Business Spotlight: CreateFuture

18 September 2023

It takes a lot of hard work, original ideas and proven results to become trusted to work with some of the biggest brands.

But innovation and design company CreateFuture has done just that, winning top clients including adidas, Expedia, Penguin Random House and many more since forming their company in 2016. We had a chat with Nathan Fulwood, co-founder of CreateFuture and Business Member of Creative Edinburgh, to find out how they have gone from humble beginnings in a converted garage to one of Edinburgh's most trusted creative firms.

Tell us all about CreateFuture. What do you do and how did you get started?

We are an innovation and design company. We help create new brands, products and services, we empower and enable teams to do better work and we tell stories. 

We started around seven years ago when Dave, Jessica and I (Nathan) wanted to bring our skills and experience in brand, service design and digital together, and to explore whether we could apply design thinking and agile principles to a wider range of business challenges. 

We took the plunge and worked around Jessica’s kitchen table for a while. Over the years we’ve grown to a team of 17 really great, skilled strategists, designers, project managers and supporting colleagues. In April this year we were acquired by xDesign, a digital development company, which gives us, together, the opportunity to offer end-to-end innovation, design, build and support capabilities, as well as the capacity to take on bigger challenges.

You say that the client-agency model is flawed. How do you build creative partnerships in a way that is different?

Some of the frustrations we had, and our clients were experiencing, were things like work being done in silos - between the client and the agency, but also within the agency, with work being passed from team to team, and the creatives and thinkers being kept at arm's length from the people and the problems they were being paid to work for. 

We also saw creative, enthusiastic client teams getting frustrated that the exciting parts of their jobs - coming up with and executing ideas that would help grow their business and delight their customers - were being outsourced to creative agencies. They were demoted to writing briefs and signing off on purchase orders and invoices. 

So, we were founded on three principles that are still very important to us today: fun, fast and collaborative. Bringing the energy into everything we do, and encouraging the clients to engage in the creative process. Delivering value quickly by getting to the hardest part of the problem first, solving and testing that with customers before working through the rest of the details. And lots of genuinely close collaboration - creating mixed teams of CreateFuture and our clients to collaborate on every step of the process, from creating the brief, researching the problem, ideating and designing solutions and rolling them out. It requires honesty, trust and it can be difficult but it pays dividends.

Which project has been your favourite so far? Any fun stories?

I think everyone here will have a different answer to this, and mine will probably change week by week. I genuinely get something from every engagement as we work on such a wide range of challenges. Right now we’re working on projects in carbon planning, international trade financing, animal pharmaceuticals and luxury partnerships. 

I think the design sprints that we do with adidas’s digital teams stand out as good examples of how we work and how we deliver value. We identify a problem or opportunity, we research it well, speaking to end customers, we bring a team of them and us together and create a space for us to be creative and collaborative, away from the distractions of our day jobs. We ideate and test solutions rapidly and then we craft high-quality prototypes and design direction that can be immediately implemented by their development teams. We’ve worked on things like user generated content, the ‘hype’ journey and ultra-personalised, cross-channel journeys. Plus, it gives me an excuse to buy a new pair of trainers as ‘research’, every time. 

Why Edinburgh? Why not London? (This is not what Creative Edinburgh thinks, but we know some will ask!)

Dave was actually living in London when we started, and moved back up to start CreateFuture. Why Edinburgh? It’s a great place to live as well as work. A lot of our work is in Financial Services, and there’s a good market for that up here. But we’re able to work with clients across the UK and globally from Edinburgh, and while business travel has reduced since covid (a good thing) it’s never a hard sell to get clients to visit our beautiful capital. 

Talent is the other factor - there are great people here, and if you treat them well they reward you with their best work and their loyalty. And there are great networks - like Creative Edinburgh but also Edinburgh Futures Institute and others that facilitate networking within and outwith the city. 

Why did you decide to become a Business Member of Creative Edinburgh?

It’s a great community. Friendly, diverse, inclusive, supportive. It recognises and champions both the creative and the commercial side of the activities of its members. It’s great for our team to be, through our sponsorship, closer to the events, network and content of Creative Edinburgh, and hopefully we can support the network’s continued growth - not only through the very, very reasonable membership fee but in other ways too. 

You’re also one of our longest serving Steering Group members. How have you seen Edinburgh’s creative community change over the years? 

I think it’s gone from strength to strength. As mentioned briefly before, I think it’s becoming more diverse, more dynamic, more confident and more collaborative. The range of creative endeavours and the quality of work being produced by members of the community is staggering, yet we’re still humble, still happy to share our experiences and to build each other up. I love it. 

To find out more about CreateFuture, visit their website, Twitter and Instagram.

This company is a Business/Professional Member with Creative Edinburgh, and one of the benefits is a Business Spotlight article to showcase their work in the Edinburgh creative community.