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A conversation about IceCream, Hobbies & WH Smith...

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Where do you get inspiration from?

The typical answer here is to say ‘from everywhere’ but that’s really flipping unhelpful to those reading thinking, I really need some inspiration, where do I look.

I was once in a meeting with the in-house design team of Iceland Supermarkets.

I had been asked to stand up and talk design in front of them to help them feel more inspired. So I waxed lyrical about the streets of London.

Talked about how the changing fashions, shop fronts, architecture, music and food all worked to create a phenomenal remix culture that we can learn from.

There was a hushed silence after the speech.

Then one small voice said, ‘that’s all very well, but our view from the office is a field. Our landscape consists of a car park and a motorway. How are we supposed to find inspiration from that?’ 

Oh bum.

Thing is they were right.

It’s going to be a push to be inspired by a car park.

So I worked with them for 2 months to show them how more lateral thinking, weird stuff, really helps inform a more interesting approach to design work.

It resulted in their most effective ad campaign ever and an invigorated. design department prepared to take risks.

So I’d say I’ve found weird things the most inspiring and useful. One of the best bits of advice you can give any creative mind is ‘read weird stuff’.

How do you inspire your creative team?

As creatives, we are supposed to be some of the most interesting people in the room. So I really encourage people to have interesting experiences.

If you are not busy.

Get out of the studio.

Vanilla may be the nations most popular flavour but to create something to challenge it, timid, dull steps will not work. Weird works when it comes to inspiring not only your own creativity but to develop creative work that will disrupt and stand out from the crowd.

Be that packaging, advertising, branding or any commercially applied creativity.

This doesn’t mean stealing away to darkened rooms to perv over oddities. But to seek out curiosities that connect the many, be open to new experiences and to enter into these events with an openness and enthusiasm.

We want the work we do for clients to be popular. So for example, by melding the storytelling of Game of Thrones that has enthralled millions of people, with an striking visual mapping system from the Arctic – you’ll likely get some odd, but compelling places to start working from.

More than anything we muck about, a lot.

You can’t manufacture fun.

But you can create environments where it is more likely to occur.

I’m convinced you can see when a project has been enjoyed by the creators. It’s one of the reasons Pixar continue to win.

They clearly obsess over and love their work.

What are your favourite forms of creativity? – outside of the work?

Alexander McQueen’s work is still the benchmark

The luxury sector continues to embrace the weird and create work that is memorable. The watches coming out of MB&F are astonishing.

They don’t look like watches.

But they have a devoted and growing following. Alexander McQueen’s ground breaking show at the V&A broke all records and has no doubt inspired a new wave of fashion designer. (It reduced a friend of mine to tears) – Luxury is investing in creative work that helps define its own brand of methodology. It’s own operating system. It’s own parameters.

Where do you find inspiration outside of work?

Technology is entering new realms where a deeper consideration is required. And that’s really interesting. Read ‘The Circle’ by David Eggers – a brilliant writer, graphic designer and winner of the TED award. it’s clearly about Google. (It's a terrible film though)

About how the pursuit of something seemingly pure, a more transparent behaviour set for public figures for example – can have huge unconsidered ramifications. It’s this deeper design thinking that is fascinating.

Equally it’s important not to just be consumed by the latest buzzer.

I’ve just returned from a family holiday deep in the French countryside where the most popular place was a nondescript roadside bar that served wine from unlabelled bottles and ice cream from a bashed steel fridge. It was packed with locals. All the time. And was in the middle of no where.

What they had got right?

Perfectly judged products for a perfectly served community. It’s what any modern brand strives for. And not a tweet in sight.

Do you have any hobbies?

It’s an odd one that. I always feel like hobbies are a rather forced endeavour. To be professionally sought out for surgical advice, only to be keen on making train sets. I suspect that to be involved in the creative sector for so long is to have seen that my professional and my personal interests are entirely interweaved. I used to think my lack of a hobby was due to me being too busy professionally to get into stamp collecting. But my work takes me to places that others would call hobbies. Photography. Sculpture. Music. Film. Collecting. Writing. Theatre. Travel. It’s all in a weeks work.

I have, in full cliché mode, developed a love for cycling. I have long considered starting a brand called ‘Men’s Technical Clothing’. This brand would ensure that all items of clothing were accompanied by an extensive set of instructions, website pages and fly-through films. Talking up the structure of each thread on a molecular level... men in particular (and this could be a sweeping and unfair generalisation) seem to be suckers for data and frankly unnecessary levels of detail when it comes to purchase. Bikes, and all aspects of cycling seem to cater and over deliver in this realm. It's mad to spend £300 for a saddle, made out of carbon fibre, that saves you 200g in weight and might very slightly slip faster through the air. But spend, we do. Particularly because it has a little pink circle underneath — UNDERNEATH, that only you know is there — and is made by Rapha. I know it's nuts. I love it.

Is there any inspiring trend you’ve noticed within the industry?

It’s increasingly hard to figure out what the hell a company does, and harder still to hire them. We were looking for a partner to co-create some advertising in Israel. The number of agencies we looked at that couldn’t explain their offer was amazing.

We were looking at global agencies as well as local ones.

Equally maddening is the number of companies outside of the creative sector who struggle to explain what they do.

It would appear that with the ability to do more with less resource has left many organisations unable to define themselves.

I count branding in that problem. at SomeOne, we were Cancer Research UK’s lead brand agency for 6 years. And proudly so. But our output covered a diverse portfolio so broad – traditional branding agencies would fail to recognise much of the work as branding. Everything from new product development to fundraising to internal communications.

And this is a trend we are seeing more and more of, organisations products, services all coming to us for a broader range of challenges. Occasionally we get a specialist request from a new client. A bespoke typeface for example. But more and more it’s for everyone possible to give that brand an advantage, and it’s bloody exciting.

Are there any projects you wish you’d worked on but didn’t?

We have a running channel at SomeOne on recent missed opportunities. It’s penned by the designers, is brutal and definitely not for this article! I’d love to work with the dying ember that is WHSmiths, it’s currently a national embarrassment. I think Virgin Atlantic could do with a visual rethink, it’s such a great service, times have moved on and deserves more than they have. I wish we could have been asked to look at the tweak of the FaceBook visual brand identity. It’s woefully lacking in ambition.

Who inspires you? – outside of work?

I’m a big fan of those who bring people together. Phil Jones at Podge has been uniting the creative community for years. Lynda Relph-Knight is the queen of creative connectivity. The guys at Glug held inspirational gatherings brilliantly for years. And YCN pushed for new models of hearing and hearding the cats and commending the best in breed. ItNiceThat most recently have done great things as have TheDots. These are all clearly connected to my work. But are all extra curricular – we could all be at home watching a movie. Instead we are out with others, learning, thinking (and drinking.)

Who in the design/advertising industry inspires you?

Anyone that’s survived a decade. Those first 10,000 hours. They are tough.

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