Thursday, 12 June 2014

Francesca Lathbury


Berwin Leighton Paisner's Design Studio Manager Francesca Lathbury revealed to me a whole new meaning to the word "creative" this week. We have been working together on a project involving a big visual element running alongside an editorial programme and I have been fascinated by her contribution in meetings, how her mind immediately interprets in graphic form all the ideas and concepts we discuss in words. Not only does she come up with some inspired illustrative devices, whether advising on infographics, diagrams and other illustrations, but she's brilliant on how best to use "text bursts" and headlines, explaining to us how the mind takes information in.

I was curious to know where her skill set comes from, so I asked her about her background. Before joining  BLP over three years ago she was the Studio Manager at Innovate Product Design, the award-winning consultancy famous for creating proto-types for inventors, of the sort you see in the Dragons' Den

"Our work at Innovate was all about taking an inventor's idea and finding a way to make it work in practice, so taking it from the piece of paper it is written on and turning it into a 3D product in the real world and making sure it turns out a viable, marketable product. It is a very exciting process, being involved in that first step from concept to reality." This is what I mean by Frankie giving new meaning to the descriptor "creative". "You develop a very particular skill set doing that type of work. Before you even start with your creative skills, you have to be a good listener, as understanding the inventor's idea at the outset is absolutely critical. Then you have to have a blend of both highly creative and practical skills because the core of the job is about making an idea work in the real world." I bet this sort of mix of the creative and the highly practical is not a given in the design community, so I ask her. "There's a surprising diversity amongst designers. People often think of designers as one type only: artsy, free-flowing ideas, left-brain dominant, etc. But every designer I've ever worked with is different and the most successful teams I have worked in have been so because the mix of different personality types, approaches and abilities meshed really well together."

I put it to Frankie that these diagnostic and interpretive skills must come in pretty handy dealing with lawyers who, being wordsmiths, don't generally think in visual terms at all. "It certainly helps" she says. "And it's what I like most about the job: getting under the skin of what it is a lawyer is trying to express to a particular audience with a given piece of marketing collateral and finding a way to put that across graphically. It's so rewarding when you nail it for someone." 

I've often heard BLP's Corporate Comms Head Caroline Grant and Global Marketing Head Ash Coleman-Smith talk about the emphasis BLP places on "the visual", seeing this as a key differentiator from other law firms and therefore having a significant role to play in the firm's competitive strategy. Its Design Studio is highly respected by the rest of the profession and an undoubted leader, being bolder, more innovative, taking more risks and showing others the way. "We tend not to recruit from within the profession," Frankie tells me, "because we find the knowledge of latest design trends and innovations is just not there. We're keen to keep our team fresh and bang-up-to-date so we prefer to hire people in from the design consultancies that do the interesting work that we all see in magazines, in shops and on TV."


We have BLP to thank for a good portion of the legal profession's own learning and evolution in design. Good to know you Frankie and a privilege to be watching her in action at such close quarters.  
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Had fun at Tate Liverpool, swinging by the gallery on a visit to our good friends at Weightmans this week. We were a little disappointed to miss the start of the Mondrian exhibition by just a few days (it started last Friday, 6 June) and our request to peek in to the crates before the paintings were set up was very politely declined. But we did enjoy the "Constellations" series, and the novel way that works of a wide range of artists is collated, connections between them explained by the use of constellation diagrams eg showing the links from Picasso, to Man Ray, to Jackson Pollock, to Simon Starling

In the Tate's words: "a fresh way of viewing and understanding artworks through correspondences rather than chronological narrative." I'm sure Frankie would approve. :) 
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Call me a rebel, but I'm loving this very original form of graffiti on the Tube. It's been an underground phenomenon for a little while now, but these guerilla stickers masquerading as official Transport for London notices just get better. Here's a selection of my favourites. Care to share yours? And are there any lawyers among you who can tell us how many and which laws they are breaking?