Motion studio Buff on its squiggly new look to mark its 10th anniversary
It's not every day you hit double digits. But that's just what's happened to Buff, a motion design and animation company that specialises in working with brands, agencies and non-profits. Founded ten years ago by Tom Allen and Chloe Flexman, Buff was born from a leap of faith and has taken a meandering journey to get to where it is today. And it's this winding road which is reflected in its new, squiggle-themed brand identity.
Unveiled to celebrate Buff's tenth birthday, the new brand identity was deliberately designed to be an authentic reflection of where the studio is today. Brighter, bolder, and better than its predecessor, Buff's new branding comprises a graphic universe with squiggles that visualise not only the studio's story but the motion paths that an object makes when animated.
As ever with Buff, authenticity is a key part of their creative decision-making process. Having spent the first few years building their portfolio and reputation, Buff has recently been concentrating on how they can create a bigger and longer-lasting impact through their work. "Part of this continual striving for improvement is why we wanted to evolve the brand," Chloe explains. "To better reflect who we are as a team and a studio. It's not really about creating a new identity, but about revealing our true identity."
Quality, simplicity and compassion are the other Buff values that have all significantly influenced the new branding. This is reflected in the warm, welcoming neutral tones of the colour palette. Thrown into relief by surprising and fun tints of orange, green and yellow, the new look manages to look fresh and engaging while calm and welcoming at the same time.
The colours are not only a good choice aesthetically, they're energy-efficient too. Considering the brand will exist mainly in the digital space, the palette has been specifically chosen to be screen-friendly. Considerate contrast and a majority dark grey background tie into this goal, as Buff's website pages will be able to work efficiently with the rising numbers of OLED displays. Capped off with friendly font updates, the identity is perfectly pitched to appeal to both corporate and design industries.
The main driver for the new look, though, was movement. Even when viewed statically, the Buff team wanted a sense of motion, as it is at the heart of everything we do. "This is the first time we've taken a step back and considered the brand holistically as a representation of what we do and love," says Tom. "We're a design and motion studio, so we wanted all aspects of the brand, including our logo, to feel like they have been created through movement."
Birthdays are a good time for reflection, and as Buff hits ten, we decided to catch up with Chloe Flexman to learn more about the studio. From its leap of faith origins to its growth and obstacles, Buff's story will resonate with anyone who's ever struck out on their own.
What inspired you and Tom to launch Buff?
In 2014, Tom and I worked together at a video production company, running the motion department. They were doing many things right there, but a few things were happening that were grating on us. We had a seed of an idea planted by my partner Gary. One day he asked, 'Why don't you and Tom go out on your own?' I repeated it to Tom, and overnight I received a sales pitch email about how we should totally do it. So we did!
The main inspiration was to build something from our hard work and passion where we could be in complete control and never feel like we were being taken for granted or acting against our instincts. I really hope that all of the people who work for us now feel as involved in the business as they can be — like we're all working towards something together. And having fun getting there.
We try to make sure the team feels valued and appreciated for the wonderfully talented humans they are while also realising that they're doing a job at the end of the day. They might leave to do a different job – and that's OK if it's the right decision for them. As long as they're not leaving because of something we've done (or not done), a lack of voice, or unfair pay – that's all on us.
We ultimately wanted a lifestyle business – not because we wanted to take our foot off the gas and cruise into mediocrity. But we felt we could make great work without personal sacrifices, overworking and burnout. We wanted to create an efficient, organised studio to minimise stress and create space for creative thinking and learning. And make sure everyone leaves work on time to enjoy their other passions.
The world was different when you started, but what have the biggest changes been?
The biggest change is that we don't see clients in real life much at all any more. It's actually quite interesting and novel when it happens now! Personally, I like it this way, though, as it means a lot less 'dead' time in the day travelling and waiting for meetings to start, which as an efficiency freak, is hard to deal with.
Also, the fear of your tech not working when you get there and not having the right cable to present on their screen – I shudder even thinking about it. All of that is gone with video calls, thankfully. It's also made our client base more international, which is great.
I think there are also more motion studios in Brighton now, which I quite like. I don't see it as more competition, as I think we all have our own styles and positioning, so it makes for a nice community.
Have you had any moments when you nearly packed it in? If so, why did you stick it out?
Honestly, yes, I've considered it on a few occasions. A combination of personal things – along with the overwhelming feeling of running a business – has certainly pushed me to the limit. From the fight-flight-freeze response, I'm definitely a natural flight-er, so that fits.
The main challenge of running a studio is the responsibility. As we've never done this before, we're learning on the job. Even now, after almost ten years, things still come up that we need to work through from a place of beginner ignorance. I'm also adept at asking basic questions! I'm more comfortable with that now, especially once you realise that many people are winging it or doing it for the first time.
We have strong founding values and are good at the thing people pay us for. That doesn't automatically make you good business people or employers, but it gives you a pretty good starting point.
What have been the biggest Buff highlights so far?
I feel like I should be able to reel these off, but it's actually quite a hard question to answer! Probably moving into our current studio – it was a big upgrade from where we were and gave me a sense of 'look how far we've come'! Making it through Covid without too much damage was also a big highlight.
Some of the other things I'm proud of… Being 1% for the Planet members and the various non-profits, we've been able to support, growing the team and having an attrition rate of 0%, introducing a profit share scheme, and having the occasional person already know of the company when I introduce myself — that's a nice feeling.
Growing a studio is no easy feat. What has helped you?
Great people and support! Getting to know some amazing people bossing their fields of work, from our creative freelancers and fellow studio owners to our accountant, lawyer and other professionals. We've had amazing support from other Brighton businesses, passing on recommendations and referrals for which we're ever grateful.
Having a good, open relationship with Tom (Co-Founder & Creative Director) has also been a massive part of what's got us here. Together, we make up the two halves of key skills you need in studio leadership: creative and 'everything else'! I joke. Although it's kind of true because we crossover on many things, but we have key areas of the business that we're responsible for, and that works really well.
Our team: they are really what makes us a success. We've created a good process for recruitment, but some of that is luck and timing. We're chuffed that we've found a bunch of good eggs who are hard-working, keen to progress and fun to be around.
What is your biggest takeaway from the last decade?
My biggest takeaway as a business owner is to ask questions and try to speak last. You get so much insight from your team, clients, and collaborators if you ask curious questions and listen. Having experts around you means you don't have to know all the answers; you just need to know how to ask the right questions.
And what do you have planned next?
We've had our sights on B Corp certification for a while now, and we've put it on our 2023/24 agenda, so I'm hoping we'll submit it before the financial year closes. I know people have mixed views on B Corp, but it's about gaining official recognition for what we've been building over the last few years. Improvements in our processes, policies, culture and thinking.
The idea of the stuff we do every day (making animation for brands) being able to have a positive impact not only on our clients but also on our team, our community and the environment sounds pretty amazing. That's where we want to be, and we want to encourage others to get there too.
Also got to mention our other halves, as they have been amazingly supportive throughout the years, and the occasional tears.