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Interview with Cat How, Creative Director of How&How

After a degree in English Literature, Cat How decided that she wanted to swap words for something more visual. Retraining as a graphic designer, Cat set up a design shop with her husband Rog which they then sold to launch their very own studio, How&How. Based between both London and Lisbon, How&How is a digital design agency that work in what they call leftright thinking (read on to find out more!). Cat recently joined our Shillington London students to talk through her career to date, the work that How&How take on and more.

We chatted with Cat after her lecture to touch again on her design journey and learn more about How&How and their incredible work.

Can you tell us about your design journey so far? What was your route from studying to founding and being creative director of How Studio?

I studied English Literature at Bristol University, which perhaps on paper doesn’t seem like the best start to someone wanting to get more into art and design. But actually I’ve realised that it was one of the best things I could have done. Because so much of what I do now is not just about articulating yourself through images—but also through words and language. After Bristol I retrained in graphic design in Australia and then did my Masters at Central Saint Martins in Communication Design.

After a stint setting up my own design shop with my husband, Rog How, we then decided to sell that business to set up our agency. We had been running the shop a bit like a mini-agency—putting lots of thought into how we art directed products, and working a lot with designers and illustrators. So it was something we had been talking about doing for a very long time. Now, 2.5 years later and with How&How growing at a nice pace, it feels like it was always meant to be.

We’d love to hear more about the studio. Would you be able to tell us about some of your past work? And what sort of work you are taking on now?

We are a studio which works primarily out of Lisbon and London, but we also have freelancers who work remotely for us all over the world. We pioneer a concept that we came up with called ‘leftright’ thinking which is about using head and heart to develop and create brands.

We believe you have to be functional as well as expressive; strategic as well as creative in order to produce work that will stand the test of time.

At the moment we are working with a lot of tech companies, and are also doing more work in the sustainability sector.

You mentioned Earthtech in your guest lecture. Could you explain what that is? And how you are working with these kinds of companies?

Yes, “earthtech” is a term that we’re using to describe the work we’re doing for companies who are using technology to drive the green transition and work towards a more sustainable future.

The studio is run between London and Lisbon. How did this come about? What’s it like running a studio between the cities?

Ah yes! Well I’m half Portuguese and half English, so we always knew that at some point we’d end up over here. Our main team now is actually in Lisbon (something about the weather I think?) but we have a growing team in London too. We work out of the Second Home co-working offices in both cities, and it is a nice flexible working environment for us to all meet up in and work from when we were last allowed to travel back and forth freely. Hopefully we’ll be able to do that again very soon! In terms of having two teams in different places, well it’s actually pretty easy now. We were always remotely based from the outset, and Covid has meant that now we are just even more used to work in this way.

Are there any experiences you’ve had running a studio that you think would be useful for our readers who are heading that way? Or even those who have just graduated?

I suppose the best advice would be to just realise that in order to be good at what you do, you just need to work bloody hard and not expect things to fall in your lap. The first year of running anything—any business that you set up—is almost always really tough.

But if you can get through the first year, then you should be on your feet properly by the end of the second. So if it’s your passion you should stick with it.

And running on from that, what do you think it takes to become a successful designer? Any tips you could offer our graduates?

I think it’s very important to get your inspiration from lots of different places and be well read as well as well informed. It is good to follow design trends, but don’t be a slave to them… stuff might look cool for a quarter, and then a year later just feel a bit dated.

So try to always design from the heart—with a nod to current tastes, but don’t be a slave to them.

Where do you look for inspiration? Do you have any go-tos? And has this changed over your years working in the industry?

I read the Economist; I browse Pinterest; I photograph the geometric designs of azulejos (Portuguese tiles) on the streets here in Lisbon; I follow niche typographers on Instagram and I subscribe to as many different design and architecture publications that I can. That said, our last colour palette for a fintech was inspired by a 1980s vintage Versace silk scarf—so really you can find inspiration from everywhere.

What’s your number one piece of advice for a graphic design graduate in 2021?

Never give up.

Finally, give us five words that describe you and your creative style.

White with purposeful accents of colour. Sorry—that was 6!

Anything else you would like to add?

A quote I always love to use (it was originally from an old Portuguese typographer but then updated by the wonderful Anthony Burrill)—“work hard and be nice to people”.

Big thanks to Cat for joining our London students for an amazing guest lecture, and for talking to us afterwards. Make sure to follow How&How on Instagram and check out their branding and design agency website to keep an eye on any new exciting projects.

We’ve hosted some of the world’s top creatives, design studios and advertising agencies at Shillington. Check out more interviews from guest lecturers.

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