“Strategy on its own isn’t powerful enough”
Creative agencies are often best known for their beautiful design but past a team of top-notch designers, who else has a role to play in making it happen? In our Studio Sessions, we’re catching up with creative agency teams to find out more about their process, who’s involved and how they work together. It’s a chance to get the inside scoop on different roles at different agencies.
For our first installment, we spoke to DesignStudio Strategist, Pamm Hong and Design Director, Vinay Mistry to learn more about the intersection between strategy and design. They told us what makes strategy so special at DesignStudio, and how they worked together on a recent rebrand for sports news platform OneFootball.
We’ll let them introduce themselves a little more.
My name is Pamm Hong and at DesignStudio my approach to strategy is almost like couples therapy. It's a lot about listening to companies or people and figuring out what they want in a really down-to-earth way. It looks at the things that are left unsaid, reading between the lines and figuring out how exactly to position different businesses and brands, so that they can grow for the next 10-20 years. In a nutshell, that is my role. Then I add a little bit of spice to it to bring it to life with really exciting, crazy ideas like creative concepts and all that stuff.
I’m Vinay, I am a Design Director at DesignStudio. My role is to be heavily involved throughout the whole process.
At the beginning, I get involved with the immersion (where we visit the client and live their lives to understand everything that they do) and make sure that we're on the same page. Once we've got that great understanding, we start to develop a cool strategy that really captures who they are, their spirit and their meaningful difference.
Today, strategy can exist so differently for different agencies. What do you see as the core role of strategy at DesignStudio?
VM: I think the role of strategy at DesignStudio in particular, is to really find that honest, authentic idea at the heart of any business. That's what we call the meaningful difference. Once we find that truth, we can start to articulate that story in a way that feels inspiring, encouraging and that allows people to create decisions from it; whether it's business, strategic, or communication decisions.
What's really unique to DesignStudio is that it's not just a strategist that works on this, it’s every single person in the studio from Designers to Developers. Everyone's got a really insightful opinion, and it's about merging those ideas together to come into a really unique story.
PH: At DesignStudio it's a very visual approach and as you get more people involved, more input happens, the more exciting the job becomes. That immediately creates a working experience that's richer and more rewarding.
The workshop that DesignStudio ran for OneFootball to explore possible routes for the brand strategy
How do you start a project?
PH: It's a deep dive. We get knee-deep into the ins and outs of a brand and its world, from desk research, conversations, interviews or workshops, and more. We then weed out the possible challenges and when we catch enough fish in our net, we start generating creative solutions.
VM: I think it's super exciting the way we start strategy because there's no answer. It's just about getting into that research, starting to find interesting themes and little clusters that help us tell stories.
What effect did that initial exploratory phase have when working together on OneFootball?
PH: Every time I start a new project, I feel like a sponge. So I go in and soak up all these things and really start to become the brand or this industry that I’m not really familiar with from day one. I had to fill my sponge with the football world and think about what a football fan likes, how they live and breathe. And to add to that, we had a little jolt of research insights from CrowdDNA, which really helped throughout the process.
VM: We started off with logical thoughts and ideas and then questioned, ‘What if we look at it this way? What if we approach it that way?’ We just kept pushing the boundaries into a really unique different place. We showed them something that's quite comfortable and then something that's quite radical and eventually, everyone went towards the radical side of things. It was the right spirit and the right feeling.
Going beyond the expectations is really important; getting all those different opinions and thoughts together is essential. Only then can we find a meaningful difference and strategy that really works for the client’s brand.
DesignStudio created a film to bring the new brand strategy and visual identity to life for the launch
You landed on this core idea of “Hype The Game” which takes its cues from youth culture and football fans. How did you come to a concept that felt so right for them?
PH: While understanding youth culture and the football world helped get us in the mood, it was actually the people behind OneFootball who have so much love and passion for the game that really influenced how we saw and articulated the brand overall.
VM: To add to that, words can be interpreted in so many different ways and what was really interesting about OneFootball is a lot of people in the room were visual thinkers. So as Pamm started to come up with these cool ideas, we found the right visual stimulus that went with it. It was loose but enough to give a direction, to find the vibe and a spirit that everyone easily understood and naturally went towards.
Once you’d settled on this concept, how did that strategic positioning impact all the other parts of the brand?
VM: The first way we brought hype to life was actually through a manifesto. The manifesto is the heart of everything that you see in OneFootball. Pamm wrote this wonderful story that was truly emotive, but also extremely functional. It captured the whole spirit of OneFootball. It had lots of highs and lows throughout to show you the emotion of the game itself – from the start of the game where you get this anxiety, to those really explosive celebratory moments when you score a goal.
PH: Yeah, 100%. I do not watch football but I understand how people get so emotionally attached to a game. With this 'hype' idea we could organically translate that fluctuating emotion from concept to visual.
VM: We then brought this to life by creating graphics that flexed between neutral forms and a state of excitement. That idea continued throughout the whole customer journey. We started to think about touchpoints to enable them to have celebratory moments. Making that manifesto helped us to visualize and translate that fluctuating world.
DesignStudio created a OneFootball Hype Generator to allow the team to flux the visual identity with the emotion of the game
What did the project mean for you?
PH: For me when I felt a real sense of achievement being at the internal launch and seeing the entire OneFootball crew living the brand and fully owning the attitude we've crafted for them. I have to be honest, that sent me to tears. It's a pretty indescribable moment.
To be honest, that was the first time I saw that strategy wasn't just this dusty old book or PDF on your desktop you can never find.
For me, that was the first time I saw that strategy wasn't just this dusty old book or PDF on your desktop you can never find. Strategy lives in the real world. It equips everyone who works, lives, and believes in the brand. It brings a bigger idea into the public realm.
VM: It wasn't just a makeover, they took the ideas and transformed their business, they started to reimagine the app and alter how they speak to employees and to external audiences. I think that's what's really cool about it. They took that brand purpose and started to express it throughout every single experience.
It starts to flow just from the working relationship that you have. Being able to bounce ideas off each other and say ‘oh that’s shit but that's pretty good, let’s figure out where this goes.’
You obviously work very collaboratively within the team, between designers and strategists. Why do you think that’s so important?
PH: To be honest, team chemistry is so important. You need to feel 100% comfortable, able to brainstorm and just bash out a lot of great ideas. It starts to flow just from the working relationship that you have. Being able to bounce ideas off each other and say “oh that’s shit but that's pretty good, let’s figure out where this goes.” And I think that's our chemistry. I mean it was so much fun working on OneFootball with the team, including Vin.
VM: We're not strict with job roles. We work so fluidly between departments that all the lines got blurred, strategy literally merged and moved straight into creative. We were constantly doing creative while we were doing strategy and strategy while we were doing the creative. It was just like a seamless flow which I think is actually one of the reasons why it was quite successful.
PH: Do you think the fact that on a project we're a tiny, 3 to 4 person, tight-knit team helped?
VM: Yeah, as a small team we could break apart and inspect the work and then come back together, especially when we were in the studio. There's not too many opinions, and that really helped us stay focused and be really honest and authentic about what we found cool, exciting and authentic to OneFootball. One of the things that the client really appreciated was our clarity of thought. When we presented an idea that we really believed in we did it with confidence and passion.
Did you find any challenges working so closely as a design and strategy team?
PH: I think the only challenge is that time is an issue. Sometimes you just need to really be in your zone as a strategist, to be able to say ‘alright I need to just figure out my own shit.’ And that's where teamwork needs to kind of take a step back. Often there is new information for me. I need to figure out what to do with it, to get the bare bones to build on top of. Being able to tap into the team after I'm done figuring out where we have to go makes it a lot easier for everyone to be informed and go in the same direction.
Often it can feel like the strategist is the expert at strategy and the designer is the expert in design. But it feels a bit like that isn’t the case at DesignStudio. Why do you think that is?
VM: It was just a really fluid team. It's nice when we have lots of confidence in each other. Everyone's got the space and the freedom to come up with any idea. Even if it's not perfect, that's still fine. Because if there's something in there that's interesting and exciting, you can gather around for an hour and start coming up with extra concepts that start to enrich it. Then all of a sudden it turns into something else entirely.
PH: That was really helpful because there was mutual respect, but also a mutual tug-of-war.
What do you see as the uniting goal that designers and strategists work towards at DesignStudio?
VM: I think there's two responses there, at DesignStudio we're all here trying to create a meaningful difference. And then I think there's a selfish response which is – I want to make something cool.
PH: I feel like DesignStudio either attracts perfectionists or masochists. People continually reach next levels of excellence here, there's both quality and quantity in our output, it's pretty insane. Everyone really wants to top themselves and that's pure fuel somehow.
How do you see the role of strategy at DesignStudio in the future, how will the role evolve?
Strategy on it’s own isn't powerful enough. Creative on it’s own is not powerful enough. They come to life when they come together...
PH: In a scaled-back but chic Berlin bar, Vin once told me, “Strategy should never exist on its own. That's where, for me, it has lost its power". I think a huge part of strategy should be to clarify the uncertainties, simplify complexities and most of all, just be accessible to as many people as possible so that we can all work well together.
At DesignStudio, I really enjoy how refreshing our approach is. We’re trying to get to the core of the idea without having too much jargon around it. I think the more we start to hire people from unconventional backgrounds and who see the world differently, the more that we'll start to evolve what brand strategy could mean in the wider context of the design industry.
VM: I’m with you on that. strategy at DesignStudio is never the same. The way we approach strategy is constantly changing depending on the client, the problem, what they actually need. You don't know how you're going to approach it.
I think strategy on its own isn't powerful enough. Creative on its own isn’t powerful enough. They come to life when they come together. Strategy is the foundation for creative, it's the foundation for the whole story. The creative is taking that story and executing it in a tangible way. Strategy is one of the most important parts of banding anything; without it, you can't do the creative part.
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