Ian Smith chats about what Wigwam Studios brings to character brands, products and more

We ask managing director and co-owner of Wigwam Studios, Ian Smith, what keeps him creative…

Ian Smith, welcome. Let’s start off gently! Who are you?!
So I’m Ian Smith, the Co-Owner and Managing Director of Wigwam Studios. We specialise in illustration and trend guides, brand development, product concepts , packaging and POS, pitch decks and retail, all within the amazing world of character licensing!

And what is it you do day do day?
Ultimately, I’m responsible for the performance of the company, making sure that as a team we achieve our goals. That said, my background is creative, previously having filled every role from Designer to Creative Director and Company Owner. While I still oversee much of the creative, it’s the experience within those roles that helps me understand what’s needed to bring a talented team together and continue to make sure they have everything they need to do their stuff!

A very varied and creative background, then… So how did you come to start your own company?
Myself, Debs and Dave started Wigwam in 2019, right before the pandemic. We all have vast experience in the Character Licensing World and we wanted to build our company from a creative’s point of view rather than a corporate one.

Ian Smith, Wigwam Studios

With what in mind, specifically?
Our view was that our company should do three things… First, prioritise the creative process, by giving creatives time to create. We do this by managing workflow very efficiently and by prioritising quality over cost and time spent. We understand that the industry has deadlines. However, giving our guys the maximum amount of time to do the work internally, without having to fill in timesheets and so on, and removing all of the pressures that come with that, means they can excel at what they’re great at.

Makes absolute sense…
Also, because we all work remotely, we aren’t constrained by normal office hours. That means our team is able to work the hours that best fits with their lifestyle. Work life balance is massively important to us and we find that our guys are great team players – and highly productive – because they feel genuinely supported in this.

Sounds great. That was thing one…
Thanks for keeping track!

Only reason I’m here!
Second, we wanted to bridge the gap between a freelancer and an agency. We do this by having a team of senior designers and illustrators who work efficiently and fully remotely. This enables us to keep costs down, as we have few overheads, and by working as a team we can take on a large and diverse workloads. Third, Do Good. This is kind of our company motto and isn’t just about our integrity as people, team members and business owners, but also about our impact on the our planet and our fellow human beings.

Ian Smith, Wigwam Studios
I was always a bit underwhelmed by Google’s motto, “Do no evil”… It seemed like a pretty low benchmark. So in what way do you say, “Do Good”?

Well, for example, we pledge 1% of our turnover to good causes. We’re also currently growing a forest through TreeApp and have already planted over 2,000 trees in the Wigwam Wild Wood. As we grow, we’ll team up with other great causes to try and make a difference, however small… Its important.

Looking at your clients, I can see you now work with a number of high-profile brands… Some of which are prominent in toys, games and – indeed – licensing. Can you give us an idea of who they are?
We love this industry and are amazingly lucky to work with some of the best people in the business! We work with Ravensburger US and European puzzle teams, Entertainment One and Hasbro across the US, Europe and China. Tomy in the UK, US and Hong Kong. Mattel in the UK and US. We work on many brands such as Star Wars, Marvel, Disney, Disney Princess, Peppa Pig, Warner Bros, Looney Tunes, Tom and Jerry, Space Jam, Barbie, Hotwheels, MLP, Playdoh, Fireman Sam…

Strewth! Some corkers in there! Is there a recent project you can discuss to gives us an insight into your work?
We have an amazing job on right now… I can’t say for which brand! However, it’s a Trend Guide that spans all four Seasons. We’ve been asked to come up with an illustration style for the character, create the Trends, design Placements, Patterns and Badges, and produce product concepts within the guide. It basically covers all of our skill sets in one go. Dave has a fantastic background in character form and has been able, along with his team, to create a great likeness for the character. Meanwhile, Debs has created the trends and – as a team – we’ll deliver the assets and product concepts for the guide.

Ian Smith, Wigwam Studios
Tell us about the process; how does it go?

The first stage in the process is always moodboards. We create fashion-based moodboards for each of the trends, and three or four illustration-style moodboards for styles we think might work. We then present and discuss. This is a real collaborative process because while we know our stuff, the client will always know their brand and market better, and have a steer on direction. So it’s important to discuss why we’ve done certain things and be able to back it up with evidence to show it works.

“We usually end up with more content than originally briefed because – as the creative process develops – more ideas come to light.”

From this we supply pencils of a range of character poses and placement ideas; we discuss and amend these again before moving to colour. From the placements come icons which help us to then create the remaining elements of the Trend Guide. We usually end up with more content than is originally briefed because as the creative process develops more ideas come to light.

I sense, then, that you’re not clock watching… You’re not saying, “Look, these folk have had two hours. Let’s not go nuts!”
No, absolutely not! We love this way of working because it really does get the best result. Our clients are amazing, and collaborating with them – rather than just taking a brief and delivering – creates something that not only everyone can be really proud of but also something that delivers and resonates well with the end consumer.

What’s been your biggest challenge?
There have been many… One of the main challenges was the remote working – it’s not for everyone! Building a team that genuinely feels like a team even though we don’t have an office is tough. We started pre-pandemic and it used to be our USP.

Ian Smith, Wigwam Studios

Ha! That must seem like a lifetime ago!
It really does. And obviously – since the world changed – so too has the technology we use to communicate, meet and collaborate. Which, I should add, has been amazing for us.

You spoke earlier about creativity. I was going to ask a question but I got distracted by having to count to three… So I’ll ask now: generally speaking, how important IS creativity in what you do?
It’s THE most important thing! It’s what separates you from others in your field. All of our illustrators have the ability to tell great stories. All of our Trend Designers just LOVE fashion and kids brands!

“Creativity might even show up in the disgusting tasting beer you bought because you liked the look of the can!”

How do you stay creative then, Ian?
I think, as a creative person, it’s just part of you. Your hobbies, interests… You’re genuinely engaged already so it becomes part of your life… It might show up in the prints you put on your wall at home, the people you follow on social media or even the disgusting tasting beer you bought because you liked the look of the can it came in!

Ian Smith, Wigwam Studios

And is it harder to be creative within the limits of an established brand, then? Or do you think all the limitations fuel creativity?
I think brands in general now are becoming more creative, which is great. They need to evolve to stay relevant and stay on top in this crazy-fast world we live in. Being creative is also about problem solving; the more creative you are the more tools you have to be able to answer any brief, whatever the constraints.

Let me wrap up with one question that might be a bit on the nose, then… Why, in your opinion, should people use Wigwam over and above your nearest rival? What’s your USP?
We genuinely care! We care about the people we work with, and the brands we work on. We love them and want to help them succeed.

Great answer! Ian, I’m going to wrap it up there and go and do some good somewhere myself! Thanks for making time too chat.

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