Archive for the ‘Thoughts’ Category

Every day’s a school day…

Posted on: April 13th, 2023 by TellingStories

It’s actually one of the reasons they chose to work with us, the fact we weren’t ‘specialists’ in education – although we obviously had to prove our ability to learn and apply our insights within a really thorough credentials pitch process (as we always do our homework).

Which got me thinking…

Each to their own, and I get why focusing on sector specialism gives you gravitas and is therefore a potentially easier ‘sell’ with many clients… but I’ve always thought that a variety of brand challenges, and therefore a variety of people to work with – keeps you fresh and interested.

And after 25+ years, I still am (well, most of the time).

Naturally, we’ve been unsuccessful in the odd pitch for not having a certain level (or any) sector experience – but I’ll always back us to put the hard yards in and learn what we need to learn. Because we’ll always bring some fresh insight and ideas to the table (or a graffitied desk in this case) – as opposed to a sector specialist who has seen and done it all… or have they?

That’s not a snipe, just our preferred approach.

To cut a long story short, we love telling new stories and every day should definitely be a school day… as long as it’s not maths, obviously.


Posted on: November 22nd, 2022 by TellingStories

Sleep well bonny lad x

Image rights… and wrongs.

Posted on: April 16th, 2020 by TellingStories

Because sometimes our way isn’t for everyone, and that’s fine as long as we all know where we stand ‘from the off’ so there’s no surprises further down the line. If a job’s worth doing, n’all that.

We also get a bit miffed if anyone pinches our work and ideas as we don’t believe that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. We usually let go of the ‘grey areas’ as we have no choice really, but blatant plagiarism gets our full attention.

It’s not normally our style to be this self-aggrandising and we’re only putting this down in black and white to set-up the punchline, as our black and white approach to right and wrong has gone a little, well… wrong.

We’ve been caught red-handed using an editorial image on our website news page that should have been licensed and paid for through an international press agency – but it wasn’t.

We could go into the whys and wherefores of how it happened but in the end, we let ourselves down by not doing our due diligence – no excuses. We were made aware of this by their legal-eagles, we confessed to our sins immediately and paid-up the usage fee just as quickly.

So why are we telling you this and not keeping quiet about the whole affair? To be fair, I don’t really know other than perhaps we’re looking for redemption. Or perhaps we’ve been on the ‘wronged’ side of the equation a few times recently and we know how it feels.

Either way, we’re taking the positives from the situation to remind ourselves that it’s critical we meet our own high standards and continue to take ownership of our mistakes when they occur.


Written by David Thompson


The Good Life… by design.

Posted on: May 18th, 2018 by TellingStories

One day I arrived at the office as usual, parked up, turned off the ignition, and then it struck me… I couldn’t remember a single thing about the last hour. I got into the car, then I got out of the car – and could not recall anything about my journey to work. To all intents and purposes I may as well have been asleep at the wheel (something we can probably all relate to).

At that moment I decided to change my work life balance and find a way to ensure I didn’t waste another hour of the time I have left on this planet, whilst reducing my carbon monoxide contribution at the same time.

Soon after, I founded Telling Stories with my wife, Faye – working initially from the attic in our rickety old cottage before moving to our first ‘proper’ office at the Granary around six months later. 

The best thing about this office? Well it wasn’t big, it wasn’t even cheap, but it was quite lovely and also just across the road from our little house in Worsley, which is on the outskirts of Manchester.

Believe it or not we could have found far cheaper digs in central Manchester – but then we’d be back to the daily crawl, and that wasn’t part of our brief. So what we spent in additional rent, we saved in time. And in any case, we had our own posh coffee machine so what else do you need?

Fast forward six years and we’ve made another push towards self-sufficiency, although we’re not getting our hands dirty planting homegrown veg in the garden like Tom and Barbara from the The Good Life, we have converted our humble (but relatively large) detached garage into the new home of Telling Stories.

Our short commute around the corner has become a hop, skip and a jump across the back yard. 

We’ve wrestled with the usual Grand Designs scenarios along the way, but the proof is in the pudding and after proudly hosting several client visits already – we don’t know whether it’s the fancy coffee or the fancy office that makes them want to hang around for so long.

We realise our approach isn’t for everyone, but we’re sticking to the original blue-print of running a tight ship with a small crew for a select few – hopefully resulting in a good life… by design. 


Written by David Thompson


Adopting a new way of working

Posted on: February 16th, 2017 by TellingStories

And it really isn’t because we have nothing more to say or share, there’s been plenty going on in the world which deserves our two-penneth. We’ve simply been struggling to make the time.

Those of you who know myself and Faye will be aware that we’ve enjoyed and endured a roller coaster period in our personal lives.

Nearly two years ago we began the adoption process – which we soon discovered was a thoroughly intimidating and often painful journey coupled with profound lows and incredible highs.

What I’m about to say will feel very negative, but there is a happy ending so please bear with me.

Imagine being handed a checklist of the things you do and don’t want in a child?

The difficulty/guilt of making decisions based upon physical, mental or socially challenging issues was something we were not readily prepared for. Parents who conceive naturally don’t get to choose whether they’d like a boy or a girl, nevermind the myriad of other options which were presented to us.

This is just scratching the surface.

We attended numerous training days and workshops. Spent many hours completing paperwork. Our whole life stories were put under a microscope. The worst bit? Being subjected to several adoption panel assessments where the great and the good decided our fate. These felt like an interrogation in Room 101. Or worse, people playing God.

The process was exhausting, and for many good reasons I suppose it should be.

The detailed training, questioning and soul-searching all fell into place and our lives changed forever. One whirlwind year later, we were placed with a strong and sassy little girl who was far better prepared for her new life than myself and Faye ever were… She’s perfect. I’m welling up.

And so during the majority of 2016, such a horrid year for many – myself and Faye have been undertaking our toughest but most rewarding project to date – getting to know and love our new Daughter.

It all feels really normal now. So every now and then we need to remind ourselves of how we got here, because in many respects we are now a perfectly ordinary family. Albeit, a family who has been on an extraordinary journey.

So despite our hiatus we’re still Telling Stories – and in a few years, we may even be adding another family member to the Telling Stories team.


Written by David Thompson


Perception ± reality = brand

Posted on: February 16th, 2017 by TellingStories

Rupert Murdoch (we’re not fans of his, but…) pinpointed the power of personality when he said “For better or for worse, our company is a reflection of my thinking, my character, my values.”

Paul Rand simply said “Perception is reality, reality is not reality, it’s only what people think.”

I love the work and graphic impact of Paul Rand – along with the witty way in which he really distilled big ideas down to their most simple, effective and iconic form. I don’t agree with his sentiment that perception is reality though. I mean, it is… but only up to a point. Branding for us is like an equation – perception, plus or minus reality.

Businesses spend time, effort and money to create a positive and perhaps unique idea of who they are. In our work as brand designers, we thrive on creating stories that audiences can feel curious about, enthralled even… but it is always based upon the truth, and here’s why.

A compelling brand will entice customers into experiencing reality, perhaps by walking into a store, talking to a real human, purchasing a product and then enjoying (or not enjoying) said product.

It is at this point in the equation that a customer can decide whether their perception has been enhanced or diminished by the real-world experience of a product or service. In essence, a strong but misleading brand can potentailly accelarate the demise of a company whose offering does not live up to the hype.

The act of branding is an evolving, fluid and never-ending pursuit to find and defend a distinct and hopefully truthful position in the marketplace, which is difficult to distill down into a pithy observation.

So if you’re still trying to get to grips with this thing called branding (and who could blame you) – here’s several more vox pops on the subject:  What is your definition of what branding is


Written by David Thompson


A failure to communicate

Posted on: February 1st, 2017 by TellingStories

The ability to hastily put our two-penneth out into the ether for all and sundry to enjoy, ignore or recoil from is exhilarating and instantly gratifying for many of us who, until recently – hadn’t previously been afforded the luxury of such an immediate and powerful outlet.

As a species, our ability to adapt to the changing world around us is arguably our most important evolutionary trait. Humans have not been designed to travel at 70mph, and yet (for the most part) millions of us do this on a daily basis. An ability which has been developed over mere decades.

Like the invention of the automobile which was (and still is) a monumental but perilous stage of our industrial progress – we shouldn’t be suprised by the hazards associated with our ability to quickly and anonymously communicate en-mass through the vehicle of social media.

Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.


Written by David Thompson


The imitation game | Loser part II

Posted on: February 23rd, 2016 by TellingStories

I wrote about our experience of losing a credentials pitch several months ago in this very section (have a read if you’ve got the time), and the disappointment of putting so much effort into a client that we knew we could make a big difference for, but in the end it wasn’t to be.

Little did I anticipate that the feeling of disappointment would turn to a feeling of injustice though, now that the brand project we missed out on has recently been launched… and ouch, it’s like a poke in the eye.

I know what you’re thinking, this is just another rant from a sore loser, and it is… a rant I mean, but not necessarily from a sore loser. In a way we are winners here; we ended up contributing to the resultant project anyway, without lifting a finger.

That would be an impressive feat if it wasn’t for the fact that said client and the ‘winning’ agency took a large dose of inspiration from a previously launched brand project we had talked them through (as part of our credentials pitch).

Because this is what we do in a creds pitches – we get a handle on a business’s problem and demonstrate how we’ve solved similar-ish problems in order to convince the client of our ability to take on the challenge.

The prospective client was impressed, “I like that” he exclaimed as we showed him the idea and how it worked to communicate a difficult technological solution in a very simple and engaging way (making difficult things look simple is usually very difficult).

He must have liked it an awful lot, because now he’s using it!

Or a big part of it anyway. But actually he’s not using it, he didn’t get it at all. It’s a graphic style that has some relevance to his business, but it isn’t telling their customers anything, it’s not highlighting their strengths, it’s not showing-off their skills, or services, or intelligence, or determination… it’s just there, existing for it’s own sake… blandly, and obviously – a watered down version.

So it’s a very poor interpretation of our original idea, and that’s almost more annoying than being ripped-off. As Pablo suggested, if you’re going to steal – at least do a great job of it.

But what about the designers who ‘created’ the work? I haven’t mentioned them yet, why am I pushing my ire on to the client and letting the designers off the hook?

Well, I know that the client has seen our work, but I don’t know for sure that the designers have – so maybe I should give them the benefit of the doubt. There are many ways in which similar work can be created, I’m sure we ourselves have unwittingly created work that has a similar idea to something created before. Like Umberto said,“every story tells a story that has already been told”.

Maybe the client suggested the idea without even realising that they had seen it somewhere before, we all do it I suppose.

Perhaps the designers were struggling with a very difficult brief (it was very difficult) and were happy/relieved for the input from the client when it arrived.

This stuff happens in our world. It’s not worth calling our solicitors about, it’s not worth worrying our own clients about, and it’s certainly not worth picking up the phone to the designers either… I guess that they’ll not be feeling much pride about their/our achievements anyway.

I also imagine that in the near future they’ll be rethinking their solution, because it won’t help them solve their problem… If they even know what their problem is.

That was a proper rant actually – I feel better now, thanks.


Written by David Thompson



Posted on: August 18th, 2015 by TellingStories

In many respects we’re a relatively young company, we don’t aggressively target potential new clients and our growth so far has relied mainly on recommendation and word-of-mouth. We like the romantic idea that producing good work will attract good clients.

So we don’t chase the numbers and we aren’t happy to adopt a one in three mentality, meaning we can commit quality time and effort into a new pitch opportunity because if it’s worth doing, then it’s worth doing your best.

Secondly, we’re quite choosy about the projects that come our way. We’ll listen to opportunities, do a bit of research on the people and the challenges of the company in question, and do a lot of chatting before we decide whether they would be a good fit for us and ‘the thing we do’. As we progress, we’re finding that there is a certain personality and ethos in a business which we are really attracted to, and in turn – the feelings are often mutual.

Finally, having the right ‘fit’ with a potential client’s personality doesn’t mean that we need to have had much (or any) past experience in their particular line of work. We are constantly looking for, and thrive on, new challenges – we don’t want to pigeonhole ourselves into a certain type of work and we absolutely do not want to be seen as ‘market experts’… if you’ve been there and done it, time and again, you’re less likely to bring anything new, fresh or surprising to the table.

So, if we’ve not got too much on our plate already and the timing is right, if the personality of the business fits with the way we see the world (as people), and if there’s a really toothy problem to solve – we’ll jump in with both feet.

The caveat to all of the above is that we don’t participate in creative pitches, but that’s a different conversation all together.

Why are we losers?..

Well, we’ve just lost one…. a pitch I mean. We’re pretty philosophical about the competitive nature of what we do, lovers rather than fighters, that kind of thing. But, it’s not an enjoyable feeling to lose out on a project that you’ve put so much effort into. Perhaps this is why a lot of agencies take a pragmatic approach, play the percentage game and don’t get too tied-up in the emotion of it.

But we’re emotional people, and we don’t like the feeling at all.

Why did we lose?..

After some very attentive and well-considered feedback, in the end it came down to not having sufficient market sector experience and being pipped to the post by a competitor who had (more) experience in the client’s sector – and of course we sent our heart-felt congratulations to the winners, as it’s nice to be nice after all.

So whereas recently we’d been winning work based upon our fresh approach and our overt commitment to new challenges and new ways of approaching those challenges, our ethos became a bit of a barrier in this instance (for this potential client anyway).

We respect their decision even if we don’t really agree with the reasoning. We don’t agree because we can apply our approach and thinking to any brand and comms challenge, developing our knowledge by using thorough research combined with our own creative intuition to become (in a small way) experts in each market sector we explore.

And don’t get me started on all this B2B marketing nonsense. Businesses are run by and for real people, not machines – so why would the people in a company who construct oil rigs be any less emotional than the people in a company who sells flowers? People are people, you’ve just got to get under their skin and find our what makes them tick, whether that’s the aroma of crude oil or fresh lilies.

Anyway, I digress.

I suppose this is me making myself feel better by writing about our loss, like some unrequited love. We could have been great together, I know we’d have enjoyed a great adventure and perhaps a really prosperous long-term relationship, but alas, it wasn’t to be.

Yes, there’s plenty more fish in the sea – but we’ll miss the one that got away.


Written by David Thompson


Persistence, endurance & deliverance

Posted on: May 27th, 2015 by TellingStories

There’s also budgets to meet (we’re a time recovery business after all) and the reality that there’s only so many hours to be squeezed out of the working day. In the end, whatever you do to earn a living – we all tread a fine line between burning the midnight oil and burning yourself out completely.

On the other hand, I’ve always felt the need to submerse myself in a client’s problem and take my time to get under the skin of it. The ‘business’ of managing the process; meeting, scheduling, researching, creating, planning and implementing – all take time. Even the time away from our desk is golden. Thinking about a job while washing the dishes, walking the dog (which we do a lot) or the old cliché of simply ‘sleeping on it’ can really help my subconscious mind to get to grips with a problem. Although I wish that I woke up with the answer a bit more often than is actually the case.

Although simply giving yourself more time doesn’t always lead to a Eureka moment, and we can’t always afford it – but for me, it helps. This isn’t a particularly dynamic observation of my working process, it isn’t cool or profitable to admit that you need more time, but there it is, I stopped trying to be cool (or rich) a long time ago.

And in terms of a brand project, having too much time can be dangerous for a whole host or reasons. It allows room to stray from the path, it allows doubts to creep in, stakeholders to lose focus and chip away at the big idea. So, how do we defend against and manage not just the monetary cost of delay, but the emotional cost of delay too?

I’ve boiled it down to three things…


In late 2010 I visited Liverpool to hear Michael Wolff’s D&AD talk on ‘Branding The City’. There was a Q&A at the end of the talk, and amongst a distinguished group of design peers I plucked up the courage to ask Michael a question which was roughly along the lines of; With the current state of the economic climate [which was pretty bad at the time], how can we convince clients to continue investing in their brand?” I asked this because in tough economic conditions, usually the first thing to be cut-back is marketing and comms.

At the time, his answer confused me. He said that “in order to convince clients that they should invest in your ideas, you need to keep talking to them until they see your point of view”.

‘Just keep talking’… I didn’t get it then, but after running our own business for a few years since, I do now. He was talking about persistence, and staying true to your vision despite the obstacles that are put before you. If at first you don’t succeed, try again – and keep trying.


Allowing more time for the conversation can be beneficial, if you persist and keep sight of your original aims. So you keep talking, discussing, defending, justifying… But what about your own motivation? This is where many a creative battle has been lost; the danger in increasing the length of a conversation is that it opens up the opportunity to dilute the conversation too.

Being able to stick to your guns, regularly reminding yourself of the strength and purity of a singular proposition, and not allowing anything to be diluted through round upon round of conversation  and deliberation. The more stakeholders are involved, the more opinions that are heard, the more likely you are to need that endurance to stick to the path.


Finally, once persistence and endurance have put you in a position to realise your vision (and God knows it can be a herculean effort to get to this point) – you’ll need to summon-up one last push to deliver the project with the same enthusiasm as when it was first conceived, which could have been quite a long time ago. They say ideas are cheap and it’s action that counts in the end, so after all the hustling, cajoling and corralling, it’s time to make sure you finish the job as well as possible and make all the hard work worth while.

Ultimately, our time is divided by persistence, endurance and deliverance – and then if it’s all worked-out, maybe a few drinks in the pub.


Written by David Thompson


Standing the test of time

Posted on: February 10th, 2015 by TellingStories

I don’t really want to get into the pros and cons of the book, or even talk about whether I think it merits the instant praise and adulation that his writing must surely deserve after such a meteoric rise into the ranks of a bonafide ʻclassicʼ.

But a small part of it really struck a cord with an area of work weʼve being doing quite a lot of lately – namely, naming. Hereʼs the bit Iʼm referring to, where Morrissey recounts how they decided on a name for the band he fronted at the time:

“I suggest to Johnny that we call ourselves the Smiths, and he agrees. Neither of us can come up with anything else. It strikes me that the Smiths name lacks any settled association on face value, yet could also suit a presentation of virtually any style of music. It sounded like a timeless name, unlikely to date, and unlikely to glue itself to come-and-go movements.”

Naming is pretty hard work, not in the sense of ‘realʼ hard work where people lift heavy objects or are rushed-off their feet all day, but for a cosseted creative whoʼs life becomes unbearable if their coffee isnʼt the exact Pantone swatch colour they asked for (mineʼs a P730 by the way) – itʼs one of the toughest jobs weʼre asked to do.

The thing I like about Morrissey is that he understands the value of a timeless approach. Itʼs something we try to achieve here by avoiding transient fashion trends to hopefully create work which remains relevant and appropriate for a very long time.

Now, this is where it gets difficult because we donʼt have a crystal ball, we donʼt consume the latest 10 year trend reports, and only time itself can tell us whether we achieve our aims.

So it should be no surprise that one of our biggest heroes is the great American designer, Paul Rand, who was a master of timeless design. His work was always simple and reductive but at the same time, also very intelligent and emotional.

Now I don’t know whether Paul Rand had ever heard of, or listened to the Smiths before his passing in 1996, but I’m sure he’d appreciate the same qualities behind the bandʼs name, which was ultimately designed to stand the test of time.


Written by David Thompson


Joining the flock

Posted on: December 15th, 2014 by TellingStories

The general consensus was that this would be the most stressful experience I’d ever had. I was told I would be crushed by deadlines and work all hours for little pay, or even no pay at all.

If you really want a job at the end of it, an internship will never be a relaxing experience – but fortunately mine bore no resemblance to the horror stories.

Faye and David were very concerned that I do things ‘properly and helped me get to grips with day-to-day jobs. When it came to creative work, they didn’t actually expect me to churn it out at lightning speed. Instead, I was asked (very consistently) to ‘make it more clever’. I soon learned that this can be just as daunting as ‘do it faster. But between a lot of head scratching, I found it’s possible to think of something new, hours after you’ve privately decided you are definitely out of ideas.

This feedback didn’t just apply to visual design. Having spent much of my time at college glued to Photoshop and InDesign, I was also surprised at the amount of time spent on words and ideas. Before setting foot in Telling Stories I’d admired their use of copy ideas, so perhaps I should have foreseen the hours and hours I’d spend on trying to find that perfect turn of phrase. The mass of neon post-it notes that creep across the wall during a naming project can get pretty dazzling.

Another big difference from college was sharing projects – it seems an obvious way to work in a studio, but I wasn’t used to handing over work to be finished by someone else, or being given someone else’s idea to have a crack at. But two – or more – heads are better than one, and it’s always interesting to see how different people approach the same problem.

I’ve had a great first year at Telling Stories. Being part of a design studio that’s so ideas focused has made me appreciate different types of work, and realise what an impact well thought out design can have.


Written by Alice Worthington


A bunch of charlatans

Posted on: October 9th, 2014 by tsAdmin

Imagine the embarrassment for us? We’ve been telling stories for approaching four years and although we’re acutely aware of the terms increasing use around us, we always thought that it pretty much summed up what we did, and clients’ have always commented on how well it fits what we do for them.

So being the kind of people who question everything around us most of the time, from big decisions about brand strategy to little decisions about what we’d like for lunch… we now find ourselves questioning our own name (thanks to Stefan).

The thing is, he’s right… 100% right. The term is being thrown around like it’s going out of fashion, and I can understand why too. It works, it’s accessible, people just get it. It’s so simple isn’t it? Nothing about leveraging brand values, nothing about integrated marketing campaigns, nothing about digital this or technical that… We can all understand stories because we’re spoon-fed them from birth. From Little Red Riding Hood to the Bible and everything in between, they’re everywhere, and people love them.

So why did we come up with this name anyway? This name that’s now getting a rough ride from creative peers we really like and respect? They say it makes you feel better when you write stuff down, so here goes:

1. We couldn’t use our surname as there’s already a really good brand design company called Thompson Brand Partners – and I should know because I worked there for several years (although I’m not related).

2. Hatching my plan for world domination over the years, I always liked the idea of referencing Magpies as they’re a strong part of my heritage from growing up in the North East, and they’re known for stealing shiny things – which I didn’t do but liked the reference to collecting interesting stuff. Anyway, that idea was blown out of the water when this bunch of very talented folk got there first…

3. We wanted a name that gave us something to hang our hat on, something to give our clients an idea of what we do without being too obvious. Of course, the flip-side is that there are big positives to using a name which doesn’t mean anything at all – you can be whatever you want with a shift in flavour every now and then.

But knowing all of this, we were still driven to use an idea and think of a name that meant something to us, and putting aside the physical/digital manifestations of what we do – the most important thing we sell is ideas.

4. Myself and Faye have always approached communication in a way where the viewer/audience can enjoy a steadily unfolding idea, quite often using wordplay. Expressing a single idea but using playful permutations – our ChicSeats project is probably a good example of this.

5. Finally, in my younger teenage years I had a girlfriend who was originally from Manchester, and so I was introduced to the Mancunian music stable which included the Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and the Charlatans. While my mates were listing to Vanilla Ice and New Kids on the Block, these bands were a prominent feature on our homemade BASF mix-tapes and I particularly liked the Charlatans – probably because they seemed very exotic with their floppy hair cuts and baggy jeans.

By the time I went to University in Leeds I still really liked their music which had become a bit more toothy as they tried to keep up with Britpop and the guitar band genre of the time (Oasis, Blur, etc). Anyway, one of my favourite songs to drunkenly sway along to was Tellin’ Stories and it always takes me back to a time when the world seemed very, very big…

If you’re still with us after a brief history of my questionable music tastes – the point I’m trying to make is that naming is probably the most difficult job we’re asked to do. Choosing ours was no exception, but calling ourselves Telling Stories just felt right for us and what we’re about.

And when it’s right, it’s right.


Written by David Thompson