Fundamental ideas underpin brand design, not stylistic graphic treatments. But how do you find them?
Saturday night, dinner and hibiscus margaritas at Wahaca on London’s Southbank. It had been a while since our last visit, but aside from some seasonal menu tweaks (try the new allioli mushroom quesadillas), nothing felt different. In a good way.
Wahaca was our first client, 15 years ago. Small and inexperienced, we had no right to win that pitch. But we were hungry. And much in the same way that founders Mark Selby and Thomasina Miers were doing things differently – eschewing Mexican clichés in favour of authentic flavours from Oaxaca (wa-ha-ca) – we won their trust by focusing on a strategic idea instead of stylistic treatments. This idea – “Mexican Market Eating” – has driven taste, look, feel, and behaviour. It has inspired much-copied street art on walls, staff uniforms you’d wear on the street, bespoke furniture made from recycled machinery. It has enabled Wahaca to grow and change for 15 years whilst always staying true to its founding principles.
The importance of pushing for great brand ideas was front of mind when we advertised for the role of Design Director earlier this summer. But whilst we saw lots of attractive portfolios, we didn’t see a lot of ideas.
To put this into context, here’s a fictitious example: a logo for a hotel inspired by a piece of historic type on a foundation stone can be an intelligent, beautiful piece of graphic design. But it’s not a brand idea. It won’t provide direction for innovation, it won’t inspire content for digital marketing, it won’t guide staff behaviour.
By contrast, ideas-driven candidates were exceptional. They challenged the status quo with thought-provoking concepts based on clearly thought-out strategies. Give them 99 problems, they create one solution. From that, they deliver the beauty and craft, often in words as well as pictures.
We intersect at the value of ideas: it’s what we look for in the people we hire because it’s what drives change for our clients.
A mentor once described his design agency as a pirate ship; an eclectic crew ready to do battle, united by a common quest. We agree. On board our ship, alongside graduates from some of the UK’s acclaimed design schools, are an architect turned set-designer turned illustrator, an engineer, alumni from Trinity College Dublin, Oxford and Cambridge universities, a self-starter who left school at 16 to learn his trade.
What unites this diverse bunch is a commitment to searching for the kind of ideas that can help create one of London’s most popular restaurant brands from scratch. Ideas that can modernise existing brands to become category leaders. Ideas that can win multiple awards for clients.
Good ideas can come from anywhere. But we believe the best ones come from looking at the world differently.
Without create brands that make a difference. Receive our Defining Your Difference pocket guide to your inbox or if you’d like to discuss how your brand can connect with today’s consumers, get in touch on 02070999080 or [email protected]
This article first appeared in The Brief, a monthly email with conversations and provocation for leaders and founders of brands . Just sign up here to receive it directly to your inbox – and join the debate.