Creative thinking in recessionary times
Inside Track Q&A: John Sherwin, managing director of Roomthree Design
John Sherwin: “I find it hard to really admire business people that are too far removed from my own reality.”
Roomthree Design is a Dublin-based visual communications company founded in 1999 and employing six staff. The company works with clients to design and develop websites, develop brand identities and to produce marketing and promotional printed literature.
What sets your business apart from the competition? There are lots of very similar companies out there. I think we compete well with them because we take a real interest in the clients’ projects and try to give good advice about what we feel they need, which is not always what they initially asked for. Often clients have a fixed idea of what they want but, during discussion, it can become clear that there may be a better way of reaching their objective.
What is the best piece of business advice you have ever received? I received some great business advice from Lynne Elvins of Design Wales, at a Universal Design awards ceremony in Dublin. She said: “Being a great designer is not enough – you have to be a great communicator.” This is so true.
If I could change one thing about design school I would teach students how to communicate the value of their work and how to listen to clients.
What’s the biggest mistake you have ever made in business? I have been self-employed since I left college and that has involved a lot of learning by making mistakes. Thankfully none of them could be described as big – maybe the big one is still in the post.
And your major success to date? This may sound like a cliche, but I genuinely think it has been simply surviving the recession. A lot of very talented people I know have had a very rough time. We’ve had to work hard to give value to clients for every project. We have done a lot of work for the Defence Forces over the past few years on rebranding and developing their websites, including the military archives. Our online work for them was awarded Best Government Website at the Web Awards 2012.
Who do you most admire in business? I find it hard to really admire business people that are too far removed from my own reality. I am more inspired by something that is a little closer to home. It’s easy to be impressed by the big names like Steve Jobs but, in terms of being inspired, the people who inspire me the most are individuals who have overcome difficulties and made the most of their situation.
Mark Pollock springs to mind, blind from age 20 and recently paralysed in an accident. He runs a successful business as a motivational speaker and is pushing the boundaries of spinal cord injury research.
Equally, Joanne O’Riordan from Cork, born with no limbs and absolutely going places. They both inspire me to try to be the best I can.
Based on your experience in the downturn, are the banks in Ireland open for business to SMEs? We needed support from Bank of Ireland at the start of the downturn and they were very helpful and interested in our business. We have been with them since 2000. We haven’t needed bank support over the past five years so I can only say our past experience has been very good.
What one piece of advice would you give the Government to help stimulate the economy? Invest in design – capitalise on our natural culture of creativity – we are famous for it throughout the world. Next year is the State-sponsored “Year of Irish Design 2015” and I think it will stimulate a lot of debate about the value of the Irish design industry at a national and international level.
It will be an opportunity for the sector to put its best foot forward and prove how Irish design can help stimulate the economy.
What’s been the biggest challenge you have had to face? Conducting business in a recession has been a challenge. All our clients have demanded more for less. In many ways, this has brought about a more creative approach to design solutions. We’ve also had our fair share of luck. We reduced in size at the right time and now we are hiring again.
How do you see the short-term future for your business? The short-term future is looking good. We are winning contracts in new sectors, are busy and looking to add to our staff.
Currently we are developing college websites for DIT, producing an online literacy learning tool for senior infants for the Tallaght West Children’s Initiative. We have just won a contract with the Irish Banking Federation and are working with Bord na Móna on its new website and on the Lough Boora Discovery Park.
What is your business worth and would you sell it? I have no idea if it is worth anything at all! A design company’s value is in its people and I think that is hard to sell. Would I sell if I could? I don’t think so, not yet anyway. roomthree.com In conversation with Ruth O’Connor