We were delighted to share the story behind Paperjam Design in our feature by Cathedral Quarter Belfast in conjunction with its 'Meet Your...' series.
Here's how it went..
Paul Malone is the founder, Director and Senior Designer at Paperjam Design, based in the Cathedral Quarter’s Cotton Court.
As Paul explains, Paperjam has played a key part in shaping the Cathedral Quarter – and has been shaped by it in return.
Paperjam Design has amassed an impressive portfolio of work for a roster of clients including well-known names such as Van Morrison, Shortcross Gin, The Belfast Children’s Festival and The Church of England, as well as cool and quirky brands such as Werewolf Food.
The agency has achieved much in its 16-odd-years in business but has remained compact in terms of people power, with a team of six currently driving forward its innovative branding ethos – or seven, if you count their four-legged “invoice chaser” Molly Malone!
But lean agility is just one of the arrows in its quiver; Paperjam’s real superpower is an immersive and collaborative approach to the process of branding, says Paul.
“We tend to work slightly differently,” he explains, “I don’t want any of our clients ever to say, ‘A designer did this for me’; I want them to say ‘This is what we did’. It’s the only way that gives them ownership over their own brand. It works. It just works.”
Rather than “throwing three logos down and saying, choose what’s best”, Paperjam has developed a “really good refined process” which looks at the business from all possible angles in order to find and express its true identity.
Paul talks through a few examples, including the agency’s work for Werewolf Food, a company which came into being when a kennel owner tapped into customer demand for his homemade dog food. Extensive market research, outside-of-the-box thinking on names, and even environmental concerns about packaging were all addressed in the creation of what is now a thriving and well-loved pet food brand.
Rather than brainstorming a handful of ideas and handing them over for a client to choose their favourite, Paperjam collaborates with the client continuously in order to arrive at the right brand identity for them, that covers all aspects of their brand communication.
“We take our clients on a journey and say, ‘This is what we’re thinking – are you happy with this? This is the personality we believe you have – is this right? [These are] the certain colours we were thinking of using – is this right?’ Which means we get to a result [together].”
Dissatisfaction with what he felt was a stale and stagnant design industry took Paul out of Northern Ireland in the early 1990s, and over to Holland where he learned his “bread and butter”. His roles included Senior Designer for Dutch Company Vister Van Pennings and Senior Designer for Time Out Magazine in Amsterdam and Prague.
A decade later, when forming his own agency back in Northern Ireland, the aesthetic charm of the Cathedral Quarter attracted Paul: “This square is actually one of the oldest streets in Belfast. The cobblestones and the romance of the narrow alleyways is something that makes us stand out from Lisbon, or a normal road, anywhere like that. We have a certain amount of character. My job’s all about how people perceive you. Would I do this sort of business if I was in an industrial estate in Dundonald? Possibly not!”
However, the CQ wasn’t always quite the thriving creative hub it is today: “Whenever I came here there was us and Nick’s Warehouse. You have to remember that The Merchant wasn’t open, nothing was here.”
Non-departmental government body The Laganside Corporation was in charge of regenerating the Cathedral Quarter (as well as much of the city’s waterside areas) and attracting creative businesses to the area was one of the methods they used to achieve their goal.
“They had idea, plans, and strategy,” says Paul, “and I helped them to a degree with helping form what the Cathedral Quarter stood for.”
Paul was one of the first tenants of Cotton Court, along with Street Monkey who moved in shortly after and, like Paperjam, are still based there. They were among the first few creative businesses to base themselves in the Cathedral Quarter.
One of Paperjam’s first jobs was working with Laganside to brand the Obel Tower. It was originally to be called simply ‘Donegall Quay Tower’ but Paul suggested a more lofty ambition for what would be one of the city’s tallest structures.
He asked “Why can’t we create a name? Why can’t we create an identity for this building? You know – that will allow it to outlast us all? So not that many people know, but The Obel stands for obelisk set in Old Belfast.”
Paperjam has also enjoyed working and with other organisations based in and around the Cathedral Quarter, including Young At Art, The Merchant Hotel – who they “named and branded” – and Nick’s Warehouse, an award-winning restaurant which traded on Hill Street for nearly 25 years and was regarded by many as one of the founders of Belfast’s now-world-class culinary reputation.
Paul is selective about the work Paperjam undertakes: “I’m always searching for the right sort of work. It has to be interesting and, to a degree, ethical. We’ve been approached by a few clients in the past, that we’ve made a conscious decision not to work with [for ethical reasons].”
It’s clearly not something holding him back; not only have Paperjam just opened a second office in London, but the company’s aforementioned impressive client list includes businesses in six different countries – and he is proud to bring them to CQ Belfast.
“Whenever I do have international clients coming here, it’s refreshing that they go, ‘Ooh, this is nice. There’s things to do here.’ I have a couple of clients coming up from London relatively soon, and they’re automatically going; ‘So give us a list, we’re coming for a couple of days this time. Where should we go, what should we see?’ I’ve pretty much said ‘You don’t need to go too far outside the Cathedral Quarter.’”