2021 in the Design Engine studio

Wow what a year! Like so many other independent businesses, 2021 for Design Engine has been a real mixed bag of highs and lows. However, whilst writing this review I have to say that my overwhelming feeling is that I genuinely have so much to be thankful for.

We've worked on some amazing projects for equally amazing independent businesses, and I'm so proud of the results that we've helped our clients achieve. 


Moving back to Illustration
In the thick of lock down, brand photography for client projects quickly became very tricky to achieve. How do you illustrate events when there are no visitors? How do you show teams working together with all the rules of social distancing and face masks?

As one who enjoys a good challenge, I saw this as an opportunity to deliver an even more creative and unique solution to my clients. This was an opportunity to go back to my roots, pick up a good old pencil and dive headfirst into developing strategic brand illustration for my clients.

And I've been genuinely blown away by the response from clients, it's been nothing short of awesome! With their new brand illustrations working on websites and printed media clients have reported higher engagement, higher sales and tonnes of positive feedback from their customers too. 

Turning the dreaded Zoom into a blessing!
Before March 2020, I must admit I've never really warmed to Zoom or video meetings. I've always found them stilted and somewhat awkward. The truth is that I just preferred to meet my clients in person.

However, if there is one thing that the last two years have taught me, it's to embrace change. It's really the only way to go.  And as a small business, I was able to pivot quite easily, and use Zoom to an advantage in the end. 

We used to run website tutorials in person, often crowded around one laptop. With the introduction of Zoom we could share our screen with multiple viewers and run through how to update their sites. I honestly wasn't quite prepared for how much clients loved this! 

We would even record our meetings so clients could access the tutorials again and again, making the process of learning to update their site so much easier for them.

The introduction of website video tutorials 

Off the back of the Zoom success quickly came the development of video tutorials for website updates. We developed short videos running through how to update different sections of the site, in easy to digest, bitesize chunks. The feedback has been fantastic:

'Talk about a game changer! I used to feel so unsure about updating our website. But now, if in doubt, I simply refer back to the tutorials whenever I need to refresh my skills' 

'These video tutorials have been such as a valuable resource for new team members. They love that they can slot them around other tasks and learn about the site in small chunks' 


I believe there is always room for improvement in business. Every year I intentionally invest time in Design Engine to improve and refine processes.

Improved Client Experience
Throughout the year I've taken a deep dive into client journeys across all projects, asking my clients what was working and where we could improve to give them a better experience.

By listening hard to their feedback, I'm happy to say that we've refined a few areas in Design Engine for the better, some of which include:
- improving our onboarding process for a smoother start to projects for clients
- the introduction of website video tutorials to help clients update their websites with ease
- developing a file format guide to help clients easily choose the best logo file to use 

Streamlining Processes
We've also made some changes behind the scenes to ensure less time is spent running Design Engine and more time is spent on client work. 
- We introduced Xero after a recommendation from the wonderful Rona Kerr Accountants. Who new accounts could be so easy! 
- We started using Trello more consistently for larger projects, to help us stay ultra-organised when working within bigger teams where there are multiple client contacts 
- We changed our timekeeping software to Harvest for better time keeping accuracy and more accurate quoting

New Services
We've listened hard to the current challenges that clients are experiencing with branding and design in their business. In response, we've trialled several new services, testing them to make sure that they are spot on before we send them out into the big wide world in 2022. These include: 
- VIP Design Days 
- Brand Identity Toolkit
- Social Media Toolkit


Huge thanks this year go to:
- Our wonderful clients, old and new, who have chosen Design Engine to help them grow their businesses throughout 2021
- The Independent Business Community for support, dog-eared determination, and inspiration
- The Hexham and Northumberland Community. Throughout the last two years, we've witnessed the community of Hexham reach out and support each other like never before. Earlier in 2021 I was privileged to rebrand and develop a new website for Hexham Community Centre. I started the project fired up about how we could help them, and finished the project humbled by the kindness, determination and care shown by their team. Clare Mwande, and her team of volunteers are heroes. 

A special shout out to my kids
These little guys (or not so little as the case may be for my oldest) continue to blow me away. In the face of uncertainty with so many things to try to understand, their amazing ability to smile and find the best in life inspires me daily.  


2022 has got off to a crackin' start at Design Engine. We're already in the thick of some exciting projects, and we're taking bookings for even more, including two more illustration-based ones! Our overall aim this year is to continue to provide design that helps our clients to stand out and be seen by their dream clients.

We can't ignore a definite shift in energy in the Independent Business Community too. Everywhere business owners seem fired up and ready to kick 2022's butt - we can't wait!


Here's to wishing you a happy and prosperous 2022,