Designing a fantastic future
Fiona Cowie has always been interested in the world of design and finds it a joy to work in a creative industry. The power of good design and communication intrigues Fiona – she finds that clients understand how design can influence the people they need to reach and how it can improve the way everyone works.
With more than 20 years of experience, Fiona is at the helm of graphic design, marketing a communications company Designtastic as one of its directors. She has quite a well-travelled past and is based in Aberdeen now, but was born in Singapore, grew up in Perthshire and has clients spread all over the world.
“It’s fairly standard for us to create marketing materials for our clients in multiple languages or work on exhibitions taking place outside of the UK,” said Fiona.
Fiona and her husband worked together in a business called Artech, which they formed in 1991. They sold the company when Fiona and the staff joined engineering consultancy Xodus Group in 2014. In the 23 years between those dates Artech, Fiona and her team were a part of the evolution of manual print to digital in the graphic design industry. The change in approach required new skills and having to guide and advise their clients through new technologies. Fiona has come out the other end with a host of valuable skills which has now been focused on Designtastic, including how to work with her husband as a team.
Fiona said: “My husband and I were co-directors in the business. Working with a partner works as long as your roles are clearly defined, you respect what the other person brings to the business and you have shared objectives. I also think you have to be clear with your employees about which of you is ultimately leading the way – that was me by the way.”
Designtastic came about when the team were hit with the same story that many others have had to deal with – redundancy. Like other oil and gas based companies, Xodus restructured to deal with the low oil price, but Fiona saw this as a new challenge.
“Dealing with redundancy is different for everyone and largely depends on your attitude and circumstances.
“Having been in business before, I’m fairly resilient and adaptable. So I viewed it as an opportunity to go back into business and turn my in-house experience into part of the new company’s offering,” said Fiona.
Between Fiona and her co-director Graeme Leslie, they have more than 50 combined years of experience across digital and traditional media. The name of the company originates because of Graeme’s enthusiasm and his habit of adding “tastic” to random words.
“We thought it neatly sums up what we do as well as making a brand promise – fantastic design. We also like that it is a single word because it reflects our desire for simplicity. Plus it makes people smile,” said Fiona. Graeme was also made redundant earlier this year, yet the pair were able to see that there are still plenty of opportunities available outside of the oil and gas market where their skills are still applicable.
Long term they are looking to build a healthy client list in a mix of industries and locations and increase their staff numbers. A typical day for Fiona is very busy, filled with projects as well as the other roles needed in a small business, from book keeper to recruitment.
“I’m trying to attend as many events as I can, not just to get the Designtastic name out there but also to brush up my knowledge in some areas such as digital marketing and making sure I’m up to speed with current industry thinking and best practice,” she said.
Designtastic was born into a time which, despite the commercial pressures brought about by the oil price, was a good period for small businesses. Fiona had to start from scratch, regaining clients from her Artech days and building a solid portfolio of work. She feels that, even though it is tough, if you’re adaptable, willing to work hard and look further afield than just oil and gas, then there is plenty of business out there.