Pemberton & Whitefoord is a design consultancy based on Marylebone’s Ivor Place. We sat down with cofounder Adrian Whitefoord, who has been based in the area for over 25 years, to talk design, business and Marylebone.
Tell us about your background and how you started the business
We started the business in 1987, so we’ve been around for a while! I met my partner Simon Pemberton at college in Maidstone, we shared a flat together and formed the company after working for a couple of different agencies each. We’d always talked about starting an agency from our college days.
In the early days we did a lot of print and brochure work, but we started to move more towards branding and packaging. Looking back, that wasn’t a considered decision, it was the way the work drove us. What we like to try and preach is that we’re not just focused on the packaging side of things – it’s really everything that supports a brand and the most exciting part is having the diversity of work within each relationship with a client.
How did you win your first big client?
We were a two man band when we set up and we’re now an agency of about 20 staff. I suppose this is our comfort zone – we’re both trained as designers and don’t want to just be business managers, we want to still be involved with the design process.
We were lucky to win a couple of core clients very early on, one of which is Tesco who are our biggest client and then also Marks and Spencer who were a three minute walk from our office on Baker Street. Nowadays I don’t think we would have been perceived as big enough hitters to have won that kind of work, but I think we’re very honest about what we do and that helped, as well as the fact that we were nearby at the time and on tap for them.
Have you won any awards?
We were actually having a count the other day – we thought we’d won 82, but it turns out we’ve actually won 108 awards over the years!
The thing about awards is they’re always nice to win and they look great, but from my point of view if you win an award it’s not just so you can pat yourself on the back, but it’s more that you’ve done right by your client. Hopefully I think that’s why we build longstanding relationships with clients.
What’s the hardest part about running a creative business?
I think trying to keep that consistency of quality and thinking about where you’re going to be in the future. We try not just accept briefs but challenge them, think about trends and look to help our clients stay ahead of the game. Retail is moving at quite a pace, so we have to make sure we’re in tune with everything that’s going on. It’s not like learning a craft that then stands still – it’s definitely ever changing.
Has digital changed things?
Massively – when we started Simon and I had a couple of drawing boards each and some magic markers. Without sounding like a Monty Python sketch, that’s all we had! If you were working a piece of typography, you would be hand drawing it – it was a complete different world. Lot’s of industries have shifted, but design in particular used to be very craft based – now it’s a very technological business. We’ve gone from magic markers to the highest spec Mac’s. We have to accept that evolution, but also not lose sight of the reasons we went into the industry to begin with. It’s a constant challenge.
Have you always been based in Marylebone?
We’ve always been around this area from the start. Initially we were renting a small room on Gloucester Place and then we moved to Plympton Street just on the other side of Marylebone Station before moving here on Ivor Place where we’ve been for a number of years. It’s a great from a commuting point of view and you can be in the hustle and bustle of London and in Regent’s Park in equal measures. I think we’re very fortunate to be between the two and we’ve never really had aspirations to move – our office is eccentric as a space as it’s on 3 floors and more of a residential property, but it generates a nice spirit.
How have you seen Marylebone change over the last few years?
I think it’s changed from being an area that’s a little bit nondescript to being one of the nicest areas in London. Traversing Marylebone High Street looking at great shops and restaurants, there’s a great atmosphere but it can also be so quiet and peaceful here.
Things have certainly changed, but I think there will always be room for both the high end and the more quirky, independent shops. There will always be an Alfie’s Market at one end and a Conran Shop at the other!
Do you spend much time around Marylebone? Any favourites?
The Seashell Restaurant is probably the best fish and chip restaurant in the world! And if I have a spare 45 minutes over lunch I always like to wonder down Marylebone High Street. There’s always something interesting to see, some great shops and restaurants – I’m always sucked into The Conran Shop, I can’t resist that one! And The Orrery restaurant above Conran is probably my favourite.