What I've Learnt: Darren Evans, Founder & Design Director, The Engine Room

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by Charlie Spargo

The Engine Room is a Mirfield-based strategic brand consultancy which was founded 20 years ago to provide brand identity, creative copywriting, print and digital design services and more.

It works with an international client list, and was founded by Darren, an experienced designer and leader. The team has grown over the years and uses design thinking and business thinking to help support a range of businesses.

As well as The Engine Room, Darren is also Co-founder of Huddersfield creative network Wilson's Republic; Associate at the Design Council; and Director of What Could Be, an organisation which works across the globe helping organisations look at complex problems in a different way.

We found out what lessons Darren has learnt throughout his career.


Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?

Coffee - I bet that’s everyone’s answer, but it’s the first thing I make every day, before I can create anything else!

What's been your luckiest break?

It probably sounds trite but setting up my own business - because I didn’t expect to be doing it at the age of 25!

What's your best failure?

I’ve had many failures both as a designer and a business owner. The one that still stands out was in my first job as a fledgling graphic designer. It was the first project where I’d been trusted to manage the whole process; I was really proud of it.

However, I’d failed to notice - and so had the client, to be fair - that several product descriptions on the front page were still written as lorem ipsum. We’d printed 20,000 copies. I’ll never forget the feeling of sheer panic and despondency. It taught me right there and then the importance of detail, diplomacy and giving a shit. A career-defining mistake.

What is the best investment you've ever made, either financial or time?

York Mills, a 19th century building and former piggery, which The Engine Room bought for £250,000 in 2017. We’ve continued to renovate it over the years, and what was once a dark, mouldy and disused property is now a vibrant 4,000 square-foot space, with the ground floor a bright, open-plan workshop environment (usually) open to local businesses. We’re still to decide what to do with the basement!

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

‘The Art of Looking Sideways’ by Alan Fletcher. It’s not really a book you read from cover to cover. It’s more of a 'pick it up and put it down' sort of reference. But every time I flick through the pages, something always makes me smile or think "I wish I’d thought of that." It’s just a great source of inspiration.

It’s currently being used by a colleague as a laptop stand in the studio. I’d like to think Alan Fletcher would approve.

What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

Trust your instincts more.

Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?

I couldn’t attribute that to one person. I’ve met and worked with people who have inspired me in different ways, throughout my whole career. I also don’t tend to idolise many people career-wise, as I’m not trying to emulate any single person.

I will give a shout-out though, to my business partner Lesley Gulliver, who came on board in 2013 in the role of managing director. She has played a demonstrable role in the growth of The Engine Room and is an incredibly strategic design thinker who helps transform our clients’ businesses.

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

I can’t drink milk on its own.

How will the COVID crisis change work for the better?

I think it’s taught us to think differently to reduce ‘waste’ - whether we all realise it or not. In both a professional and personal capacity, we’ve begun to think smarter about what really matters, rather than simply doing things for the sake of it.

This fresh perspective has acted as a bit of a reset, I think. Or maybe that’s just the designer in me, making sure we don’t overcomplicate and get back to basics.

What does success look like to you?

The Engine Room is 20 years old and I’m still enjoying it. I’m still learning, still passionate and still enthusiastic about both my job and what we’re able to achieve for clients. I rarely step back and indulge in reflecting on the last two decades, but when I take a look at what we do, that makes me really proud.