Beautiful Thinking.

The joyful type of Jim Sutherland “the letters have a life of their own”

In the latest of our Beautiful Thinkers features, we spoke to Free The Birds Designer, Jake Howlett about his source of creative inspiration.

Jake joined Free The Birds straight from college as a designer and it was at college that Jake actually met his inspiration. Jim Sutherland was the Visiting Professor of Design and came to give a talk and run a workshop session.

As a result, Jake is the first person featured in this Beautiful Thinker series who has physically met his ‘design hero’.

And that meeting obviously had quite an effect.

In 2015 Jim came to my college in Norwich’ recalls Jake.

“He struck me as a kind guy, someone who genuinely loves design. He had a particular love of ampersands which he went on to use when he designed the identity for his own company Studio Sutherl&.”

Indeed, Studio Sutherl& has gone to be one of the most awarded design studios in the country.

Given this success, Jake was most struck by the life-lesson that Jim could share with Jake’s peers.

“It was so refreshing and uplifting to hear Jim admit that getting it right is a struggle. For us students, it was very reassuring when someone so established in the industry had the same challenges and doubts that we did. It gave you strength every time you tackled a new brief and made you more determined to keep going until you reached the solution or got the idea.”

Jake also found Jim an inspiration when developing his own creative process.

“He gave us a glimpse into his way of doing things which is to start with a range of options – many, many options. Then there is a gradual boiling down of these options until you reach something which is in its simplest form.”

So, what most inspires Jake about Jim Sutherland’s work


“It’s what he does with typography. The letters have a life of their own. They’re playful and clever and have such strong characters considering they are just an arrangement of lines and curves “.

Jake points to Jim’s work for Startrite shoes as being a particular strong influence on the young designer.

Startrite has been a loved children’s footwear brand since 1792. The iconic two children beginning their journey through life, supposedly a brother and sister, have graced their packaging for more than a century.

“What Jim did was amazing” Jake observes. “Not only did he make the design more contemporary and graphic, he brought a whole new dimension to the characters.”

At the heart of this re-imagining were the ‘typefeet’.

“It was so playful and yet the focus was always on feet and shoes. That showed that it was more than a design re-think, it was a way of breathing new life into an iconic brand whilst staying completely true to its values. He even managed to get feet on the hashtag!”.


“Then he took the idea on, expanding it visually. I loved the way he used the actual shoes as the landscape integrating the product into the story in a fresh, new way. That is such ingenious 360-degree design.”

You can see the traces of Jim’s inspiration in Jake’s work at Free The Birds. His work for Boots No7 and Cert have that same sense of wit and originality, design with ideas built in.

“I like to be ‘playful’ with my thinking, looking for interesting, clever ways to draw the audience in and engage with an idea”.

Just like the Startrite siblings, Jake is at the start of his journey.
But with the enlightening, uplifting work of Jim Sutherland as a star to follow, great things surely lie ahead for Jake.
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