James Norrington is Creative Director of the brand engagement agency Avvio. Multi-talented, he's a digital designer, graphic designer, 3d designer and a dab hand at video editing. He's also a pretty impressive wind-surfer and skier.
James, you started out in product design not the usual route into communications business how did all that happen?
I think when I was young I really wanted to be some kind of inventor because I loved ideas. Product design seemed the closest thing to that, so that's what I studied. Early on I was lucky to work as a designer in Milan at a time when it was very exciting and you were expected to be able to design anything. It gave me great exposure and opened my mind to the many aspects of the creative process. I found I preferred the faster pace of the ideas within agency life.
Do you think that experience has given you a slightly different take on the way you solve problems compared to other designers?
I guess it does. There are quite a few ex-product designers here and I think it makes you want to solve the problem from the end user's / customer's point of view rather than getting too lost on the way it looks. It's all about what they experience. You need to change their opinions or allow them to learn something new. As all the comms industry has begun to merge, I think creative people need to understand which combination of comms will be most effective at doing this.
We work together at Avvio and I often see you cursing your computer and thumping the table, but you have an amazing understanding of technology how did you find out so much about it?
Desperation! There was a deadline and I had to find out how to do the thing I was doing, and I suppose I was a bit of curiosity as well. I find I learn something every day just by stumbling upon it or needing to do it.
Can you explain a bit about the Avvio workspace?
50 of us all work in a large open-plan converted barn. I think the environment people work in is very important to their creative output. You need space to think. We are surrounded by open fields, so at lunch I often go for a quick walk. It helps me think through the more difficult problems of the day.
What are you working on today?
Finishing an edit and putting it on some Blu-ray discs for a Sky 'experience' truck. As well as overseeing the studio I still have to work sometimes!
What would you say has been your biggest challenge so far?
Not working too much. It's a kind of addiction.
How have you changed from the guy that first started out in this business?
I've probably become more practical but I still think it's important to try to look at problems afresh.
What's the first thing you do with a new brief?
I ask myself 'Now what do they really mean by this?' and 'is there an easier way of doing this?'
Where do you think creativity is right now? Better than 10 years ago or worse?
I think things are potentially a lot better. All the rules have changed and it's an open playing field. The best ideas come when you 'have to'. Any agency lives or dies by its creativity and understanding. So the guys with the best know-how win because it's so much easier to get your ideas out.
What's your favourite and least favourite work around at the moment?
Although not necessarily new, I really like campaigns that have vision and position a brand in the way the company will be seen in the future, then stick to it for years. Like the HSBC campaign or the BP logo. It takes great, big thinking from the agency and the client to make this happen and then stick to it. It really changes their brand and ultimately how a company is perceived.
I hate to say it, but I was not a fan of the Cadburys Gorillas ad. I know it was popular in adland. There might have been more awareness for a short time but how much long term? And now the company has been bought out, what feeling does that leave the consumer?
Where does your story go from here?
We want to create and produce creative excellence with great business results for our clients. Happy clients.
John Fountain is senior copywriter at Avvio