A letter from Sarah and me

Dear reader,

It is with many mixed emotions that I write this letter. I want to let you know that I have decided to go and work with a new organisation in a new city. My last day was Friday 29th August 2014.  I wanted to write to let you know why I’ve made this decision.

Snook has come a long way in the past six years. We started in a combination of coffee shops and bedrooms – I can’t even remember now – but I do remember it was Sarah and I on our todd – just two girls with a big dream – and, in those first years, I could never have imagined doing anything else. But we did it. The two of us. We’ve flown all over the world, and delivered work I’m really proud of and shipped brilliant ideas but most importantly we’ve put Scotland on the map. I even made it onto one of those top list things! 

And now we’re on track to have a brilliant year this year: we have the biggest contracts on our books we’ve ever had, an astoundingly talented team; more impactful, design-led projects are launching and we’re receiving global acclaim and support for the work that we are doing.

We’ve barely had time to share our recent work but we’ve had the immense pleasure to work on the Future Cities project with Glasgow City Council, engaging with citizens in Glasgow on how the future of public services should be delivered.

We’re working in Nottingham with Broadway Cinema on a large programme called Know How for the cultural sector to put design and digital thinking at the heart of up to 40 organisations.

We’re supporting Carr Gomm, a fantastic charity expanding all over Scotland to support them to use design to innovate their services and put the people they support at the centre of what they do.

As I write this, our team are on the streets getting photos of people on Glasgow’s high street donning Gold Cones and talking about how alcohol affects their life.  This project is on alcohol awareness, Whose Round will take us into 2015 and I’m excited to see how it unfolds and we develop our capabilities as an agency that does marketing differently.

This is exactly why it’s time for me to leave. Our phone rings by itself, contracts arrive on our doorstep and the work is coming to us. Don’t get me wrong there is a long way to go but we are in a really good place.Sarah and I have spent many late nights talking of our future plans to lead Snook for decades to come. I now know that the future isn’t as black and white as that and things change and people change. In January this year I went to MIT in Boston and I learned about the infrastructure required for success. I met start up after start up and I met people who saw the world in a totally different way to me. It made me look at Scotland through a whole new lens. I designed Nightriders and realised I something was missing.

I started to imagine what Snook would be like without me and realised that actually, it would be just fine. It was an incredibly humbling, difficult yet exciting thing to realise.  It’s was an unleashing of possibility (where would I go next? what would I do?) I realised I wanted to have a boss, I wanted to be part of something much bigger than me.

In short, I’m leaving because I am itching for a new challenge and although my love for Scotland will never leave, I’m aching for a new city. Scotland has brought me and Snook remarkable things and people that I can’t even begin to articulate but it’s also been really tough – it’s slow and small and can often be isolating and judgemental. Perhaps, the decision on the 18th will be a step towards changing some of the old ways and bringing in news ways. I certainly hope so.

So, what’s next for Snook? Well Sarah will be Managing Director and I’ll remain co-founder. Snook is in a position to choose what projects we work on and who we work on them with. Exciting!

This is not a decision I’ve made lightly. Snook has consumed me, for all the right reasons, since I left university. I’ve poured everything into building a design led business that inspires others and helps people believe in better. It’s all I’ve ever known but that in part is why I know it’s time to try something else.

I keep coming back to: “It’s the things that scare you the most that you have to do”.  I’ve been scared to leave Snook – not because I thought the company wouldn’t survive without me, but because I didn’t want to let go. It’s my baby after all?! And now, over the past 6 months, it’s with true excitement that I have made this decision.

What’s next for me? I am proud to say I will be Programme Manager for Hyper Island’s new MA in Digital Experience Design. I’ve been invited to teach at Hyper in Stockholm for three years in a row and I’ve hired six of their graduates. I know the place and the people – and it feels like a brilliant fit. Design education has always been my number one priority – it’s the thing that gets me up in the morning and I can’t wait to immerse myself in it full time. I’m so excited to be joining the island. I’ll live in Manchester and I’ll spend time collaborating and working with the Hyper Islands in Stockholm, London, NYC and at the rate they are growing who knows where else.

What I do know is that Snook will always be a part of me. For now, my next chapter is dedicated to Hyper Island and supporting Sarah during this next phase.

People often tell you running a business with someone is like a marriage and they are probably right. Sarah is like my best friend, my sister and my muse all rolled into one – together we’ve laughed, cried, argued and imagined. I am so grateful to her for supporting me through this transition and I know she will continue to take Snook on a brilliant path .

Thank you to all of you for your belief, support, encouragement, and ongoing commitment to myself, the Snook team, and Snook as an organisation. I’m looking forward to seeing what the next chapter looks like – for Snook, for me, for Sarah and for each of you.

Come and visit me in Manchester,

Love Lauren xx

Dear Reader,

I should start this with, ‘It gives me great sadness to announce…” but in fact I will start differently.

I am immensely proud to congratulate Lauren on her position with Hyper Island as Programme Manager for the MA in Digital Experience Design.

What is happening you might ask? Aren’t you like a Lennon and Mc Cartney duo, is this the end? (I’ve lifted this from a joke one of our many mentors who have helped us over the years often tells, the ever fantastic Mike Press).

Consider this Snook’s White Album (without the drugs).

When the Beatles released the White album in 1968, it was the first album to contain purely solo material but was still an umbrella of the band’s iconic 4 piece.  They still worked together, they just explored other creative outputs and endeavours.  If you work on anything for a long time, repeating the norm you can lose inspiration and the ability to try new ideas and end up, just like the Beatles, playing the same 4 beats and sounds until you try something new.

Don’t think for one second we’re bored by our work, or don’t want to do similar work, we’re far from it. Infact Snook is in the best place it’s ever been in.  Our contracts are larger allowing us more freedom to explore with our clients, our team is immensely talented and we have the creative freedom to implement ideas that we believe in.

We all need creative holidays, time to reflect, to switch off from the task in hand and explore ourselves.  Lauren and I have always been intrigued by designers like Stefan Seigmesiter, take a look at his ‘The Power of time off’ TED talk where he takes a holiday every 7 years, closing the company to pursue experimentation which he states isn’t always achievable during the working year.

Experiments develop our thinking as people, and so, Lauren is on her essential time out to explore and also put her talents to brilliant use, back into education which we both fundamentally believe is a route we should be undertaking to share what we’ve learned as experienced designers and business owners.  As big admirers and contributors to Hyper Island we believe this is the best possible outcome where Lauren stretch herself and reconnect with what she has always been most passionate about and brilliant at – design education.

So with pride, I congratulate Lauren and send her packing on her creative exploration to refresh, try something new and share her learnings with me in this new phase. Lauren remains co-founder and I am now the Managing Director of Snook. I’ll continue to strive to deliver the best work and push boundaries of how design can be applied into the development of products and services in the public domain.

In the past, considering Lauren and I parting was almost inconceivable due to the immense time and pressure running a company like Snook entailed and the everyday just kept going as the everyday.  In the first 3 to 4 years we were running Snook there was barely a moment to pause in-between delivering our work and making sure the numbers added up to our business.

We didn’t have the time to discuss an alternative future from what we were doing to something else, these kind of discussions need reflection, small steps and time to ultimately breathe before decisions can be made.  We took our time to discuss what could be next.

Since the summer of 2013 Lauren and I have been openly discussing the future. Exploring the possibility that one of us, or both of us may wish to go on and try new experiences.  Running a company without Lauren will be a new experience and I thank her for the trust and space she is giving me to develop the next chapter of social design projects from our home in Scotland.

However, it gives me great pleasure, and as I said an immense pride to say we’re in a position to allow one of us to go and explore and the other to steer the ship forward.

Nothing is changing and everything is changing all at once.

I said this is without sadness, but there is some sadness, even for this sabbatical.

To share the experience of setting up a company together with someone so close to you, almost like a sister for over 6 years is a phenomenal experience.  If I’d done this alone, without Lauren’s talents and tenacity Snook would not be what it is today.

It’s also safe to say if I had done this alone, there wouldn’t be as much tears and laughter. I wouldn’t have had anyone to share the many emotional ups and downs with.

Lauren and I have shared some real highs, and some pretty difficult lows together but come through stronger together.  Anyone who has set up a business or programme of any kind will understand this, and particularly the bond you develop in a partnership.

On Friday we had a final lunch with the team who asked what our best moments of Snook together were to date.  It’s pretty difficult to put it down to a few experiences but I am going to try:

Keynoting at the Service Design Network Conference Berlin | 2010

At the Service Design Network conference in Berlin, we’d been running Snook for just over 10 months and were well into our MyPolice project setting up a platform for the public to talk to the police.

To stand up, with at the time little experience but passion to drive us through 45 minutes of a closing presentation was daunting but we revelled in it.  Post conference we then attended the SDN dinner and met the people who had inspired us (from Engine to Live Work) to get into thinking about design applied to services.  They were complimentary, supportive and we’d always felt grateful they’d welcome two young women starting out in their careers into the industry.

Scottish Parliament | 2010 to now

When we started we set out to get design into Scottish Government.

There was vision and mission and in several ways I think we’ve achieved this, and in other ways I think there is an incredible journey to undertake in creating people centered services that utilise design as a core component to innovation in public services.

I recently met someone from government who told us we’d been a real inspiration to how they work and been a major part of the journey of SG understanding design thinking.  This alone makes me proud and even if we don’t always directly deliver projects that are implemented, our sharing of what we do and how we do it I hope will always continue to be a source of inspiration to governments and people around the world.

Secondly, our recent project Dearest Scotland was just debated, or rather accepted as a great exemplar of democracy in action by ALL sides of the political fence inside Scottish Parliament!

Thirdly, I’ll never forget me and Lauren being mic’d up in Alex Salmond’s press room and going on to host a debate with over 200 young people in the debating chamber at the Scottish Parliament.  A real moment in our careers as directly putting design on the centre stage in government.

Winning a Young Scot Award

Louise McDonald, CEO of Young Scot has always been incredibly supportive of Lauren and I and our work in Scotland.  In 2012 we were awarded a Young Scot award for enterprise.  We had such a fantastic evening and a genuine shock at winning – this alone was a great night to celebrate with our team on the hard work we all do.

What makes it even more memorable is that Lauren took up a rubber chicken on stage and said it was this key to innovation. Needless to say, if we ever need a pick up we watch our acceptance speech.  I think a few glasses of wine had been consumed by this point.

The Projects 2009 – now

As I said, we’ve had the joy of delivering work from rethinking the Learner Journey and having this published in the policy area of Scottish Government’s website to seeing our ideas for embedded designers in the public sector and charities being realised with our current work with Includem.  From recent academic reviews of our Matter programme and the impact it is having in local areas in Scotland and giving young people skills to take action in their community to redesigning the way care information will be delivered across Scotland.

This is not an end, as I said Snook is continuing forward.  With our country in a current state of flux and a monumental decision for our future in less than 3 weeks, wherever we go there is a job to be done in ensuring the design of our future vision is fitting for all of us.  I want to be part of that and believe at Snook we have a part to play in the future of how our world is shaped.

Lauren and I set Snook up with optimism and audacity to try something we’d never done before.   I’m proud of everything we have achieved together in the past 6 years.  We will still strive to continue to collaborate, share knowledge and ideas about our work at Snook, education and design in a serious of letters to one another, just how we started so many years ago.

So please raise a wee glass to my partner in crime, friend and long term collaborator Lauren as she embarks up on her next chapter.

As always I’ll end with one of my favourite writers and designers Buckminster Fuller in tribute to the fact we should never stand still and continue to develop our futures and pathways.

“We are born to be architects of the future, not victims of our past”

Love Sarah x