On Tuesday I went to the Design Museum for a talk by Hans Wolbers founder of the Dutch creative agency Lava which won European design agency of the year in 2010. The event was organised and hosted by the folks at LongLunch.
This was my first LongLunch event and Hans delivered a fast paced, insightful talk packed with real world advice and plenty of humour. Many of his points were about design fundamentals told using interesting stories which gave them new legs and perspective. For example, the theme ‘Clichés Are Good’ was a vehicle for showing the importance of having a common visual language. The point was made using examples of toilet signage that he had seen on his travels. To paraphrase, “Once you understand the cliché you can build from there”. This makes perfect sense when thinking about the act of communicating.
The journey of creating the visual identity for a Korean web hosting company was used to show the importance of knowing your audience and the context. Even though we know these principals, it was fantastic to hear first hand the experience of another agency. Here, the reasons for 3 promising concepts being rejected by the client only became clear when Hans arrived in Seoul to make their final presentation. The rejected concepts had used circles as part of the visual identity but everywhere he now looked circles were associated with Pool/Billiards which apparently is hugely popular there. No wonder the client hadn’t given the thumbs up. Luckily their final concept used a different direction and was approved. This underscores the importance of creative budgets being large enough to have a proper research phase, especially if there’s a global component. Otherwise you might hall foul of some cultural mis-match.
Which led nicely onto a couple of great points about negotiating budgets. The problem of getting clients to see the cost of an idea based on the value it creates rather than the time it took to create it, is an old and familiar struggle. Designers such as Yves Behar and others are beginning to transform the perceived value of creative thinking by using new revenue models which essentially create business partnerships. Hopefully as design increasingly becomes part of the boardroom and permeates through organisations just like fundamentals such as budget control, we will see its value increase. Ultimately, its power can be decisive in business. Hans’s point here was to try and be as creative with your approach to business as with your output (this is a good example by Brooklyn agency Breakfast). He offered a couple of bits of advice, one of which is beautifully simple in showing a client how the budget effects not only the result but also the journey of creating it. He described how he used to have on the back of his old business card a triangle. In one corner the word “FAST”, in another “CHEAP” and finally “GOOD”. He would tell clients that they can only have two of these points, never three. For example you can have FAST and CHEAP but it won’t be GOOD! Say with Dutch accent for full effect. Nice.
During the Q&As I asked Hans his view on the merits of an agency being specialised in Visual Identity as brand was something so complex and diverse. Could being specialised limit opportunities given that there is so much integration and convergence now? His response was interesting. He is moving to a film production model whereby the core team is creative generalists, as in the writer, director and producer, and the specialists e.g camera crew, are brought in once the core idea and strategy is formed. Hans said his core team would be made up of creative generalists who were visual thinkers and story tellers.
I’ve sumarised just some of the points and examples Hans gave during what was a fine demonstration of story telling itself. The talk never dragged and he kept everyone engaged from start to finish. Thanks to LongLunch for making these events happen. I must go more often!