Voices

Voices // “Ideas win awards”  with Ben Casey, Katja Thielen & Mark Bonner

On 19 November 2014, in yet another packed out, sold out WEDF design event, 3 big names in the design industry gave us an insight to what it feels like to win those coveted yellow pencils, the holy grail of the design world, as well as the other awards that fill their burgeoning mantle pieces.

by Kerry Wheeler

‘Ideas win awards’ was the title and theme of the event, and first up to the podium was Ben Casey - Co-founder and Creative Head of The Chase. It’s easy to say The Chase have had their fare share of awards, and project after project was an inspiration to see - Ben showed examples of simple, clever and witty ideas, executed brilliantly, all giving that jealous twang of I-wish-I’d-thought-of-that.

Ideas like the ‘Bending The Rules’ notebook, such a simple idea, so cleanly and well designed, won a Cannes Lion Gold Award and three Fresh Awards, and is an example of how Ben states sometimes ‘ideas design themselves’. 

Ben also talked about how there are other ideas that need collaboration to succeed, but ‘always work with good people’ as they can enhance an idea. An example of this is the advertising campaign they created for The D&AD Hewlett Packard Graduate Academy — working with a photographer the idea was images of students pressed up against glass ‘looking for a way in’. The identity created for The Women’s Library collection of social behavioural advice for women, dating from the 1800’s to the present day - titled ‘Grow up!’ particularly caught my eye with it’s hand drawn type, but also the way that Ben talked about the fact that the role of the designer is a communicator, not a decorator, and that it is important for the look and feel of a design to relevant to the message.

Other work Ben showed us that really stood out to me was the identity for The Garden Lighting Company - such a gift of a project to work on, and again so clever and witty, yet so simple, a great example of ideas within design. As is their Christmas mailer in the form of a Christmas tree. The cost of the postage from Royal Mail was the exact number and colour of stamps needed to make the image of the tree - it was meant to be! Ideas that win awards, and turn other designers green with envy... Feeling like I haven’t done the work of Ben Casey and The Chase any justice, head to thechase.co.uk to see more of their amazing work, the ideas speak for themselves.

Next to take to the stage was Katja Thielen – Creative Director, Founder of Together Design — a personal favourite of mine, and an agency that I have followed for as long as I can remember, so was really looking forward to seeing the thoughts and stories behind some of their award winning work. Katja started off talking about how ‘everyone needs and idea’ to get started and that the best ideas create an emotional reaction, a smile in the mind, or make people look twice and provoke an opinion. No ideas are totally new ideas they are just new combinations of ideas that create something exciting and relevant.

I loved the story telling behind their recent rebrand for Gordon’s gin. Solving the problem of how to get new consumers to invest into an old brand they immersed themselves in the history of Gordon’s,
the shape of the bottle, the distillery process, the name and heritage and within all this found visual clues - like the Boar’s head. Discovering that it symbolised hospitality it seemed like a missed opportunity not to use it within the brand identity. Rather than use the traditional apple in the mouth that we are all so accustomed to seeing, they replaced it with a lime - much more relevant (and refreshing) when sipping on gin’n’tonic. The Boar as become an ambassador for the brand, and can be altered and appropriated for any occasion, making the idea worker harder and better, and therefore winning them an ‘In Book’ from D&AD.

Katja also talked about Together’s work for Eat 17 Bacon Jam, which won Gold in the DBA Effectiveness Award, highlighting how design can transform a product from an artisan start up to a supermarket success, and the importance on telling a products’ story. The way that Katja talked about the design and the process of coming up with ideas was very much themed on how we are all on a journey, an ‘endless adventure in the world of ideas.’

For more beautiful work from Together Design, and to learn more about their journey of idea finding, you can visit their website at togetherdesign.co.uk as well as lust over the beautiful items in their new shop.

Third up to the stand was Mark Bonner – Founder & Co-Creative Director GBH London and President at D&AD. Describing GBH as ‘a little chic’ Mark showed us idea driven projects such as the Eurostar rebrand from 2000. Giving the Eurostar a chic brand personality with touches such as a virtual bar man, and other decadent design features, they turned the well know brand into a 21st Century Oriental Express, taking on quite a theatrical approach throughout the whole campaign. They saw the project as something ‘beyond graphic design’ integrating the work into 5 various channels including film and 3D environmental graphics. The majority of the projects show by Mark came from their work with Puma - clearly showing that a strong, long-standing client relationship ensures that you know a client and a brand inside out, giving you the knowledge and experience to really win big on the award scene. With over 400 projects with Puma under their belt, ‘GBH is animal’ really rings true.

Big ideas like projecting a life-like hologram film of a real puma in stores, ensuring that you take the brand personality straight to the consumer, to thinking about the smaller details like changing rooms, and even the expressions and ‘normalness’ of the store mannequins, made the consumers feel as close and part of the brand as possible, has not gone unnoticed when handing out awards over the past years.

Their work for puma extended into designing a football ‘Unity’ kit for African teams, the ‘Gaffer’ typeface for Puma football, instilling the idea that you can ‘make football anywhere’ and exploring the idea of the ‘instant nature of football’ goes to show that they really know their sport and client inside out, a relationship that lets them push boundaries and win awards. However, Mark discussed that the nature of winning awards can be down to simply the fact that ‘people find it hard to find something wrong with it.’

One stand out piece of work from GBH was the ‘Mar Mostro’ Puma yacht that competed in the Volvo Ocean Race. The 70 ft yacht had magnificent livery on it that depicted Puma at war with the elements.

The inspiration for the design came from the most popular Puma shoe ‘The Mostro’ which have a unique grip on the soles that are similar in appearance to that of the suckers on an octopus. Combine that with the idea of the waves and the sea and you have got one enormous yacht livery that took a custom boat painter over 800 hours to depict onto the almighty vessel. This kind of story telling , with inspiration from different elements and areas of sport, is definitely a fine example of how ideas win awards.

Q&A

Do awards win clients?

The general consensus concluded that clients seem to be impressed with awards, but they are not a decision maker when it comes down to hiring an agency, or winning pitches. They are something that have more interest peer-to-peer within the design world, as we are more passionate, and have more understanding about what such accolades mean. We are mainly impressing each other! They instil confidence to those agencies who win them, and inspire those agencies who aspire to be the best. There is an understanding that they give an imperfect vision of reality, as they are not the only measurement of creative success.

When do you get your best ideas?

Katja: The ‘best’ ideas come from non-pressure environments and spells of high immersion within a project, digging deep and taking all the information in. Then coming away from it all and letting the mind and thought process to work.

Ben: Finds that time constraints work better and that you must ‘do your homework’. Collaborative environments of talking and learning from each other bring out ideas. ‘You can only imagine things when you have the knowledge. If nothing is going in, then nothing is coming out.”

Mark: Ideas come from making connections.
We all have the ability to think and make connections between different pieces of information,and the more you do it, the better you get at it.

What made you start your own agency?

Katja: Had to make the decision of are you going to make money and be a Creative Director for someone else or for yourself? She enjoys owning her own agency now as it is more rewarding, she has ‘amazing freedom’ to be a designer, a mother and have a family and you can be your own boss.

Ben: Took the opportunist approach of starting an agency in Manchester as there were not many at the time, as the design scene was firmly established in London. Location doesn’t matter - you can run a successful company anywhere.

Mark: Always became restless quite quickly and found it hard to stick in one place. Owning your own agency means you can be as diverse as you want to be without the frustrating limitations that you have from working for someone else. He enjoyed being able to make his own journey and didn’t want to get pushed into a certain direction. This way, the possibilities are endless. 

Written by Kerry Wheeler
kerrywheeler.co.uk