There is a tried and tested method for design talks. The captain of the ship takes an awed audience through all the successful voyages they’ve taken and then shows the spoils and souvenirs they brought home from each trip. Sometimes they talk about the journeys that weren’t successful, times they had to turn round and the holes in the side of the boat. But more often than not, with a giant projector and a box of dusty slides, we watch as they show us the design equivalents of beautiful landscapes and only hint at the treacherous course that got them to their destination.
That was until Ragged Edge invited us to be part of their crew (if you’re waiting for my metaphor to run out, I think you’re in luck). On a Wednesday in February, we took our seats in front of the busiest stage we’ve ever had at the Arnolfini. Five speakers. Not one of them with the same job as the other. Co-founder. Strategist. Copywriter. Designer. Client. The aim of the night pretty simple. To take a room full of 250 creatives (some from as far as Plymouth) through a project from start to finish, specifically Project Toy.
— Max Ottignon
The more you share an idea, the sharper it gets. The more you share it, the more you have to explain it.
Co-founder Max Ottignon kicked off proceedings with the power of sharing. Whether that’s sharing their process with an audience of strangers (maybe even competitors), sharing the same beliefs as your clients, sharing philosophies with co-workers, or simply sharing ideas.
He outlined some of the ways sharing has a positive impact on running their agency:
– You should care more about sharing the same beliefs as your client, than what their business is. It becomes easier to drive change if you’re both pushing from the same direction – and it will be reflected in the work you create together. The people are more important than the brand.
– Leave your ego at the door. You have to open yourself and your ideas up to the floor, share them, let other people make them better. Any chance to justify it is an opportunity to craft the rationale even further. This will breed simple ideas (not to be confused with simplistic)
Once we’d heard some of the reasons the team think clients choose them, we got to ask Nigel Phan. ‘Nige’ is their client, Founder and Managing Director of Whirli (previously called Project Toy). And in a moment where everyone held their breath, Max asked that million dollar question – “Why us Nige?”. We needn’t have worried because Nige was looking for the same things. An agency whose beliefs aligned with his, someone to trust his vision with. Creating an eco-system of people he could have the highest confidence in. We had no chance to relax though, as Ragged Edge showed how serious they were about getting under the hood. “And what about money?” How important was the budget? Not a million-dollar question (at least I don’t think…) but a bloody good one. This is where it became apparent how well aligned the client/agency vision was, as Nige talked about the importance of investing at the beginning, for a brand that will weather the 3 year rebrand itch. Phew.
Next up, Henry Nicholls, Senior Strategist took to the mic to ask “What’s the point in doing strategy?” to groans of recognition from the crowd. In a not-at-all-suprising eloquent way, Henry distilled it down to these three questions:
- What do you do best?
- What do your customers want most?
- What do your competitors do least?
From these three answers and some very fun-looking primary research, the team presented Nige with three different strategy proposals. The part of these that stood out was the ‘Brand Idea’ – a single line intended to be the centre of gravity in the project. Something that’s internal only, for the team during the brand process and the team at Project Toy towers. In this case, it was ‘Share the Joy’. Beautifully simple, but not simplistic. Nige talked us through his decision making between the three and said that he had a very emotive reaction to this route. Though it also ticked his more pragmatic boxes about future-proofing and picking a strategy that wouldn’t hinder their growth.
Next up, the notoriously tricky part of any brief – Naming. Ragged Edge has a team of in house copywriters which includes David Ormondroyd (also associate CD), who talked us through the triumphs and trials.
- When your name becomes a verb, you’ve got it right. Googled, Hoovered, Velcro-ed.
- It stands to be a distillation of purpose – big plans for just one or two words to achieve. Except when it doesn’t. Nonsensical can work too, look at EE or Häagen-Dazs (actually a made up word!)
- Legality. Trademarking, url-buying, twitter-handling. A naming presentation comes with its own safety warning ‘Fall in love at your own risk’
David says you can invite anything to audition. Word association can be powerful, and lead you to places you didn’t imagine. In the same way we often talk about inviting non-designers to contribute to the design process, inviting others to input into the writing process might yield unexpected results. Combining words and visuals is like playing doubles tennis. Both playing different sides of the court, but instinctively as a team. Both with a shared goal. So became Whirli, named to evoke the wonder of aisles full of toys, and suggest at the cyclical nature of the business model.
So poetically, we come full circle to the creative. Though you could argue everything before this is creative too. From five loose ideas, down to two routes, down to one. Luke Woodhouse, Creative Director, talked us through the ideas that almost were, and Nige told us why he chose the way he did. Pitting each one up against the practicalities he faced as a startup and choosing the option that felt truly disruptive. Echoing something Max said at the beginning –
— Max Ottignon
Look for conflict. Look to be uncomfortable. That’s when you’ll be memorable.
And there we have it. What we initially thought would be a night of five stories – but that’s not what we got. We heard one story, in five chapters. “A project that no single one of us could’ve done.” A really refreshing approach, as we so often (and understandably) see Creative Directors talking through work that took a small army. So I say invite more studios. True representations of studios, not just the decision makers. All the influencers. Bring clients and juniors and writers and animators and even the milkman. Share the joy.
Huge thanks to Ragged Edge for being so honest, open and quite frankly, risky – by asking those big questions in front of a room full of strangers. It certainly felt like we knew each other by the end of the night.
Photography by Ben McCluskey