The Indie Series – Scott Stewart, co-founder of Design North

Design North was founded in 2017, and has gone from strength to strength in the last three years. Scott Stewart, co-founder of the Newcastle-based firm, talks to North East Times

Tell us about Design North

Design North is a commercial interior design studio working across many sectors. Based in Hoults Yard, the business was founded by Jacqui Martin and Scott Stewart in 2017 and has gone from strength to strength designing high profile projects such as The Catalyst, in the heart of the Newcastle Helix site.

What is the most rewarding aspect of running an independent business in the region?

Being in control of your own destiny (sort of!). We have built up some great relationships in the industry, amongst other design practices and our client base locally goes from strength to strength. Our work covers all areas of the North East and it is a real source of pride to be contributing to the rejuvenation of the region through our work with long established organisations, and new companies who are innovating in their own right.

And the most challenging?

Sometimes the London-centric nature of design can make you feel like you are out-of-sight, out-of- mind. We really appreciate the small network of industry professionals that reach out and engage with us. Now we have built up a strong portfolio of projects, we are beginning to develop strategies that will help get the message out there more. There are some amazing designers in the North East, just us, and we want to spread that story better and wider. As a small business cash flow is vital, it does feel like a constant effort to manage this.

What are the short and long-term plans for the business?

In the short term its business as usual for Design North – despite lockdown our work has not slowed down, despite restrictions. We have plans to build our team, in a slow considered way. We are a very close-knit team, and everyone is involved in the process to ensure a good fit.  We are concentrating on streamlining our processes to make ourselves more efficient and have invested in software and training to help this. We intend on becoming fully BIM (Building Information Management) compliant as a lot of big clients are demanding this. In the long term we are looking at new business streams and building a bigger brand presence for Design North. This has started by forging new business relationships. We are supporting Alice Hall, the local entrepreneur on her new business Rowen Design, part of the Rowen Group which promises exciting times ahead.

What advice would you give to anyone with a business idea?

The idea is the first step, but you must keep nurturing it.  A business idea is like a new seedling – if you do not feed it will die. We have had lots of ideas, but sometimes the timing is not right, or things are not in place, but you must keep nurturing the idea or it will be forgotten. People can underestimate the effort needed to learn about business – we know about designing spaces but managing resources, compliancy and tax are all new skills you must learn. We want to be able to have a conversation with an accountant and understand what they are saying.

How has your business been affected by the coronavirus pandemic? Have you adapted your service considering these challenges?

We have been fortunate to be busy throughout this period and not have to use the Government’s furlough scheme. Some projects have been put on hold temporarily, but others have seen this as an opportunity to complete design stages to get ready for when lockdown measures are lifted. We have adapted to homeworking and using technology to support communication and stay connected to each other and to clients. In some respects, our productivity has gone up, as we are not travelling to meetings or to site. Whilst we miss the energy of the studio, and Hoults Yard, we may need to combine these new ways of working for the benefit of everyone.

Design North