Photography: Courtesy of Urbanito Guides
A unique and innovative city guide, Urbanito are aiming their books at families, proving exploration and discovery is for everyone. We learn about the creation and development of the brand with founder Elaine Mackenzie, as well as discussing what the future holds for Urbanito.
How did the idea for Urbanito Guides come about?
In 2010 we had an opportunity to consider relocation to Tokyo. At that time we had a 1 year old and 4 year old and we quickly realised how challenging and time consuming it was to find the kind of information we needed to enable us to have the lifestyle we enjoyed and to introduce our kids to a new culture and place in an inspiring way. Following that, we took our kids to Paris and London a few times and although we knew these cities pretty well, again we found it stressful and intimidating as we didn’t know the best places to go with children aside from the busy tourist spots, so the idea that there had to be a better way - an inspiring, time saving way to give parents confidence without compromising on style or substance, and which allowed them to enjoy cities armed with valuable relevant insider knowledge - became a passion project for me to develop. It was born out of frustration that the assumption was that once we became parents we didn't want or need a fashionable city guide.
How did you progress the initial idea into a brand?
We’re slightly obsessed with brands and passionate about branding and brand positioning so spend a lot of spare time immersed in brand stories and development. We always had that vision in our minds when we sat down to plan the product and the business. We hope to create a brand which has some longevity and which we have the flexibility to expand into other areas past guide books when the time is right. We took a very clear approach regarding our brand design to ensure it would attract our target market, sit well in retailers, and have always been clear regarding our Paris guide being the first in a series. And we worked very hard to find collaborative partnerships to help us take our ideas forward into a usable product. That process had many ups and downs and disappointments along the way as we tried to fill the technical skill gaps that we had. We had the design and business strategy skills but limited computer design experience and no knowledge of the print sector. In the end we were fortunate to find a suitable printing partner, but that took a long time and was a very difficult and sometimes overwhelming process. We focused on learning the design programmes in more detail ourselves to allow us to have control of the final design and layout etc going forward. It was expensive and time consuming but worth it as we feel we fully understand the intricacies of the product now and have the skills to step in if need be without depending on outside artworkers.
How do you make your guides stand out against the competition?
Family focused city guides tend towards the traditional book format and are heavy on working around tourist landmarks in addition to being cumbersome to carry around. We approached our guide from the perspective of visiting without our kids then worked backwards to narrow down places which were welcoming to kids, not necessarily what you may call classically family focused or family friendly. This is how we live our lives and no other guide series targeted people like us, with a modern stylish design. Many family guides also target the kids with activity books etc, whilst we focus primarily on the parents with some interactive conversation prompts as a secondary feature in the guide for interaction with the kids. Our format makes us distinguishable as we are a map and guide company. It took us 2 years to perfect the design and format - and many challenges - but it was vital to create something which is practical, good looking and useful, and our design incorporates the kind of key insider information we were looking for in an easy to use, transportable product.
Where does your love for travel and adventure come from?
Simon and I travelled a lot for work - me during my career as a fashion designer and Simon working in the drug discovery sector - and we loved exploring the cities we were in and hunting out the coolest hotspots and new places opening up. When I was growing up my family often took city breaks and I think my love of the sense of discovery when visiting new places, particularly cities, developed as I travelled more with work.
We knew this was something we wanted to pass on to our children as we think educating kids in the wider world removes an apprehension of unknown cultures and places, enabling them to take opportunities wherever they are as they grow into adulthood. We have seen how much they gain from immersing themselves in local city life in a new place and it’s something we feel passionate about.
Travel guides are often aimed at young travellers - how have you created a guide that appeals to families?
Generally families are no different from young travellers. If you loved to travel and explore the heart of a city and the unique, off the tourist trail locations before you had children, you still want to do that even when children come along. We show that this is possible and that the nicest hotspots are still available to them.
The difficulty is that cities in particular can be incredibly intimidating to people with youngsters in tow as kids can be demanding and unpredictable. Also families are variable and different things suit different family preferences. As parents ourselves we could see the challenges first hand and that gives our guide authenticity. We provide curated information to allow for flexibility and choice to illustrate that cities don’t need to be scary places and are in fact giant playgrounds full of interesting and amazing experiences. It is not essential to hop from one tourist destination to another with tired, hungry, tourist weary children - we don’t - and we show how this somewhat dreaded scenario can be avoided.
Speed can also be important and the last thing parents want is to stand on street corners folding and unfolding large complex maps or flipping through books to find somewhere to eat whilst the kids have a little meltdown, so the design of our guide was intended to be a neat, speedy and easy solution. Including illustrations and drawing pages to engage kids and keep them amused is also a plus. Parents, grandparents etc love mementoes from younger family members and the fact our guide is a physical product that kids can make their own is something of value. Our customers can see the benefit in all of that.
Your guides are beautifully designed. Could you tell us a little about your design philosophy?
We are influenced by simple design and love the understated elegance of Cereal magazine and fashion brands such as Céline who create a very clean, pared back aesthetic. We wanted our own brand to share that minimal essence and for the design to provide an uncluttered base for us to expand on in the future if the situation arose. Quality is key for us to enter the market we are aiming for and to give our customers the nicest possible experience so we used top quality papers which would enable them to customise the guides as they went around the city giving them memories to keep long after the trip. It was important to have a unisex and grown up appeal to avoid limitations on our development and growth. The guide design and layout comes from our vision to create a product which is tactile, stylish, luxurious but essentially hugely practical too.
What can we expect to see in the future from Urbanito?
We are currently working on an innovative new product for Paris and London, one for the family market and one for another exciting genre. We will also expand our digital guide into a more magazine style resource which will compliment the paper guides. Once these projects launch in the coming months we will look to expand our locations to other cities and hopefully collaborate with interesting like minded retailers and companies on bespoke projects.
What's your advice for aspiring entrepreneurs wanting to create something new and exciting?
Tap into your inner courage and resilience and go for it. Our experience has shown us that there will always be a solution and a way round problems so hang in there. Be prepare for things to take a lot longer than anticipated but stay the course. Be open, brave and easy to work with and good things can, and do, happen. New ideas and concepts can be difficult for people to grasp and it can take time, but believe in yourself and your vision, whilst being open minded and remaining flexible. Find supportive partnerships who can offer guidance and solutions. Our turning point came once we found our printer who wholeheartedly understood our vision and helped us turn our idea into a real life product. There are plenty of naysayers out there - surround yourself with likeminded, creative, positive people and try things out. The only way to fail is to not try - you never know what can happen if you take that leap.