Mar 2020

From the bunker: A brief history of Design and Code

Words by Colin Leonard

This month Design and Code celebrates its 8th birthday and to mark the occasion we’ve taken some time out to reflect on what we’ve achieved and share a little of our journey so far.

In the beginning there was Design… then after a lengthy slog of convincing long-time friend and collaborator Graeme Benzie to join the adventure… there was Code.

We’ve come a long way since we first set sail in 2012. Back then we had a handful of clients and plenty of ambition, but very little experience of running a business. We were operating out of the exotic climes of Portlethen village just south of Aberdeen – offering a mix of identity, graphic design, web development, eLearning and video production.

Our initial goal as a company was simply to survive but we quickly picked up clients and new projects through word-of-mouth. Following a year of hard graft and late nights, we were able to realise our dream of opening our own studio…


Studio #1: The Bunker

In the summer of 2013, we moved into Aberdeen city centre at 5 Golden Square – a somewhat glamorous address for a start-up. The term ‘studio’ is maybe a tad generous as it was more akin to an underground bunker with lights almost bright enough to distract from noticing the lack of natural lighting.

That being said, we were delighted to have our own space and see what was next for Design and Code.

No.5 Golden Square

The late nights became commonplace as we continued to strengthen our skills and build our experience. We won new clients both locally and further afield in England, the U.S. and Middle East. We expanded our brand development service, collaborated on a series of communication campaigns and contributed our time to a few community projects.

In 2014, we added 3D modelling and animation to our in-house capabilities as we welcomed our 3rd employee to the team. Within 6 months we outgrew the bunker and managed to escape to our next stop on the adventure.


Studio #2: Stay down

In late 2014, we moved along the corridor to Studio #2 – still underground, but now we had mod cons such as windows that let in daylight – positively luxurious!

Studio #2 featuring daylight

Our biggest challenge during this period was navigating the business through the oil downturn. We persevered and diversified to reach more sectors, which led to winning new contracts. More work meant once again expanding the team. We welcomed digital design, motion graphics, marketing and business development into our repertoire and marched on to see what was next for us.

We stepped up our work in the community – partnering with the Bon Accord Rotary Club for the Cat Parade Project and helped raise £30,000 for local and national charities.

By 2017, we once again found ourselves running out of room. So it was time to up sticks and move to higher ground…


Studio #3: Movin’ on up

In September 2017, we relocated upstairs into Studio #3 – a truly remarkable space that doubled both our floor space and our vitamin D intake. With the help of the previous tenants, architectural practice JAMstudio, we made this one our home and despite the growing team have struggled to bring ourselves to part with it since.

A blank canvas for Studio #3

This space has seen us expand our capabilities and our team – each new member helping to bring a diverse range of specialist experience with backgrounds ranging from arts and culture, food and drink, retail, architecture and product engineering. We welcomed our first student interns and commenced work on a variety of self-initiated projects.

As part of our ongoing passion for supporting those making a positive impact in the community, we teamed up with Look Again on both the Flag Up and Glisk projects and continued our work with Bon Accord Rotary helping raise money for schools in Uganda. In addition, we’ve also had the privilege of supporting the wonderful Glaze Spectrum, Sensatronic Lab and Soundplay Projects.

Studio #3, our current home

With the business now more settled, we began looking outward to strengthen our professional development both as a team and as individuals. We attended industry conferences such as Graphic Design Festival Scotland, Reasons in Brighton and the Move Summit in Edinburgh, as well as contributing to local talks and events. These experiences all help us to poke our heads out of the Aberdeen bubble and gain a wider understanding of our industry and peers. All that plus it being fun to go on mini Design and Code adventures mean it’s a win-win.

To top it all off, we received our first ever award at the end of 2019, winning ‘Agency of the Year’ at the Tech Startup Awards. A fantastic achievement for the team who thoroughly deserved it for their continued hard work.

We’re extremely grateful to everyone who has helped make this accomplishment possible. So a huge thanks to clients old and new; employees past and present; and all of our partners and collaborators.


Higher than the sun

Looking forward we have a busy year ahead. As our new website is launched, we’ll be sharing more updates of exciting client work and announcing new partnerships and ventures including an exhibition, a festival and the official opening of our shop, Disco and Coffee.

In the community we’re working with schools in both Aberdeen city and Aberdeenshire and strengthening our links with Scottish universities and colleges. We also have some interesting social and charitable projects in the pipeline that we’re eager to share.

In 2020, we’re looking forward to coming out of our shell a little bit more, finally introducing the team, and welcoming new members to our DAC family.

When we do, you can all hear all about it on our LinkedIn page.

Smiles from the real boss

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