It’s more than three decades since business partners, Bill Gaughan and Richard Bissland established the 999 Design Group after buying a small design business from the Rex Stewart Group portfolio. Their youthful invincibility and outstanding creativity soon got them noticed and in a short time they had major league brands like Reebok, Co-op and BT on their books.
Now, having devoted nearly 40 years to creating brilliant brands and pandering to clients, Richard has decided to leave agency life while he still has a modicum of sanity left to pursue his own projects at a less pressured pace.
We caught up with him when he dropped in for a quick gloat last week and asked him to share the lessons he's learned after a lifetime in design and tell us what he would do if he could start all over again.
How did you begin your design career?
After being sexually molested for 10 weeks by a lovely bunch of female book-binders (aaah the good old 70s), I resigned and eventually took a job in the publicity department of Lewis’s Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest department store. After years of doing press layouts, arranging events, checking proofs, buying POS, media and co-ordinating window displays with promotions (and enjoying staff discounts) they shunted me to London where I worked in Selfridges (part of the group). On returning to Glasgow in 1980 and rejoining Lewis's I needed a design agency who understood retail and that’s where I met my old mucker, Bill. After a while, he invited me to jump the fence to the agency side and I took him up on it.
Who or what inspires your creative thinking?
No one person or thing in particular. Ideas can come from the strangest of places. I don’t subscribe to the notion that ideas can only come from designers. It's the quality of thinking that counts not the job description of the person who applies the thinking.
What’s the most unusual request you’ve ever had from a client?
The most unsettling request was an invitation to the pub in the middle of our presentation (yes, it was going badly, no we didn’t get the business) when the client misheard the words 'when is the launch?' for ‘when is lunch?'. I never did get those elocution lessons.
What project(s) are you most proud of?
The stuff 999 did for Orange in the early years was terrific. All that great work produced in Glasgow for a major national brand was a feather in the cap of the truly exceptional design team in place at the time.
If you could collaborate with any brand who would it be?
I’ve always wanted to do a job for Levi's jeans and Camel (even though I detest smoking). I just love the brands.
What are the biggest challenges facing creative agencies today?
Achieving standout is difficult. Retaining clients and getting a fair rate for the work agencies do is also a task. Honestly, if I were doing it all again, knowing what I now know…I wouldn’t. My business would have been product-led with a high design philosophy, offering a much greater return than a people-based, service business.
What advice would you give an up-and-coming designer?
Retrain as a brickie…. there’s a big shortage of brickies and the pay's not bad.
What would you say sets 999 apart as an agency?
Experience and commercial understanding. 999's success and longevity is based on a genuine interest in seeing clients prosper. Many remain with the agency for years - that takes commitment on both sides to work through the good times and the not so good.
CV at a glance
Education: I was educated at High Possil - now Glasgow’s pharmaceutical capital. That's why I’m blessed with the survival skills of an Apache.
Clients: Don't you just love them? Too many to recall… Co-op / Wm Low’s (remember them) / BT / THUS / Scottish Enterprise / Glasgow Science Centre / Glasgow City Council / Peak Scientific / Vascutek / Big Issue INSP / NHS / Adams Consulting / BBC / CBI / Southampton FC / University of Glasgow / University of Aberdeen / Craigholme Girls School and so on and on. Plus I drove myself to insanity writing Government PQQs for ten years.
Describe yourself in ten words or less: Good fun in a tent.