Postcard from Bath
James Giles, owner and creative director of Sunhouse Creative, speaks to Transform magazine about the distinctive aspects of the branding industry in Bath, Somerset. He discusses the most noticeable design influences of Bath and the changes he has experienced in design and branding.
What is distinctive about branding in Bath? How does the city influence your work?
Bath is a creative and cultural mecca with rich history, stunning architecture and urban design that provides a daily source of inspiration. It is simply one of the most beautiful cities in all of Europe, where ancient heritage and modern culture intermingle to create a distinctiveness that is exciting as well as it is esteemed. It’s also the only city in the UK with designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With this history and heritage, there seems to be a deep appreciation for craft, which is evident from its massive community of independent traders. Anything from sign painters to artisan bakers to independent design agencies distinguish themselves with a focus on skill, attention to quality, and passion for beauty.
The creative industry in Bath is growing, but still obviously smaller than it is in London and Bristol. The nature of the environment and the location sort of dictates that agencies have a more niche service offering that justifies their reason to exist outside of these major metropolises. Over the past 10 years or so, however, communication technology has made this all but irrelevant. Ironically, we’ve found that as we’ve begun working with more global brands, there is less and less concern about where we are based. In fact, it makes us stand out as an agency with a clear point of difference.
How much does being based in Bath, a smaller and less chaotic city compared to London, inspire the agency’s lifestyle and ethos?
Bath is the UK’s original wellbeing destination. People have been retreating here for over 2,000 years to relax, find sanctuary and feel good. This legacy runs parallel to our ambition for Sunhouse to be a true lifestyle agency, offering an actual work-life balance that we believe ultimately leads to better productivity and greater creativity. Being a stone’s throw from the shores of Cornwall and the mountains of Wales keeps us out of the rat race and allows us to stay true to our values: people before egos, creativity before wealth, partners before clients and a smile before work.
In Sunhouse’s early days, being smaller, independent and outside of London made us feel like we had to work ten times harder to prove ourselves. This underdog mentality has become ingrained, and so we still find ourselves with the drive to deliver above and beyond on every project. But we don’t go about this by overworking and becoming exhausted. The relaxed, yet inspiring environment of Bath compels us to go out during the day, take a walk along the canal, and get home on time. This balance keeps us refreshed, able to stay engaged and create phenomenal work.
What are the benefits of working with big global brands from the comfort of Bath?
Being in Bath allows us to have better focus and more original thought, enabling our approach to build brands that wear in, not wear out. With a slight distance from the industry, we don’t get overly caught up with trends or distracted by what other design agencies are doing. Instead, all our time is spent on what our client needs and what their consumers want. This is important for global brands looking for something different that will deliver meaningful, long term results.
Sunhouse has worked with Magnum for over 10 years, helping it evolve from a leading ice cream brand to a global fashion phenomenon. Thinking back, we initially won the pitch by superseding the brief with a solution that was not cosmetic, but foundational. Bringing completely different thinking to the table, we cracked open the possibilities for the brand, not with fads, but with core truths. And it has clearly been a success – Magnum is a brand that sets trends, not follows them.
The neighbouring city of Bristol is, similarly to London, deemed a ‘creative hub’ in England – how is branding there different from Bath? Why is Bath often overlooked in relation to design and creativity?
There’s no denying that Bristol is the centre of creativity in the South West. It’s bursting with creative energy from fantastic street art to music and film, and there’s always something going on – live events, festivals, exhibitions and more. It’s no wonder that so many creative companies have decided to set up shop along the River Avon.
Whilst there is a lot of uniqueness to the city, it is in some ways becoming a mini-London. On the one hand, this is fantastic, giving Bristolian creative agencies the credibility to compete on the same level as London agencies. It, however, also brings the same trappings of hectic work environments and external focus that leads to overworking people and ideas.
In our opinion, Bath offers the best of both worlds. With London only a few hours away and Bristol on our doorstep, we have access to the incredible energy of both cities, but with enough distance that allows us to be creative without distraction. As for Bath being overlooked in relation to design and creativity – is it? Bath is a vibrant, breathtaking city where fresh thinking and creativity can thrive unencumbered by fads and fashion. It’s not a lesser creative city, it’s just different – which is exactly what brands are looking for.