10.01.17 / Designer Profile / Penny Ransby

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Penny Ransby / Bench Creative

Practical thinking and empathy meets innovative flair at Bench Creative.

“I think I’ve always been creative,” says Bench Creative’s owner and director Penny Ransby.

“I was always one of those kids who did well in art class, but I was also very practical; I liked pulling things apart, putting them back together.”

“I discovered graphic design as a career, and the more I researched it, what I liked about it was that it combined those two sides of my brain [the practical and the creative], which are quite balanced. So I get to be creative and I get to think creatively, but at the same time, in essence, we’re problem solvers, so that’s what sort of drew me to design. And I guess it’s that challenge of the problem solving and finding that gem of an idea, especially in branding. I love the challenge of branding. That’s what’s kept me in the game, I think. Being able to crack that idea. That, for me, is key.

Penny’s design career started at the Canberra Times in 1994.

If anyone has ever spent any amount of time designing layout for newspapers, you’ll understand the pain and frustration which bubbles just beneath the surface as you’re forced to ignore all of your training in order to cram as much text as you can into those tiny columns. Kudos to Penny for keeping her cool.

After doing her time in the media, Penny moved to Capital Fine Print in 1997, working in their fine print area on offset machines.

“Back in the day you had to do work on the files to actually get them to print and not fall victim to post script error and those sort of things. So I cut my teeth in the industry, almost like a trade entry I guess,” says Penny.

“I moved up to Sydney [to The Ink Group] fairly quickly after that — there were just a lot more opportunities up here [Sydney] — and then worked for a publishing house doing greeting cards and calendars, and sort of worked through the ranks there.”

Penny worked her way up to studio manager at The Ink Group, still doing freelance work in her spare time. Then the desire to hit out on her own was realised.

“I found that my freelance work was growing pretty rapidly, so I made the call to go full-time freelance,” says Penny.

“In what was probably my most notable experience, I worked with an agency called WiteKite, and did a lot of work with them on branding Rugby World Cup programs, international sporting events, merchandise channels, building systems of brands, and brand books. I worked across quite a few of their larger clients, so that was an amazing opportunity for getting out onto the international branding stage and probably, I guess, my most notable work — accredited to WiteKite, but at my hand.”

In June of 2009, Penny founded Bench Creative in Sydney. Four years ago, Penny made the decision to grow the then broadly operating Bench into a branding-specific studio. They were getting plenty of work, but it wasn’t necessarily the kind of work they wanted to be doing in order to move in their desired direction. So, as most wise people do if they need to make a change, Penny looked for help.

“I worked with a business coach [Brian Santos, now partner at National Diversified Funding Corporation] for a couple of years and he really taught me how to transition from being a graphic designer who happened to own a business, to someone more capable of leading a team and running finances and other things. He was invaluable in that transition period.”

The Bench team is focusing more on working with brands which align with their ethical values, giving the studio members a sense that they’re doing more meaningful and socially significant work.

Having the right team members is important, especially with Bench’s small team. “You’ve got to gel and be on the same page,” explains Penny.

“We spent a bit of time getting that mix right. What we found works best is a sort of no-ego, really natural creative. They need a good sense of empathy as well. They’re people-people, and I reckon empathetic souls make the best design thinkers. Designers with a high level of empathy will understand the customer experience better than those without, and they’ll get it a lot quicker. This is the type of team I’m building here.”

Penny is fascinated with the customer experience side of the design process, and she shares that fascination with her close-knit unit.

“Pairing up team members, they’re empowered to actually have a look at our own business models and have a think about what our clients are going through at any one point in time; really pulling apart a phase of supply or delivery and actually taking a look at what could be better,” explains Penny.

The implementation of the design process is spreading across all aspects of business, especially those outside of the design industry. Design thinkers are now being employed in non-design areas to implement design thinking and processes.

“Often, us designers are pretty good at sitting behind a computer, but we’re often passive creatures so we don’t generally make the best of salespeople or the best of account managers. So, hopefully, in a little way I’m working to help our designers to think through things a little more as well,” says Penny.

“We’re still in our growth phase and continuing to develop who Bench is as a brand — what that special something is that we do that we can hang our hat on. It’s evolving as we’re growing and getting better at what we do and we’re able to hone in on that a bit more. I think it’s always going to be a bit of a journey, a fun journey to be on.”

Penny and Bench aim to continue their expansion into the world of branding. The studio has grown at a stunning annual rate of forty per cent for the last few years, which suggests they’re very much on the right track. Have a look at some of their work here.

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