Turning Ten

The design work of Michael and Marcelle Lawson-Smith has come to tell the story of groupH over the years from the company’s inception to the present day. To mark our 10 year anniversary, here’s a retrospective of the last decade in their words and pictures…

The pause on the other end of the phone line seemed to last an age.

A few weeks had passed since I had sat across the table from Erik in the Lucky 7 diner in Notting Hill listening to his brief to create an identity for his yet-to-be-launched business venture. In the interim period, Marcelle and I had headed to Brazil for a fashion catwalk design project. Whilst in Rio de Janeiro for Carnival, we had scribbled the first semblance of our idea on a hotel bar napkin.

Back to that telephone call, Erik in London, me in Brazil. It’s February 2005 and I had just proposed, with a firm nod to the future, that a company with just one employee should call itself a group. Knowing Erik’s interest and appreciation of the performing arts and culture (with the suggested brand colour palette at least partly an homage to ‘Die Mensch Maschine” era Kraftwerk), it was always going to be the case that the design approach should be bold, contemporary and distinctively different from its peers. But most importantly, it had to communicate clearly and evoke the independent spirit of the fledgling operation. So it was that the rooting of the brand identity idea into the Periodic Table would create the analogy of groupH as a core element in the wider process of drug discovery and innovation within the healthcare industry, with the use of the H inspired both by Hydrogen’s position in the table and the founder’s surname. By the end of that phone call the name had essentially been agreed, and the company officially came into being within two months, in April 2005.

Fast forward four years and we are basking in the unseasonably balmy Scottish spring on Gullane beach, just east of Edinburgh. Despite the distractingly glorious surroundings, there is important work to be done, photographing the expanding team for the debut marketing brochure. This project took place at a seminal moment. With the arrival of Iain and Simon as employee numbers two and three, this was the start of a subtle shift in communication focus beyond the “Research, Analyse, Solve” of the early days towards a theme of growth through innovation and evolution, the genesis of the hexagon design motif that remains central to groupH’s visual communication to the present day. In many ways, the hexagons represented the natural progression of the brand identity, particularly reflecting the continuing growth of the groupH virtual network ecosystem of full-time and associate consultants with ever-increasing global reach, as well as the role of helping to enable clients’ business growth. Furthermore, they also provided Simon with a few diverting moments as he applied his Pharmacist skills to the task of coming up with atomic numbers for the various fictional elements that would end up on the front and back cover of the brochure. The inner pages included a collection of treated imagery from a variety of scientific disciplines, strikingly underlining the growth and connectivity themes.

A communication emphasis on the merits of a virtual network – optimal resource allocation, value for money, flexibility and responsiveness, amongst many others – required a delicate touch in order not to overshadow the heart of the business – the increasingly diversely-talented team coming on board and the quality of the shared objectives, experience and personal contribution they each bring to the table. The more tangible and personal attributes of the brand would begin to come to the fore, initially with the 2009 limited edition Therapy Area mug collection emblazoned with adaptations of antiquated 19th century hand-drawn illustrations from Dr Alesha Sivartha’s “The Book of Life: The Spiritual and Physical Constitution of Man”. Then later and most prominently in the new website inspired by Molecular Geometry and Structural Formula, for which Erik, Iain, Morris, Moritz and Simon mustered in a converted East London warehouse in 2011 to film what would become significant content segments of the published site, alongside the recently-penned “A culture of shared values” Corporate Social Responsibility statement . And bringing it right up to date with the dermatologically-inspired cushion and teapot of 2013 and 2014, products of gratitude conceived as much for their purpose, ongoing usefulness, provenance and artistic elegance as for their ability to convey the brand idea.

Looking back, if ever there was a brand name to grow into, then this was probably it. And with 8 employees, 25 associates and counting, it’s been a pleasure to watch promise being fulfilled. Many congratulations and here’s to the next decade…

Michael Lawson-Smith

April 2015