The challenges and joys of being your own boss

Nick Howe, co-founder of the Liverpool based design agency Uniform, reflects on setting up shop straight out of uni and the lessons learned along the way

As three product design students at Liverpool John Moores University towards the end of the 1990s, Nick Howe, Nick Bentley and Pete Thomas were emerging into the creative industries during a buzzy period of regeneration in the city. With a sense of energy and opportunity in the air, Bentley and Howe – who both originally came from other parts of the country – were keen to stick around.

“We chatted about doing some projects together and I was of the opinion that I wasn’t going to leave the city quite yet,” says Howe, who was about to graduate at the time while the others were heading into their third year. “I’d looked for jobs, I’d had a couple of interviews, but I didn’t feel that the opportunities that were out there were right for me. They felt quite junior, obviously, being a graduate, and also quite limiting.”

Before any of them had even finished their degree, the opportunity arose to work on a real-world project. “We’d been offered a piece of work to design an interior for a hairdressing salon. The client wanted to work with us, liked our ideas, but would only engage with us if we were set up as a company,” Howe recalls.

Armed with the “naïvety and optimism of youth and the lack of constraints and responsibilities”, they kickstarted a longstanding venture in the form of Uniform. The business has been going since 1998, during which time they’ve worked with clients such as Innocent, Unilever and Canary Wharf Group. Of the three founders, Bentley and Howe are still involved in the business, which recently announced its evolution from Uniform the design agency into Uniform Group, comprising two separate business units: Continuous, the brand consultancy arm, and Somewhere, which is handling property and place-making projects.