LTB S2 013 Mark Kingsley - Strategy director and designer
Strategy is the identification of context.
In this episode I talk with Mark Kingsley. Having directed at companies such as Collins, Landor and Ogilvy he has a lot of experience. He also did a lot of design work for Blue Note, Atlantic and the Guggenheim museum. We talk about the history and future of strategy and design, Mark’s strategic work for Ogilvy and some really fun anecdotes.
You can find the full transcript below the sponsored message on this page.
We talk about:
The repositioning of Ogilvy
Collins, the agency
“Strategy is the identification of context”
How strategy and design are influencing each other
The difference between big agencies and small shops
Mark’s encounter with Massimo Vignelli
How you can design ‘the situation’
Why you shouldn’t present a logo on a tote bag.
The Pepe the frog meme
The target brand
The brand new conference
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Here’s the full transcript
And a lot of it, you know a lot of it could. Possibly be I mean, I'm just kind of floating this as an idea just came to me that maybe the reason why a lot of strategy kind of sounds the same. It's because people don't really know what strategy is. Hey there first off. I want to take a minute to thank all our brief.
They've been sponsoring this podcast season and there are a bunch of amazing people hold a brief is an online environment that allows you to create better design briefs there set of easy and accessible through. Exercises allows me and the client to get on the same page very quickly. I suggest you go take a look yourself at all a brief.com.
In this episode I talk with markings Lee Mark is a well experienced guy. He has worked for Collins Lander and he has done some amazing work such as the repositioning of Ogilvy design work for Guggenheim blue note and a lot more Mark has some amazing stories to tell about his. Variances in the graphic and strategy world.
We talk about brand strategy logo design and a lot more so buckle up and let's start branding. Hi, my name is Mark Kingsley. I'm a creative director designer strategist educator writer and speaker based in New York City. All right, cool. Could you tell us a bit about your history? Where have you worked?
And what's your experience? I was trained as a graphic designer and I really wanted to become a record cover designer. That's all I wanted to do was just to record covers and when I got out of school, I found myself my first one of my first jobs was in the Cosmetic industry where I was designing packaging for fragrances for Giorgio Armani Ralph, Lauren cash Darrell and Lisa East and Drakkar Noir, and I eventually worked.
Way in just through meeting people and you know just being present and always showing up. I eventually worked my way into doing music packaging. I started off at a doing work. It was basically freelance. So I started off doing work for a small Irish music label called Green Linnets, which has since been bought and sold a couple times by different couple companies and from there I built a portfolio and was able to.
Get some of the largest clients in the music industry. So I did a lot of work for Blue Note. Let it work for Verve some work for Sony a lot of work for Atlantic BMG RCA and it was about 18 years of fun. I absolutely adored it. I just love to I just love doing it and then the MP3 came around the financial crisis, September 11th in New York City and with after all these crises.
Things needed to change I wasn't making as much money and music. In fact, there's one designer Mike Mills who says it music pack designing music packaging is the quickest way to the Poorhouse these apps and he's absolutely absolutely correct. So so I found myself working at a division of old will be called Big which stood for the brand Innovation group and there I was designing everything from a logo for double-click before they were purchased by.
Google to various packaging and in-store exercises for Walmart for a large pitch that we did to retail spaces for Sprint and various other small projects here and there along the law along the way and after that ended up designing and illustrating. Advertising for about a year and a half for publicist hell writing for HP, which was probably a year and a half of like the greatest experience of my life because everything that ever came through my mind's was printed its time.
It was outrageous. I mean, I made a good amount of money, but more more more importantly it was that it was an exercise in just allowing my. Subconscious kind of like work and it was it was quite a revealing experience for me. So after that ended up in San Francisco working at land or as a creative director and the city account and basically I was the global creative lead for all work that land or did in the world for City and Citibank.
And that was an amazing position because it was granted. It was a lot of travel and me showing up in suits and talking to large groups of people about typography, but it was also a great education and brand and branding and what that is and it helped me see how design is merely like an execution of a larger brand.
And probably one of the greatest compliments that I've ever received from anyone was from the global head of branding at city and she wrote a note to my colleague. And she said I'm really happy to see how Mark has become as gone from becoming a designer to a brander. And if you understand what that means, it's just that.
She saw that I had the I then was able to develop the ability to kind of see beyond just shapes and forms and to see how things work with people how things work within contexts and and how things work on a larger business level 2. So after that. Ended up in Paris for a little bits and then back in New York where I had my own branding small boutique studio called malcontents and there I did some lot of projects were Arts organizations and after that ended up a Collins for a couple of years where I was executive strategy director and there I did add some really wonderful experiences their eye.
It was able to basically I worked on the global repositioning for Ogilvy, which was just announced like maybe six months ago. And that was that was kind of incredible that mean to sit at the at the table with the CEO of a large global. Advertising agency and have a conversation about where they needed to go.
So that was like one of those little proud moments of my life. And so I had a couple other projects. There was one in Japan where we were taking a probably one of the largest companies in Japan and helping reposition one of their divisions. And one other project was for equinox the gym which some people in United States know probably better than people in Europe Equinox is a like a high-end health.
And they're owned by a large real estate company called related and they are going into the luxury hotel space and the project was to try and find a way to position logically a health club in luxury hotels and how to find a connect and build that connective tissue. So so those were great projects and then after that I'm back in malcontent for the time being.
All right. That's that's quite a journey you had there and that's the short version the project at for like repositioning Ogilvy. Could you I don't know how much you can tell us about it. But could you like elaborate a bit on that experience? Because I think it's like something so hugely difficult just because of the the whole history behind Ogilvy.
Could you like give some insight into that project? Yeah. Basically, well, let's talk about foundation and then build from the found on the foundation from there. So basically what is strategy right and there are many different definitions. It's like there is no one definition for design which is really kind of suspicious for designers to go through the world and say, you know not be able to tell people what design is it's the same thing through for strategy.
There are different ways of approaching strategy. The definition that I tend to work with and granted it's not a perfect definition. The one I tend to work with is that strategy is both the identification of context and then the proposal for a different and new kind of context. So to identify a context you need various analytical devices and filters and these are all basically metaphors.
What metaphors are you going to use to see the world? And for Ogilvy and basically actually, let me step back for me. I the process that I use I was trained in college and semiotic believe it or not. And this is like towards the beginning of semiotic such as a college level course in United States.
This was the mid 80s and I studied under a man named. Dr. Michiel Nadine who was from Brown University. And so from semiotic sigh worked my way through various conversations and various courses that I would take and to post structuralist Theory structuralism. No ticks and then into a little bit of phenomenology.
So this is a this is a different kind of input than what most people who work as strategists have most people tend to work with the classic Harvard Business Review case study kind of approach where it's a business discussion that happens and I'm interested in the sociolinguistics aspect of. So I don't see things the way that a lot of other strategists do so for Olga V.
I looked at it as how do you sound basically how do you act I mean, it sounds like very simple brand strategy activity. But if with if you have a lens that you see the world through. That will color how you see it. Right? So the fact that I see things through critical theory mean that I look at it slightly differently.
So Ogilvy the we started off with the classic strategy step of you have to diagnose you look to see what's happening you establish what the context is that things operate in which means you go through their old documents you go through some of their employee reports you go through. A General Industry analysis you look around and you know luckily having had a 30 plus year career.
I kind of have some experience and a bit of a point of view about what's happening in the in the industry and ands, everybody's point of view is a little bit different and so I was able to bring that into some sort of diagnosis. Then you have to propose where you're going to go and that really is once again, the creative process that's like being a designer but instead of Designing a shape and form you're designing an ethic and you're designing a mindsets.
So that process there was about eight months. I'm sitting with if sitting with the CEO and the CMO of Ogilvy and having a conversation about what you think. What do we think? You need to be? How do you need to kind of reframe what you are? Right and so one of the things that we had to deal with was David Ogilvy because you're right.
Yeah. It is a very kind of dense history that they have to address. The problem with a Ogilvie is that he was such a well spoken and good writer. That's his these little phrases of his just kind of. All of the communications that come out of that company to the point where they become like these almost mouth like aphorisms, you know, like how and China in the 1970s Chairman Mao have a little red book of his quotes.
Well, this is kind of the same thing that happened at Ogilvy. There is no are actually little books of quotes of David Ogilvy that passed around a Togepi so that personality had to be addressed. And in a way it was this process since I had worked at Ogilvy at a division of theirs was a bit of fratricide.
I mean if the patricide I got I had an opportunity to attempt to kill the father, right and in this case David Ogilvy, so but if you take away all the David Ogilvy isms, you need to replace it with something. How are we going to see the company? What filter are we going to use? So. Ogilvy is a creative company.
That's that's what they sell themselves as but there are many other people within that organization that helps support that creativity, you know from Finance to client services to accounting and you name it. There's there's they have a huge infrastructure that helps. That machine run but the problem is that if you have a creative departments, this is a conversation we had internally at Collins if you have a if you have a creative Department what that does is that gives permission for many people not to be creative because the creatives will take care of it.
And so we're like no no, no, you all have to take charge of your creativity because there are answers that aren't necessarily the logo. I mean the communications of a. And are only a small fraction of the whole overall brand management activity. I mean, there are there strategic aspects to it.
There are positioning there's manufacturer. There's just stripped distribution. There's like how people interact with customers. I mean just so many aspects to the to the to the brand customer journey, I guess it for lack of a better term that you need to have. You need to kind of integrate that notion of creativity and that permission for people to be creative.
So one way that we did it. It's just to identify the fact that yes, graphic designers have craft art directors have craft the craft of typography the craft of photography of motion of sounds but that same level and appreciation of craft can also be applied to. Finance to marketing to HR. So how do you give people permission to think of themselves in that way and to elevate them at a similar level to the creative?
So once you get all the sexy Awards and once you get all the attention that a company like oh like over V, so that was that was like kind of a crucial step for us. And we we said, you know, you are a global company and you have this opportunity and your reach goes beyond your company. Your reach is global and it's outside your company.
It's to your clients. It's two people who used to work for you. It's two people who will soon work for you. Its people its everyone basically, so if you understand that whole kind of Networks. What Brian Eno calls a senior so it's not the genius of one person but two seniors of a scene right the collection of people.
So if you pull from that seniors and pull from that Network, then you're bringing in whole other layers of craft and execute and skill into the work that you do and basically not to feel like you have to own your little place but to understand your role in the larger. Of all things. So that said on a philosophical level that's basically how we approached it.
So in the execution, there's a series of you have to go through yield brand architecture, you know, the classic strategy. Of what are the values of the company? How do you I mean I had saw one night. I sat down and I wrote the values of the company and they pretty much remained after that one night.
I mean they've been a couple changes but I'm very happy to say that those values are very close to what I wrote and how do those values interact with the idea of craft and how do they interact with? the. The expression of the brand of expression of the company. So another thing that we said with A over B, is that the era of advertising the way that Olga be thinks of its in a way that most other advertising companies think of it now granted this is not a new idea, but the end of era of advertising is for all intents and purposes changed.
If not over so the 30-second commercial the beautiful print ad all that stuff. We still have we still need but there is more to it's right. There is there are whole other layers of design. There are other approaches to environments whether it be a digital environment or an actual physical space environment.
There are I mean designed self could be from Graphics to packaging to product to even designing process. How does how does somebody go buy a product and then how does somebody go through a resolution if there's a problem that kind of stuff so looking at it on a craft design and Environmental Way Beyond just Communications which is whatever tizen is so that was that's kind of it in a nutshell.
Yeah, I think it sounds like such a challenging project. How did you because that's always something that really triggers me like when you're doing strategy. It's always part where you're you're kind of like you're doing you're not inventing stuff because you're listening to the client. But how much is your input versus?
What the client is telling you, especially when you're a repositioning it's a lot of like you're almost designing the future of the company and how do you balance those two? Because that's always something that a lot of designers are talking about like they give an example where they say the company says, that's our purpose but it doesn't sound like the right purpose.
How much do you push and pull between those two things? Could you elaborate? Yeah, there's a degree of town. It has two sounds and feel with the degree of authenticity as to have a has to sound like it's coming from the company, but can't you can't everything can't sound like a. As much as much as people like it would like it too, but you're right there is that that dance between between those things and it's one of Personality.
It's one of listening establishing trust and speaking honestly and being will and being willing to go through the design process. Design thinking for lack of a better term on a strategic level which means that you know, you're going to propose things that the Clans going to go. No, that's not right and to that's one thing about being a designers that.
You know, I'm trained to be at peace with ambiguity and not knowing if you know, I don't have to know and that's that's a lot of the fear that I kind of smell around traditional strategist is that they have to know they have to there's a there's a desire to sound right? And you have to let that go and if you're if you're going to go anywhere different because if you are compelled to sound correct, you're good.
That's that's what kind of generates all this kind of jargon that we hear all the time. I mean how many times have you heard some sort of or kind of seen somebody go through a deck where they talk about how they're going to inspire the audience, too. Like words like that how they're going to activate how they're going to let me know this this kind of language that people use is one of fear.
And the fear of not looking like they belong and if you're going to build something different you have to you have to be at peace with that and proposed it and say listen, you know this this maybe even if you just say this may be a crazy idea but this is what this is a thought that I have and then allowing the client to kind of push back and then build it together.
So it's just. And a lot of it, you know a lot of it could possibly be I mean, I'm just kind of floating this as an idea just came to me that maybe the reason why a lot of strategy kind of sounds the same it's because people don't really know what strategy is and feel like they have to step up to some sort of idealized model.
But no one's agreed on that model that model is kind of existed spontaneously. It's like ideology ideology. Don't peep. There's no Committee of ideology that creates ideology. There's no Committee of strategy that sets up what strategy is. I mean, we kind of look to familial resemblance is right.
It kind of feels like strategy it kind of acts like strategy. So therefore it is strategy, but that's that's that's allowing ideology to kind of determine. What something is what the form of something is? Okay. I mean I'm a designer but I love it and I've actually had done projects in the past where I try to design something where I don't design it.
I try to design a situation where the design is done for me and I'll give you an example. I was doing a I've had for a long time for about almost 20 years now. A client called bang on a can bang on a can is a collective of three composers and they had no place to make you know for people to play the play their music when they were younger.
So in the 1980s, they established a thing called the bang on a can Festival. And the name bang on a canvas just a way to kind of Express their outside Ernest to the establishment of classical composition. So over time they have become a very well respected International Group. Okay. Now they also are a democracy there are three of them.
And there are very kind of influential people that work for them that help support them who also have a really good idea about how things should be and actually I don't disagree with any of them. So basically they are burdened by democracy. They'll have like five six seven voices chiming in on something on any kind of design that you do.
So one point they came to me they were moving locations and I needed new stationery business papers, and I said that burden of your democracy. Makes it difficult for me to give you something that everyone's going to like so why don't we create a situation where no one has a choice right? So what I did was I designed letterhead and business papers.
Where I just printed very simply one color and one side all the information that's needed. And on the back side. I went to the printer and I said what printing plates do you have laying around the pulled a few out? We wiped off the logos. We wiped off any kind of identifying texture like patterns and parts of images and I split it up like Robert rauschenberg.
Okay, so the magenta plate from this. Project over here and the cyan plate from that project over there and I put it all together and it became literally a Robert rauschenberg on-site collage and it got and the printers got so excited that that when it came time for them to put the designed to print the business cards, they put it through the form then they took the paper out flip it around 180 degrees and put it through again.
So basically I found a way for a. Poor Arts organization to have a 10 over 1 business card 10 colors over 1. It's insane and it perfectly expressed the spirit of that company. So that's that's what I mean. When I say that I like to design things where I have no control over it and I accept as a designer.
This is the thing that most creative people like date which their eyes whenever they hear me say this. I am perfectly fine with people taking control of brand elements. Within reason Granite, you know, you don't want them to turn it into Pepe the Frog which will get will get back to you in a little bit, but I'm perfectly fine with people taking things and remaking it within within reason for within their own Vision because it's people it's the audience that makes the brand the brand does not issue the.
Back in the day of advertising during Mad Men era when we only in the United States. We only had three networks. You could put one commercial on the three networks and that there would be a continuity and consistency to that message but now with social media and the growth of technological, you know Communications technology.
We now have seven point five billion individual audiences. Everything is tweaked through program programmatic advertising and through algorithms to be specific for each individual person. So it's impossible and you're a fool if you think that you're going to create one consistent brand that exists perfectly for everyone.
So let that happen and try and find a way for people to have that individuality and and for that kind of spontaneity to appear and to exist and try and find a way for it to also be coherent with the values of the brand. That is an amazing challenge. We are at an incredible inflection point and society and which is also like every client that.
Spoken within the last two years is that the same place technology communication Society. Everything is understand undergoing such massive change that grants have to change along with it. And we're making it up as we go along. We're look overall looking for the best way to do it. There is no perfect way and it's exciting.
It's absolutely great. So I mentioned Pepe the Frog for are you familiar with that whole notion notes never heard of it? Okay in the United States, there was a guy who I forget his name. He had a cartoon an online Cartoon. It was basically for kind of Stoner dudes, you know, dudes, you know college dudes like you know, that kind of juvenile humor.
And it was an image of a frog who like walk like a person. So it was basically a human body green skin frog head. And there was one frame in one comic where the frog is urinating on the wall and the Tenney saying hey, man, if it feels good, you know and the alt-right. In the United States on 4chan took that image.
And used it and changed it to become the mascot for the alt rights and for pro Trump supporters during the 2016 election the man who drew Pepe, the Frog was horrified that this thing was appropriated to without his permission and perverted and changed into something. That was absolutely the diametric opposite of what he wanted.
So that is the power of the audience to make a brand. That's a good story. Well, it's also a very chilling cautionary tale. So if you're going to work on a large level both strategically and creatively. you need to kind of allow for that to happen. You need to be able to Envision what would happen if.
And try and do what you can to change to prevent that you know, when I when I speak I often show the graphics of a brand and United States called Target originally was Target at all. Yeah, it's the the red belt logo, right? Yeah, right. I mean it's a very powerful graphic program. They some of the best graphic design of the last couple decades has been done for Target.
It's just amazing. I mean the photography is beautiful. The advertising campaigns and marketing all of it is great. But I live in Queens and which is a borough of New York City. I live in Long Island City. Basically where Amazon is going to be in a couple years. I'm only a 5-minute walk from them and.
When I ride my bike around Queens, there are a couple Queens is a burrow where there are some malls. It's not all very dense urban area. There are some spots where there are malls with sharpened with parking lots. And there's one model on Queens Boulevard that I that I took a picture of and I use this picture oftentimes when I speak I show targets graphic language.
And how great their graphic design is and then I show the Target logo in context in the real world and there is a there's a mall that just like a generic box. It has all these horrible logos or sometimes good logos all kind of jumbled on the exterior of the building with absolutely no concern. As to proportion in between each other or any kind of relationship whatsoever.
It's just noise and one of the biggest things that you see is to Target logo. So, you know, we were very happy as professionals to kind of sit within our little blanket forts and envision these idealized world's. I mean, that's what people pay us to do, but. We also need to think about what how it's going to be used in the world.
We have to think about basically the visual pollution that were creating. It doesn't matter how beautiful a logo is in the wrong context its pollution. So this is you know, this is a thing that I'm beginning to try and consider in my professional work. Like, how can I how can I address this? I don't have an answer.
But at least at least I'm aware of it. I don't have an answer yet. And I'm going to have my answer where my approach to it. But it's it's a problem definitely and I think it's interesting like even Beyond how logos are acting in the real world. It's a lot more clients are asking a lot more about like how they should behave in the real world how they should talk how they should bring support to their customers and it almost feels like as you're doing.
Strategy, you're thinking about this brand in like the sense that like how it will be in the actual world and not just how it will look like or how we'll talk like and that's something that's really interesting for me, but it also brings like a huge responsibility. Absolutely. I mean it's there's a branding conference that happens every year.
It's called brand new and firemen fit. Yes. Yes. Oh who you spoke to? Yes. Yeah. Yeah and every time someone shows their work, they'll show a logo that they designed and damn it like 85% of the time they're going to show that that visual identity system apply to a tote bag. And that's as far as it generally goes to for designers when they think about the application of their work.
I'm more interested. If I'm going to design a design a logo how it would look on the side of that ugly building in Queens, right? That is an exercise to show your clients. Right? I mean that that is that is a dose of what's what right there. Yeah, and I think we've all been there like that situation where you create this beautiful thing and then you walk out in the real world and you see your logo on a place where you absolutely didn't expect it.
Then it's really ugly and then we're frustrated and angry at the client. But actually we should be kind of angry at ourselves as well. I suppose exactly which means that we need to change how we design things. We need to change our notion of professionalism, and we also need to. Change our little borders that we have around each other.
So what I tell I teach at the School of Visual Arts in the Masters and brand program and I have a very strange kind of Workshop. That's that I called logo insignificant and I present it to the students began presenting it to the students in this way that. The Strategic side of things and the creative side of things are not diametric opposites.
They're actually variations on the same impulse to make something to make something with meaning and with use and hopefully with the degree of beauty too. And so if we allow ourselves to have conversations outside of our little area. I think that could be much much more rewarding and richer so yeah, and that's kind of funny because I had this question written down for you and it kind of what you just said kind of makes the question irrelevant because my it was the idea of like how do you balance the strategic person inside of you and the designer, but maybe that's just what you're saying that they should be built the same.
It's the same. I mean, you know, we're in the last 20 years. Designers don't show their work as here's the logo they built a deck to sell it in right that deck is a strategic impulse. You know, they're using strategy and the very basic sense of the definition of the word strategy, which is about how you position forces to to reach an end right there using strategy to present their work.
So, you know, why not expand. If you give yourself permission to do to do to do that to do that to show your logo or your visual identity system, then give yourself permission to go beyond that. It's that's the conversation that I tend to have with my own personal clients as they usually come to me and go, you know, like I'm doing some work for cannabis for cannabis company right now and it was originally we need someone to design Motion Graphics and like cool.
Let's do it. And then as I begin to have a conversation with them, I found myself writing the strategy because they need to do videos. And so I have to. Presenting OK your videos could say this they could be centered around that and I found myself once again kind of falling into the Strategic side of things, but it's because I want my work to have relevance and I want my work to have some sort of difference because like in cannabis everything looks and sounds the same because they're making right now the industry and United States is so young.
They're making a play or they're making a case for the medicinal benefits of it. Which means that you're going to have the same tropes and the same kind of messages that you have in big Pharma, but cannabis is not big Pharma. It needs to be something different. So what does that different thing going to be?
And so that then becomes part of its both a strategic and creative problem at the same time. So, like I said, I mean I've had you know, I have a few Decades of experience. And so that is like the pull that in I like the pole in my own point of view my unique point of view coming out of what I've studied and what I read.
As opposed to reading the Harvard Business Review, which I do every once in awhile, but you know, I also reads, you know, some of the more long-haired weird shit and so it's. It's all basically my Approach, you know, and I'm making my Approach up every day they are and how do you because that's something that the I imagine you won't always in the position to like do the strategy and the design part because those are huge project.
How do you like Inspire the designers to to bridge that gap between what you're proposing as a strategy and what should be the. Creative direction for that. I don't have the perfect answer for this because all of my experiences have been less than perfect to be. I mean, I'm going to be honest. I mean I haven't I haven't figured that out yet in my own head.
With my own projects where I'm overseeing the Strat the Strategic and creative side of things. It's much more seamless, but what I've experienced on the being at a strategic side of things is that a lot of designers like to have their own little area that they oversee and damn you if you try and make a suggestion.
It's like that classic thing about designers and clients, you know, the client that the there's there all sorts of like Tumblr sites and Twitter feeds about you know, stupid things that clients say and designers and creative people tend to have that same attitude towards strategists and strategists have that same attitude towards designers and creative people.
So, I have found that my best work tends to happen when I have a little bit of friction and disagreements with other my clients or an account person or a strategist and I've come to cherish to respect and to cherish that kind of interaction that came with me growing up a bit admittedly because I too have been that.
Spoiled childlike childish creative person. So a little bit of growing up has helped me and coming to that realization that that conversation no matter how difficult can be helpful. So I need to convey that sense better with the people that I work with when I work in a more strategic side. That's something that I need to do better because.
You know creative people and also this is also kind of a structural thing to Industry the advertising branding complex. agencies. are always are they staff differently than people that have in-house departments? Okay agencies don't really have the the money the throw a lot of bodies at something they can't because.
It's the imperative is to do as much as you can with as few resources as necessary and those resources and agencies are people so you have fewer people and you also have less expensive people who tend to be younger. Which is why you know, there's been a conversation in the last couple months and advertising and United States how it has an H problem.
So we have that youth there's pride in that youth there's pride and accomplishment and if you're in your mid-30s and you have a good maybe 10-15 years of experience and some some achievements and your portfolio. You become prideful. And it's only when you get a little bit older and you have a little bit more kind of road behind you that you start to your ego begins to kind of soften a little bit and you're able to listen, so I've been there and that's part of the.
I think part of the the culture the cultural ization process that I need to go through with the people that I work with and helping them get to that place and helping me. I think I kind of understand where they're coming from. I need to I need to be more open to it. So this is how does one do it?
You just have to grow up some people grow up faster than others. That's great advice you've been around like in huge agencies and I you have you had your own shop. And do you see like an evolution in the landscape of like these? I see a lot of small boutique shops doing a lot more strategy and even designers and then there's this huge agencies and they're all like, Somehow converging I have this feeling I don't know how you see this landscape evolving.
I had an interview about 10 years ago with a very large branding firm and the CEO. It was with the CEO and it was for a position, which thankfully I never got and this guy's a bit of a little bit of a jerk. He had. He said we had met before at the brand new conference. Is it go? Hey, yeah, hi. Nice to see you.
Again. He sits down it with a cocky attitude he goes. So what do you think of the world of branding these days like he's the expert. And I said it's upside down and he had to strange look on his face and like we like shocked and I said it's upside down because large firms are owned by holding companies who put a pressure for p&l profit and loss line on them.
They have to hit Target numbers every. And what that does is that constricts the amount of flexibility that you have and the kind of clients that you're going to say. Yes to kind of project you're going to do and also how you're going to do those projects. So larger firms tend to have basically off the self shelf solutions that they do.
Oh you're coming up with a new brand. Well, obviously, we need to get the c-suite all together in a hotel somewhere on a weekend. We need to run through this process. It's a it's a trademarked process. It's the. Process every time it it just give it a different name and a different trademark. So and that's just like off the shelf that there it is Bill $250,000 for a brand positioning Workshop.
I Brand driver minute. All the different chefs have different names for the same thing. Now smaller firms have the ability to be more nimble. Because they don't have that PL requirement and also they're a little bit hungrier and their overhead tends to be a little lower a lot lower actually so they can the opportunity for Innovation is greater there.
So and also, you know the dirty truth of hiring a large. Agency versus hiring a kind of a smaller more Boutique place is that both firms are going to throw the same number of people that's project. So when I was a landowner working on City, I was constantly maybe a team of five people between strategy writing myself senior designer and a planner right?
That's small team and we were working on a global level. Yes, so so what's the difference? I mean the difference is really the procurement process that differences may be legal representation and a conference room and a receptionist. That's basically it. I mean it's it's all perception. Yeah. I have a network.
I mean I'm one individual but I have a massive Network through the companies that I work for around the world if I have someone something that needs to be done in the asia-pacific area. I've got one or two people who I would. I would bet my would risk my life with that's how much I trust them and I've worked with them for over 10 years.
So it's you know, I have the same networks that the large agencies do because that's where I got my training and everyone kind of works their way through the agencies and they go off the smaller agencies or they go out on her own. And so I have a network of those kinds of people. And on Facebook, I mean, I belong to various alumni networks on Facebook of secret groups of people that used to work at this company or that company its kind you have to where you have to be invited in and you know, I built my I can build my network there too.
It's kind of it's all the same. It's about. I had a head a project but three two and a half years ago. I was asked to write a scope of work and began conversations with a large Global entity on a brand architecture program and I presented that to the company. And the reason why they were talking to me in the first place is that they didn't want to pay a large amount to an agency.
So but the the work demanded basically, you know, you give up your life for this this many months. That's what's going to cost and what the team of Lake two or three other people so. The person we were speaking to goes to the finance head of Finance at the company and had a finance goes. Yes, that's what that costs and had no problem with it.
And then the person said well if that's the case I can go to an agency. So I ended up losing myself in like a small team ended up losing to a large agency who came in with a scope of work, maybe $30,000 more and the the truth of the matter is that they would have hired the same number of people. So it's a really comes down to perception and I mean, I meant I'm invited to interesting conversations, but the super large ones not always, you know as malcontent as myself with like a constantly shifting team base of people that I bring in other other Independence.
It's it's a little more difficult than if I was Sequel and Gale or if I was living Cod or if I was land or. There is a perception thing that you can there's a momentum that you can work with her. Would you say then that it's interesting for like designers are or smaller agencies to to present themselves as being like the big agency or that's like the the wrong way to go in this.
Oh, I think that's absolutely the wrong way. You have to be truthful to what you are. And I mean I have experience. That's what I play that up in a big way, right? I let my beard grow just a little bit. I don't trim it. I don't shave it closely. So you see a little bit of great. You see the gray in my beard so that kind of shows that I've been around a bit, but I'm not uptight so I don't wear a tie and it's it's all acting.
It's play-acting right? It's so you have to develop devise your. Hmm. I also read on your LinkedIn page. You beat out Massimo vignelli for a project that you tell us something about that story. Yeah, so in between the Cosmetic worlds and working at Ogilvy a big I had my own had a small boutique studio with my ex-wife and we specialized in music packaging and arts and culture.
And so like we did 5 years of Central Park summer stage branding and advertising. I mean those are great great great projects, and I also did work in the galleries because I had friends who haven't gone to art school. I had friends who worked in the art world and I had done a few Gallery identities.
So I had that we had that portfolio of stuff that we could work from. So my ex-wife actually grew up with the man who was in charge of the Guggenheim Museums retail Division, and she just happened to be walking down Fifth Avenue ran into him and said, hey, you know had a conversation but what are you doing?
Oh, yeah. Hey, do you want to show stuff great and we basically did it out of that personal connection. So it I mean, I really don't think people should do work on spec but this we were young. We had this was an opportunity and she knew this person. So it was as for friends. Yeah, and so what we do tell so we show the work and they love it.
You know, they that's what they it's it expressed the surface texture of the new building. This was this all happened around the time that they built the addition on back behind the Guggenheim. So they had renovated the whole rotunda the original Frank Lloyd Wright building which needed massive work.
I mean, you know all the Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings always have leaky roofs asked another one of those cases, so. so they. The at that whenever fixing that they built the large addition behind it basically was called a rectangular box made the whole thing look like a toilet bowl. So our bags and packaging for the new shop represented that surface.
I love that new building on the exterior and Massimo had done a very classic Massimo vignelli approach which was definitely within his style but it wasn't appropriate to the museum. It's actually something that I had seen him do for other organizations. Basically, which is a on one large side a detail of a painting on the gusset of the bag would be the artists signature or the name of the.
Organization and at so it's a very kind of classic modernist way of segmenting information and also creating something beautiful. But the problem is that it's it becomes a Trope very quickly and we were more interested in something that was specific to the Guggenheim itself. And that's how I beat him out for on that project.
All right, but that's interesting. I think I do think like with these kinds of Legends like Massimo vignelli, it's hard to have like. Balance between what's your your style or people are contacting you for and what is like appropriate for the project? Well, you know, it's interesting. He well first.
Let me just say that I introduce myself at the opening of the Guggenheim and said hi. I'm the one who did the packaging and luckily I was a student of a good friend of his and so I drop that name Roger Remington and his face lit up and he would he was the most gracious. Person, he still did work for the Guggenheim.
He just didn't do work in the retail division. So like I did all the shopping bags and I design products and special events shopping bags t-shirts all that stuff. So it was much more than than just the graphic design project. It was also a product design project and a sense of Proto branding project at the same time.
So he was he was more than generous and. I'm very kind of welcoming and absolutely a lovely lovely person but what's interesting, you know coming back in your question is. You know people go to these figures often times because they have a point of view not necessarily because of the the form or the style the people that depend on the style of their work.
I think have a shorter career than those that have a point of view or kind of an intellectual approach and he had. A vital kind of intellectual approach to corporate identity branding and visual identity systems. He basically helped build the modern approach to that. So he you know, he deserves all the deposition in the pantheon.
Hmm. Well Mark, I think this was already some really interesting episode and I love to hear you talk a little bit more because you have so much stories to tell but maybe we could just end this episode with like some party or parting words. If you have some kind of advice for for designers and creative people listening wanting to become better designers or more valuable.
What could you say the best piece of advice I ever heard. For Francis Ford Coppola the director who said that all the good things in his life came from saying yes. So now granted that does that does not mean to say yes to heroin or opioids but saying yes to Opportunities, even when they don't seem immediately like they're going to be that rewarding.
So I've said lest I said yes to. And just being open open to conversations open to Chris criticism open to feedback open to failure open to ambiguity say yes to all of it. Cool. Well if people want to reach out and talk to you where could they reach you? Well, my website is I'm in the middle of rebuilding it.
There's a whole long story involving Russian hackers, which I'm not going to bore you with. You got Hillary Clinton or what? It was a little more mundane than that. Basically I had to take my whole digital existence and burn it to the ground and I'm rebuilding it in a new place, but it's an opportunity to rebuild and redesign the website.
So hopefully that'll be up in a couple weeks. But I'm at malcontent.com Mal cont ENT and so you can reach out Market malcontent.com if you want. All right, that was it for this episode. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did and I'm looking forward to the following episodes. If you like this episode, I would appreciate it.
If you give me a rating on iTunes or give me some feedback through the block or email. I have some exciting news. My online course is almost ready and you can already purchase it and get Early Access visit branding dot courses and check out the free lesson that's branding dot courses. See you there