Our write-up on Terry Stephen's talk 'Moving Brands – The Unconventional Journey'

Terry started off by saying that the title of the talk not only sums up the Moving Brands approach to design and briefs, but also his own journey through the industry, which is not the typical path that most designers take.

As a teenager, Terry knew that he was already quite stubborn, he questioned everything and yet was also incredibly determined for someone so young. He was aware that he wanted to be a designer from a young age, and because of this felt that he didn’t want to go to university, but to get straight into working industry life. He heard a radio station advert calling for young apprenticeships, applied, and ended up taking the less conventional path of a BTEC course at a college in Islington, which provided him not only with the skills he needed, but also direct links with the industry. One of these links was a job at Creative Edge, becoming part of their studio of 6 people, mainly working on small comms and branding projects. After six months, they eventually persuaded him to go to university, explaining that it was too good an experience to miss out on, not only from a design point of view, but a great life experience too.

Throughout the talk Terry highlighted key messages that he wanted people to take away from the evening. The first of these being Experiment, learn, improve.’ He talked about this in relation to the fact that he himself tried to experiment, learn and improve whenever the opportunity rose. Every break he had from university – Christmas, Easter, Summer holidays etc, he would try and get as many placements in design agencies as he could. He deliberately targeted different studios to get a more rounded viewpoint of the industry and worked at agencies such as Design Bridge, Hat Trick and Rose.

He began his time at Rose not as a studious placement, but more as a ruse for someone being shown round the studio at the time to make them appear as a bigger studio. That someone was Michael Wolff. Terry was kept on and got the chance to work with Wolff and clients such as Royal Mail and BAFTA. His experience at Rose here leads us onto his next key message…

Draw on the experiences of everyone you work with. Be the best you can be.’ From working at places like Rose, Terry learnt to stop and appreciate that you can draw on, and learn from, the people around you. You can take on the best experiences that the people around you have had, add these together, take them all in, and then grow as a better person from them. This is something that he still lives by today, taking experiences of those around him who have been in the industry for a while, but also from younger, new starters who have their own experiences to share. 

After a while, Terry got that itch that most designers come across at points in their life, and turned to the world of freelance work, leaving Rose behind. He talked about his time freelancing for agencies like They Why Not Associates, working with Tate Modern, or on projects such as the album artwork for Grace Jones and the most enviable of all projects — the Comedy Carpet in collaboration with Gordon Young. The Comedy Carpet is a humongous typographic granite carpet that sits at the foot of Blackpool Tower. The most amazing collection of quotes and catchphrases from the comedy greats of Britain, cut out of granite letters and embedded in to concrete. (Head over to the Why Not Associates website to catch a glimpse, the making of’ process, which is incredible.) The project was born out of the Why Not partners passion for British comedy, and the language that sits within it. The lesson that Terry took from this was to strive to work with clients and on projects that you enjoy and love, as those are the most enjoyable and rewarding. 

Terry also talked about how, away from design, he is a keen runner, and has taken part in a number of marathons — London, Paris and Boston to name a few, and how this has taught him the importance of taking learnings from outside of the design world as well as within it. He talked about how activities such as running give you the ability to get away and switch off for a while, whether you have had a great day, a shit day, or need time to think about a brief. Take yourself outside of that home or design environment. From talking about this, Terry led us into another one of his key messages… 

What do you want? Why do you want it? How much do you want it?’. This is a quote taken from Charlie Spedding’s book From Last to First. Terry discussed how Spedding is one of the marathon running greats, and this quote not only resonated with him from a sporting point of view, but also a life point of view. If you start to answer this question about obstacles that you come across throughout your life, it can drive you to achieve greater things. Terry broke down the three questions, section by section. Firstly what do you want?’ – this can be taken as looking at short term goals, mid term goals, or longer life term goals, not only from a design or business point of view, but from a personal point of view. Moving on to the why – Why do you want it?’ – this helps eliminate self doubt from a lot of situations — do you want it enough to fight for it? And then moving on to the last question How much do you want it?’ – how far are you willing to go? How deep are you willing to dig to get what you want? These questions all sprang to mind when Terry was running one of his many marathons, digging deep enough for him to hit his target of finishing under 3 hours. During the race, he nearly gave up on his goal, but then realised what he wanted, why he wanted it and crucially, how much he needed to dig deep it get it. Acheiving his goal, completing the marathon 5 seconds shy of 3 hours, Terry realised that this is generally also a good approach to have through life. Think about your mid and long term goals. What do you want and what are you willing to do? 

Terry then progressed to talking about Moving Brands. Freelancing with them for a while, he took on a more permanent role after 3 years. They have 4 locations, with the London studio being the largest, their other offices being in San Francisco, Zurich and New York. He talked about how they specialise in three areas – branding and communications, experience design (whether that be a digital service or working with physical spaces), and business design (playing the part of a strategic consultancy, looking at the brand development and what kind of impact that has on an organisation). Terry discussed how these three areas compliment each other in terms of creating a rounded, compelling customer experience for brands, and went on to play a showreel of examples of work that 
Moving Brands has done over the last few years. 

He told us about the balance of clients that Moving Brands work with, whether they be international, national or local. From an international level they have clients such as Google, Sony and Microsoft, compared to their more national clients, such as their 9 year long relationship with Swisscom, one of the reasons why they have an office in Zurich. He also talked about local clients and their office in San Francisco, due to the nature of silicon valley, this is where a lot of their smaller, start-up clients come from.

He introduced the Moving Brands approach of using the power of storytelling to uncover, often an already existing, story within a brand. Their initial presentations to clients often visually relays their own story back to them, with no actual design work or brand identity included. They use the medium of film to sell the story, behaviour and character of the brand, an example of this was shown to us in one of the first films that they created for Swisscom, which can be found on their website. Terry described this approach as not just jumping straight into design work, but finding out exactly what it is what the client wants, what they think the client needs and distilling that into a story to tell back to the client.

He then moved on to the next key message Make time for play…’ which everyone has an appetite’ for at Moving Brands. Terry told the story of Guy Wolstonholme, one of the brothers who founded Moving Brands. In 1999 he pioneered the first web broadcast in Outer Mongolia which was then beamed directly into the BBC. It’s this appetite for trying, testing and playing that also moved Ben Wolstenholme, the brother of Guy, to open their San Francisco office, seeing it as an opportunity to work with the many start ups coming out of that area. Terry talked about his few first days at Moving Brands, getting to know a UX colleague who had on his hands one of the first 3D printers, and how he had managed to develop it to print a larger version of itself.

It is this challenging spirit that has produced projects for them such as using the X‑Box Connect to create a typeface based on human gestures made with the body, and then seeing the potential in the outcome to use it in a music video for a client. Or the project where they created a 3D advent calendar by hacking the 3D printers to print using chocolate.

Terry moved on to his next key message – Open up your doors to other people. Learn and be inspired.” He discussed how this was about not just playing and working with the people in your studio, but opening up your doors to the creative people and studios around you. He talked about a conductive ink hackday’ that they had at Moving Brands over one weekend, where local creatives and studios were invited in to take part in a one day brief. It encouraged them to just take one idea and gun it’ — to be bold and brave with their ideas — maybe it will be amazing and successful, or may be it will just crash and burn. But it will have been brave and bold. He also talked about how the days after the hack weekend in the studio were full of energy and buzz, and that he realised how energising exercises like this can be for a studio. 

Don’t forget, at the end of the day, it’s about having fun.” This key message resonates throughout the work that Terry showed from Moving Brands, and also the previous work that he has done — the Comedy Carpet being a prime example. He also went into great depth about a project at Moving Brands with Film Nation — an organisation that is backed by BFI and the National Lottery that encourages young people to get into film. They already ran initiatives like training programmes and a film club, but they were starting a new programme called Adventures in Film’ and wanted an identity to go with it. Initially, the project was a pitch, and Terry talked around the stigma of to pitch or not to pitch’, and the discussions they had around including full creative or just credentials. They saw the pitch as an opportunity, and followed the mantra of if you are going to go for it, go for it’. A pitch can be one of the only times that you can truly tell a client how it is; and how it should be. And also, this opportunity was giving them the chance to pitch to a board that included the founder of IMDB and also the director of Film 4, so with that in mind, they went for it. They took the Moving Brands approach of leading with a film that told a story, and how the identity for Adventures in Film’ would centre around a dynamic and playful logo mark and typeface, which acted as a looking glass into the world of film. Terry gave us an in depth look at the entire creative process that went into the project, from the moving, dynamic identity system, to the workshops they took out with a range of children from 5 – 18 year olds. This helped them see how they reacted to the brand, helping them think about the project from an end users point of view — whether that be the young people who are engaging with the brand every day, or financial investors who without, the organisation would be not be able to function. They went into a renaming process, and the structure behind that, and ended on the final identity for Into Film’. The full case study will be launched on the Moving Brands website soon.

And that was about it! Murmurs from the audience were overheard saying how it was one of the most enjoyable and informative talks that WEDF have put on, and how it was incredibly insightful to see another studio approaches presenting ideas and case studies to clients. Terry’s final key message was Make time for play’ which is something we all definitely need to do more of.

Photo by Adrian Barclay.