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Digital agency's new recruit has design on branding the Highlands for success

By Calum MacLeod

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Designer Graham Smith. Picture: Gary Anthony.
Designer Graham Smith. Picture: Gary Anthony.

After almost a decade working with globally recognised names in Switzerland, Graham Smith is looking forward to helping Highland firms make an impression.

He has joined established Inverness design and digital agency hi.create as senior brand director, bringing with him experience of working with such clients as confectionary giant Nestlé, the World Health Organisation and innovative hotel chain swisspeakresorts.

It is a return to the Highland capital for Mr Smith. Originally from Bolton in Lancashire, his wife is from Inverness and he spent 20 years working in the area before becoming client services director at a boutique design and communication studio based in the historic Swiss town of Bulle.

Back in the Highlands, he sees plenty of opportunity for both hi.create and its clients.

“What was interesting about coming back here after a while was seeing the changes,” he said.

“There are a lot of large companies up here, lots of start-ups and a lot of energy, so there is plenty of work to get your teeth into.

“I spoke to two or three companies who said they do a lot of branding and were always up and down the road to Edinburgh or Glasgow and I thought: ‘This is crazy!’

“There are plenty of good companies up here and plenty of good design work and it is frustrating to see people leapfrogging the Highlands and even going as far south as London – that’s what really annoys us!”

Together with hi.create managing director Dan Sutherland, Mr Smith wants to ensure local businesses are aware of the talent on their doorstep.

“It is something we feel strongly about,” he said.

Mr Smith had an unexpectedly longer stay in Switzerland after he returned to his old job to help its new owner, only to be marooned by Covid for 11 months.

However, he hopes to utilise more positive experiences from his Alpine career in returning to the Highlands.

“Particularly when you are work with brands like Nescafé and KitKat – household names – you are learning as much as you are giving them,” he said.

“Then you take that learning and level of understanding and give it to the local artisan walnut oil producer, which is cool. At the same time, a big company like Nestlé is less able to do new and interesting things and the energy from start-ups is brilliant, so we were able to bring that back to the big companies.

“You don’t have so many multinationals, but you have big companies who are working very successfully up here and you have loads of start-ups and phenomenal start-up energy.

“The Highlands is, as it always was to a certain extent, an exciting place to be, with plenty going on.

“Small companies and start-ups are a little worried when we talk brand and branding. They think that is for big companies, and it’s absolutely not. We can give them something commensurate to their size and, when we do that, they immediately punch above their weight. It’s a way of spending their money wisely because design work costs less because it is built on really solid foundations.”

Mr Sutherland added that he was delighted to add Mr Smith to hi.create, which is also looking for additional staff.

“Graham is the latest and most visible addition to our growing team,”he said.

“We’re proud to be based in the Highlands, and it’s been frustrating to see companies source branding, design and digital services elsewhere. We’re committed to putting the Highlands on the design and branding map, showing the skills that exist in our industry.”

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