We chat with Josh Kay and Jamie White about how they graduated from the Arts University Bournemouth, founded their own agency and took on the world.
We recently profiled Arts University Bournemouth (AUB) and highlighted how its strength of community, forward-thinking and real-world focus puts it at the cutting edge of the creative industry. And if you don’t believe us, just take a look at some of the creatives who’ve emerged from AUB to make their own mark on the world.
Take, for Josh Kay and Jamie White, co-founders of The Syrup Room. Founded in 2015, it’s a creative agency based in Bournemouth with quite the USP. As Josh explains: “We work with brands to help them connect with their customers through physical design.”
The pair formed the company a year after graduating from AUB in graphic design. “To begin with, we started designing and fitting out bars and restaurants and stuff like that in London,” Jamie explains. “When we founded The Syrup Room, we transferred those skills to brand work. And we kept that ethos where we’d not only design everything but physically make it as well.”
In 2023, though, their operations have expanded to the point where they must outsource some of that. “But the important thing is that Josh and I have the skill of knowing how to put something together as much as designing it. So it’s a combination of the two.”
The Syrup Room’s expertise lies in designing and executing start-to-finish physical projects based on innovative concepts. They partner with some of the biggest brands and agencies worldwide on everything from designing and building exhibition stands to full-scale immersive experiences.
Typically, they utilise cutting-edge materials and unique processes to help keep clients ahead of the curve, as well as promote sustainability. And best of all, they’re having lots of fun. “The level of success we’ve had means we’re able to pick and choose really creative, fun, art-based projects from different clients,” Josh enthuses.
For instance, they recently partnered with Nike Jordan and JD Sports on a special event for a basketball tournament entitled Game Day. “Our goal was to fabricate a range of elements that would leave a lasting impression on all participants,” recalls Josh. “We partnered with experiential marketing experts Breaks Agency to execute the project.”
One of the main elements was the podium for the three judges, which they designed and fabricated to reflect the Nike Jordan brand. “It featured an aluminium frame and a nonslip flooring, providing a safe and sturdy platform,” says Josh. “The backdrop showcased a large print of the iconic Air Jordan 1, and we created a custom CNC-cut judging counter, which featured an LED screen. We also created signage, made from OSB sheet material and featuring painted typography, and a T-shirt customisation area.”
In another project, they were approached by car build and paint specialist Kustom Colours and tasked with producing the art for the Group 5 BMW race car. “We hand taped the artwork onto the car and masked each section individually,” explains Jamie. “This was a real passion project, as BMW art cars have always been a major inspiration to us, and this was such a fun project to be a part of.”
A further highlight was the Festival Art Shop they created for reusable water bottle brand Chilly’s at Glastonbury Festival. “We created a full flatpack stand out of modular aluminium panels, CNC furniture and an eight-foot water bottle,” says Jamie. “This was an amazing collaboration with Chilly’s, the team at muralist collective Blank Walls and artist Rosie Woods to create a space with live art, limited-edition custom bottles, and an ice-cold water refill point.”
Coming full circle
Finally, one of Syrup Room’s most recent projects brought everything full circle: collaborating with Arts University Bournemouth to design and build a new exhibition stand for a UCAS event, where different universities try to lure prospective students.
“AUB wanted a lot more engagement on their stand,” Josh explains. “People are going to these events to change their lives; often, it’ll be their first time away from home. So we looked at this project in the sense of: if we were in their shoes, what would draw you into a stand?”
One part of the answer was to offer live transfer printing of custom designs, which could be heat-pressed directly onto students’ bags. “If you’ve got students engaged in that way,” Jamie points out, “it allows for people to talk to them during the queuing process and leave with something a bit different from everyone else.”
The stand also featured a prototype of a smart growing system called Crop: a smart home-growing system developed by Josh and Jamie that’s designed to make the cultivation of nutrient-dense microgreens, sprouts and mushrooms as effortless as possible. Its patent-pending technology allows everything to be fully automated. That means all you need to do is keep the integrated watering system topped up and watch your harvest grow: no green fingers needed. You can read more on its Kickstarter page.
The pair also put a lot of thought into the design of the stand itself. “We used some really cool, innovative materials to construct it, colour-matched the AUB’s branding, and took elements from the university’s architecture, too,” says Josh. “So overall, it had a nice, clean architectural feel but with an edgy, recycled vibe that set it apart from the other stands.”
Sense of community
In short, Josh and Jamie went the extra mile to attract people to the AUB stand, and the feedback was hugely positive. The two feel passionate about this because, even nearly a decade after graduating, they still have close ties to AUB and believe strongly in its mission.
“We stayed in Bournemouth because we studied here,” recalls Jamie. “And while we were at AUB, it was such a creative time for us. We started out studying graphic design, but they allowed us to go into their workshops, experiment, and tie in our physical work with the graphics we were doing. Then, during our final project, we got commercial commissions, and AUB were encouraging and helpful. They knew we would do this after graduating, so they realised it was just as important as getting our final grades.
“AUB was great,” Josh agrees. “It was just a wonderful time: a free space to express yourself and do whatever you want creatively. If you could justify why you were doing it, you were allowed to do it, which was incredible. And to this day, we’ve tried to replicate the university’s ethos and way of doing things here at The Syrup Room.”