Designing a creative co-op

After eight years toiling away in London for design agencies Ben Philp was, to put it bluntly, “fed up”. Multi-tiered chains of command, a lack of ethics and long hours for limited reward had all taken their toll.

“It was pretty soul-destroying stuff,” said Ben. “Sometimes you might have to change a logo simply because the CEO’s partner didn’t like it. I really didn’t like the hierarchy of agencies. Project managers often didn’t care. It was about maximising profit – what the project manager wanted, not the best solution for the client. I was fed up with that way of work.”

Ben struck out on his own before a chance encounter led to some joint-working with Creative Coop and an invitation to join the Colchester-based design studio followed. It proved mutually beneficial.

“We know we’re building something for ourselves and not one wealthy owner or shareholders. Generally, I find people in co-ops more driven – and as a member of the co-op you’re involved in the decision-making.” said Ben

Established in 2003, Creative Coop is a design studio which specialises in branding, design and web development. Ben is one of a small team of four – though the co-op utilises a network of associates and freelancers. The design studio’s ethical standpoint is clear in its client base of social enterprises, community organisations,co-ops, charities and public sector bodies.

Working with organisations like Save the Children and a range of co-ops has proven far more rewarding. Ben said: “In the past, having to create campaigns for organisations you knew were involved in things like the destruction of rainforests was pretty soul destroying.

“Here we’re proud of what our clients are trying to achieve. And when what they want isn’t necessarily the best solution for them we’ll turn work down. For example, we won’t just go and create an app if it’s not going to be the best suited to the clients needs – evenif initially that’s what they believe they need and would be more profitable for us.”

Client choice and honest appraisal of their needs has proven its worth, even with the impact of COVID-19. Ben said: “In other sectors I have heard a number or organisations have gone bust, or not paid the design agency. That’s not been the case for us, but we have lost work. In the first week of isolation maybe 70 or 80 per cent of our work we had booked in was wiped out. Some of that work won’t come back.

"Our model of business has made us really resilient. There’s a shared responsibility and one individual isn’t taking all the funds out. Money goes back into the co-op regardless.”

The co-op model is also resilient in other ways. Ben said: “You tend to attract more ethically minded people – and they’re more likely to stay. As an owner you are willing to go that extra mile, but you also get out what you put in. It’s different for traditional companies. I have seen a fair few design agencies go under when someone key leaves, including some of the most successful design agencies.”

Expanding Creative Coop’s membership is something Ben is keen to explore when something approaching normality returns. He added: “For me personally it’ll be nice to give something back – not only by helping clients make a positive social difference, but also to give others in our industry the chance to appreciate the benefits of working in a model like ours, with a great range of clients that care.”


Creative Co-op designed our colourful Proud to be a Co-op and A Co-operative World posters, which you can download for free.

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