Last time I sat down with Craig Jones, it was just before the country’s first lockdown to catch-up on the recently rebranded Jones & Partners and how they planned on marking their 20th Anniversary. In December, I got another chance to have a socially distanced chat with Craig to reflect on 2020 and how his company navigated such a tricky year.
Last March Jones & Partners was buzzing with change, a brand new studio in Brighton was the start of these beginnings: “the 20th Anniversary was all about resetting the business into a new studio but also understanding the change in what we do as a business.” Craig expanded on this during our chat in December: “the principal change from the London studio was to make it more design-friendly, focus more on conceptual design, as opposed to manufacturing.” This shift means that they now take all the: “prototype development, engineering and manufacturing to their partner’s sites”, allowing the company to focus on the new direction of letting the team focus on being a design studio. A firm move away from a “carpenter and workshop environment.”
Another element that has been shaken up over the last year is how the business and teams are structured. Craig talked me through their new way of working: “in most cases, people within the team have specific roles in specific phases of the project. So, we tend to still work as a team, but with one single project manager who will control a project and they will draft in the resources that they need that are relevant”, he goes on to describe it as putting together a: “jigsaw puzzle of the right skills”.
Last March, we discussed how he was concentrating on creating a leaner process and how the old system of getting a delivery, unpacking, building, something not quite working, going to suppliers or them coming to you, making notes, making changes and then packing it all back up again, in Craig’s own words: “didn’t make any sense”. Ten months on, not only have they made sense of it through this new way of working, Craig mentions it has been an interesting change, but they have also tackled accountability and streamlined communication.
The company now uses Streamtime for project management which allows all eyes to be on the whole project throughout. The team has all the necessary information on there so they can see what time has already been allocated as well as budget and deadlines. As Craig puts it: “they can see what needs to be done at each single phase and the client has access to that as well.” This new system means there is a clear start to finish and Craig highlights: “whether the project is consumer electronics, furniture, lighting, acoustics or sportswear, it’s pretty much the same.” He goes on and explains how: “the manufacturing processes may vary and the materials may vary, but ultimately we go from the start to the end in a linear path, as much as we can.” The company’s new way of working seems to be hitting their wants of being more efficient and pragmatic. And throughout this new streamlined process the company keeps: “the communication levels as high as possible with the client, so there’s no surprises” It may sound like a simple thing but clearly Craig and the company have mastered it and probably in good time as so soon after implementing their new system, the whole world as we know it had to change their way of working.
We moved on to talk about other ‘newness’ happening at the company. The team is currently a mixture of new and old faces that is “still evolving”. Craig touches on how it has contracted the team but it was a “deliberate move, partly because of the pandemic and partly because that’s how we want to operate the business.” There’s also a new website to discuss, we asked Craig what was key in the development of the new site: “Consistency and making sure that we’re presenting good design conceptual solutions.” He adds: “we would like to be known as designers, because that’s what we are. And we’d like to be known as the studio that is creative.” Part of getting that message across has been about the company doing all their own photography, renders, their own CMS, so there is a level of recognition that these are Jones & Partners products, as Craig puts it: “owning our brand identity”. He mentions that it has lacked before due to the spread of the work across territories, the diversity of product types and that the company: “have been guilty of designing for a client as opposed to designing for ourselves. So it’s trying to do a balance of both really, but making sure that when we do deliver a product, it has a level of consistency on the website that shows a high level of creativity. That’s really what we’re trying to achieve.”
I ask Craig what all the change and new ways of working has meant for the company, he replies: “It’s been a breath of fresh air and it’s exciting.” He goes on to say: “When you’ve been doing this for 30 years, and 20 years on your own, you do need to freshen things up and you do need to listen. You need to adapt.” Craig’s enthusiasm is palpable as he talks about recognising the need for creating an environment that’s exciting to come to and whatever the project is, “you’re happy to walk through the door.” He also adds “It’s about having some fun as well, you’ve got to havent’ you? I feel happier in the studio now than I have for probably a good 10 years.” So it seems change has been for the better and created a more positively focused design ethos, which Craig agrees with me on. He also touches on how bringing in some fresh faces has meant the stalwarts have upped their game in response and whilst it isn’t about keeping people on their toes, it is about ‘being the best you can be and that’s what maintains the excitement.” Amongst all the new however, Craig is quick to point out that ‘their exploratory nature, just because we haven’t got a workshop anymore, hasn’t disappeared”, adding that “we’re lucky enough to have I would say at least a dozen manufacturers in different fields that are not only good friends but support us on a lot of the developmental side, whether it’s done for a customer based or our own interests. So, that’s still really, really important to us.”
We couldn’t move on without talking about how the company has dealt with the challenges of a global pandemic. The company only paused briefly during the initial lockdown phase but soon adapted and have spent more time focusing on avoiding the: “stereotypical COVID responses and instead we’ve tried to come up with things that are relevant in terms of what the workplace is going to require.” They’ve also used the time to look ahead to 2021 and beyond. I asked Craig what’s in the pipeline for the year ahead: “in Q1 2021, there’ll be six new projects on the website. Some in storage, some in sportswear, some in mobile technology, some in furniture and some in acoustics.” There will also inevitably be a focus on the changes to workplace products and environments in response to the pandemic which Craig admits ”what we know as normal will be replaced by something. I just don’t know what yet”, though he is convinced that people will be pushing to get back into a work environment either due to communication difficulties or the impact on wellbeing due to having your dining room table also serve as your desk. Though will the same rules still apply post-pandemic from the designing point of view? Craig’s response: “Possibly. Possibly not.”
Something we discuss before wrapping up is feedback, Craig Jones wants to know your thoughts on what he and his company are up to. The questions from Craig are simple: “Is what we’re doing relevant? Are the changes noticeable from an external point of view? What do people think of Jones & Partners?” Any thoughts and feedback are welcome and you can share these with Craig Jones through their new website.
Thank you to Craig Jones for taking the time to chat to me, you can find Jones & Partners here.