design on movie posters and campaigns before taking a position at MSDS in Soho, which specialises in website design and branding for nonprofit, financial services and technology companies.
After being told he was out of work in June 2009, he set up his own business in the New York suburb of Brooklyn.
“It’s a lot easier to meet decision makers in NYC than Europe. Within a few weeks of setting up my company I had a meeting with a large union in New York. They were doing a whole campaign around Obamacare and so I did the campaign and websites for them.”
His former employer MSDS also helped him out with work, sending projects which were too small for them his way.
“The smaller projects were often for start-up companies, but these ultimately ended up being much larger projects for me as the companies grew very big very quickly.”
O’Kelly also got involved in the Irish Business Organisation of New York (IBO) where he sat on the board. That led to more work and clients including Lily O’Brien’s Chocolate Café. O’Kelly’s fellow IBO member Lily O’Brien’s Chocolate Café owner Cathal Queally commissioned him to design signage and a website for the chocolatier’s Bryant Park café.
Over the next few years, O’Kelly added to his client portfolio, doing work for companies and nonprofits including Goal, CARE International, New York University and Mindsports Football.
“It was very hard work trying to get work. There were many proposals and pitches I did that never saw the light of day. You could spend days preparing a pitch for a tender and then never get it. You have to move on though. There’s not much point dwelling on it. It’s part of the process and you have to plan for that.”