our Interview w/ Paradiso Magazine:
‘Collaborative, honest, and human-led design’


Words by Anna Hutchroft

From pen licence to design studio: an interview with Ally Griffith of Alleyway Designs.

Tell us a little about your career path to get you where you are now as founder and creative director of Alleyway Designs.

A: The wonky and wonderful path that led me to where I sit today definitely started at a young age. I was that kid that always had to take charge – the real bossy-boots type and a know-it-all. As I got to university I tried to be more ‘chill’, but old habits die hard and I ended up registering Alleyway Designs before I had even finished my degree. I started taking on clients and fumbling my way through projects, and here we are… five years later, still taking on clients and fumbling our way through projects.

When did you first discover your creative passion? Has the way you’ve related to your own creativity changed through the process of creating this design studio?

A: We used to do a bit of driving when I was younger, and I remember having this megasketcher (IYKYK) in the car, and I would practice writing every letter of the alphabet over and over and over again until it felt ‘right’ and I was happy with how it looked. All this practice paid off because I was the first person in my class to get their pen licence. I even got it laminated and wore it on a lanyard in class (*cringe*).

I first started Alleyway because I wanted to build brands, and I honestly thought designing logos was the only way I could express my creativity and ‘scratch that itch’. But as time went on, and with the business growing, I've found that I’m designing a lot less these days, yet I feel no less creative. I feel like I have tapped into another bucket of creativity by taking on a Creative Director role instead of being attached at the hip to the pen tool in Illustrator. I think I slowly learnt that no matter what role, job, brief, project, copy, client, email, whatever it is that I do on a daily basis, you can squeeze creativity into it all! I don’t need to be designing to be creative anymore.

What’s the ethos behind Alleyway Designs?

A: We embody a human-centred approach to design. We’re welcoming and approachable and that’s our secret sauce. We speak and liaise with our clients as they are – as friends. I like to dance on the line between professional and personal worlds, finding the perfect balance between studio and client. Everyone here at Alleyway Designs feels genuine joy when creating things – whether that’s a beautifully conceptualised brand identity or a fun new friendship with a client. We keep our minds wide open, believe collaboration is key, never take ourselves too seriously, and trust that a shitty idea usually leads you to a good one. 

Who are your creative role models?

A: The design industry has an abundance of creative role models, but my standouts are Jessica Walsh (&Walsh) and Caterina Bianchini (Studio Nari). 

What are the components of good design?

A: Good design starts with good strategy. Your strategy becomes your moral compass, your true north, your brand essence. It then needs to be consistent, not only the visual system of the brand, but in how you show up, where you show up and why you show up. When design is done right, it should ignite an action, a feeling or movement.

Can you share any pinch-me moments you’ve had in your career so far?

A: Does everyday count as a pinch-me moment? I can’t get over the fact that, five years on, this gig that I started on a whim while still studying, has organically turned into a business. I have a real-life branding studio that I get to be the bossy-boots of. Now that’s a pinch-me moment … every day of the week!

Tell us about a mistake you’ve made that’s turned out to be one of your biggest teachers.

A: When sending packaging to print, always spell check, and then get someone else to spell check, and then get the client to spell check, and then have the client sign a fancy document that says they have spell checked and signed off on the final files. I feel like I don’t need to explain in great detail as to what our big boo-boo was, you get the gist, but let me tell you … it was not a cheap one.

When thinking about helping new businesses build a brand identity from scratch, where do you go for inspiration? What kinds of questions do you ask to help people unearth their ideas and styles?

A: I go straight to the source for inspiration: the human starting the business. I don’t have a list of set questions that I ask (geez, maybe I should), and I tend to shoot from the hip when it comes to talking to clients and getting all the juicy details from them. Most of the time, ideas and inspiration flow naturally from organic conversations where the client feels comfortable, heard and unintimidated. We want our clients to be involved, after all, and this process is best as a collaborative one. Many ideas make fun work.

What’s keeping you busy at the moment? We want to hear about what’s in the pipeline for Alleyway Designs for the rest of the year!

A: Alleyway Designs is actually going through a rebrand of its own, and holy moly, we are truly the worst client we have ever had. It’s been eight months in the making, and is well on its way to winning the title of our longest ongoing project (we should have seen the red flags). So, fingers crossed, we will be launching that before the end of the year – no promises, though. Before we all know it, 2023 will be here, and we have some big moves planned for the coming year – literally and figuratively. Stay tuned for what they are and what that means for Alleyway Designs!

Read the full interview

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Alleyway Designs is currently bouncing between Vancouver Island, Canada & Fremantle, Western Australia. We acknowledge and pay respect to the Lkwungen People and the Whadjuk People, the traditional custodians of both lands on which we work. Always was, always will be.
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