The eighth in a series of posts taunting creative people with the interview stick. Copywriters, Art Directors, Creative Directors, Graphic Designers, Photographers, Illustrators; they’re an odd, mysterious bunch – or are they? Introducing Bryce Groves, freelance Advertising Art Director.
So Bryce, welcome to the So, What If… interrogation room. Please tell us what you do for a living. The short answer is ‘Advertising Art Director (with a strong conceptual aspect)’.
In practice though, I find myself doing graphic design, copywriting, scriptwriting, photography, filmmaking (shooting and editing), production/project management, presentation design, and whatever else is needed to make good work come to life. I draw the line at doing spreadsheets though.
What sort of agencies or clients do you work for? I love working in teams and enjoy being in a big, well-organised agency, but recently I find myself much more in with nimble little agencies and startups, plus collaborations with fellow entrepreneurs. There are lots of companies out there that have negligible inhouse creative knowledge or talent, so I often end up as a one-man-band providing not just ‘product’, but also advice and knowledge on processes and best practice.
So when did you realise that a creative path was right for you ? My school years were spent chasing a dream of being an air force pilot, with no clues or opportunities around anything creative. The maths component of the air force entry exam was a harsh reality check that left me suddenly adrift, until an entry-level job at a signwriting company producing vinyl graphics became an unexpected doorway into greater things. Although I never picked up a brush, I learned layout and a love of type from old-school signwriters, and over the next decade my skillset evolved into graphic design and art direction (without realising what that was). But it was when I left the sign industry and started a Diploma in Creative Advertising that everything clicked.
Sounds like art school was a pivotal point in your career. Late in my 20s I did a graphic design certificate at Auckland University of Technology, but after one too many design agency doors were closed in my face (literally), I took those skills (Photoshop 4!) back into the sign industry for another 3 years, riding a small wave of the rise of the large-format digital print era.
The real revolution was my Diploma in Creative Advertising. I swear I felt my brain changing shape in my head, especially being taught about pure ideas. It changed not just my career but how I looked at the world. It was a stressful year at times, but that was the point in some ways, so that life in an ad agency – like the days that followed working til 3am as a junior at M&C – wouldn’t be such a shock.
How did you land your first job in advertising? Media Design School had a deep connection with the best agencies in town so I was lucky to have a pre-organised internship at DDB straight after the course. When this expired, my partner and I bounced into a placement at M&C Saatchi, which after some typical junior-creative slog, paid off with a real job. There was definitely an element of luck and timing, but certainly also sheer hard work and putting love into every brief no matter how small. I’d say it also pays to stand out as a person in an agency – all the hard work in the world won’t matter if nobody knows who you are, so if you’re a bit quiet like I was, it helps to team up with someone who isn’t.
Who have you worked with along the way who has influenced you? I wouldn’t have said it at the time, but my first CD at M&C, Jason Ross, was a big influence. Often unfair, grumpy, and disliked, he nevertheless pushed me into really interrogating ideas, and executing them with a vicious level of craft. Jason also cared about junior creatives learning and developing, not just toiling away. Without fail, after presenting ideas to him he would say “what else?” (I still find myself saying that under my breath to myself when working on concepts) – infuriating at the time but it cemented good habits.
On a different note, my slow-burn, documentary-filmmaking aspiration was fuelled by meeting Orlando von Einsiedel, the director of the gorilla film Virunga. Sitting in a dishevelled grassy meadow sharing cider at a documentary festival in Kent, he told me how a couple of weeks prior he had been hiding behind a tree in the Congo with his camera as tanks rolled past. What hit me was not just his courage but also how he was, despite the stars in my eyes, still an ordinary bloke, and the implication that an ordinary bloke like me could also one day make such impactful work.
What inspired the move to the UK? At the Auckland agency, Sugar, we used to gather around the creative director every Monday and check out bestadsontv.com and I noticed how much inspiring work was coming out of the UK agencies. Bewitched by the bright lights of London and the possibility of working in one of the world’s advertising focal points (thanks to my UK ancestry) I headed over in 2008.
The change was certainly one of scale – a small independent agency in the UK can have twice the staff of a big network agency in New Zealand, which does mean more protocol and politics, and makes it near impossible to get in the door of an agency unless you know someone.
In New Zealand, because of the scale – and perhaps culturally – you tend to do a bit of everything. In the UK you’re often put in a pigeonhole. Are you a print specialist? An experiential specialist? A fashion specialist? An automotive specialist? And so on. Obviously we benefit from collecting wisdom and not spreading ourselves too thin, but few things irk me more than someone saying, “Oh you’re a healthcare creative”. I’ve done a lot in that area recently, but that doesn’t make me a one-trick pony. Diversity of experiences and briefs is one of the drawcards of this career for me.
Which agencies do you particularly admire at the moment? That’s a good question, I must admit I don’t ‘watch’ agencies as well as I could or should. But I’ve recently come across and been inspired by purpose.com. They have an enticing mix of media, all made really well, but really their name says it all (take a look at their ‘about’ page).
On a more traditional agency model, I’m a fan of Venables Bell + Partners in San Francisco – I don’t idolise the agency as such, but found them via their beautifully executed and insightful Black Friday campaign for REI outdoor equipment stores in the US. The visceral simplicity and scriptwriting of this Audi ad of theirs is enviable too. As agency ethos’ go, they have a tight, interesting and original variation on the usual spiels.
How do you get the creative process moving? One of my key techniques is to try and imagine myself as the target market; both emotionally and rationally – almost like an actor. What are their day-to-day fears and aspirations? What matters to them the most or the least? Who do they look up to?
I’m a big fan of the ‘collision’ technique for visuals, although in the last few years the classic twisted visual seems to be dying – Joe Public has no time or attention span for decoding interesting twists, it seems.
Following the wisdom of Paul Arden, I also have a hefty scrapbook (albeit mostly digital, for the sake of portability) and whenever possible I will try to come up with ideas while/by visiting galleries and museums, to get fresh and unexpected visual inputs. Failing that I’m a fan of sites like thisiscolossal.com for inspiration beyond adland.
One of my favourite quotes I’ve gathered along the way that I mutter to myself is “If you’re selling boats, create a yearning for the ocean.”
What three pieces of work do you wish were in your portfolio and why? Fearless Girl It’s a bronze statue! In this age where everything is measured by clicks and channels, I love the beautiful, singular simplicity of this as an execution and a concept. The cause it stands for and the level of public engagement are great too.
Ghost Chips (aka ‘Bloody Legend’) This anti-drink-driving TVC from New Zealand is targeted very specifically at Māori youth (hence the accents – scroll down a little in YouTube where someone has done a transcript, if needed). I love it not just for the offbeat approach to a subject that is mostly executed as an ominous voice from authority or with graphic carnage, but also because it had a significant impact on the target audience as well as much wider appeal – ‘ghost chips’ became a meme, effectively. And the idea of a ghost having chips, that the living can’t eat, is sheer conceptual joy to me.
Honda Banana This is a classic of course. It’s not just the quirky art direction (and a car ad without the car) but also the way it fires dual sparks of imagination and memory – presuming of course you have ever written on a banana!
What’s your favourite piece of work in your portfolio? Undoubtedly, the “Flying Lesson” TV commercial. This was a part of a second round of ads for TSB Bank (New Zealand), to follow on from the existing campaign. This execution harnessed insights around the daunting terminology and number-crunching of first home ownership. Aside from the excitement of having a real plane in an ad (and the pilot being happy to make his take-off “as dangerous and clumsy as you can make it look”), I took pride in crafting the script with specific, correct terminology for that type of plane so every detail was as accurate as possible. My only regret (of sorts) is how blaringly nasal the kiwi accent of the actor is, which I only noticed after living in the UK for a while.
What’s the best shoot you’ve been on? Although I’ve shot in a few interesting places such as a Hungarian Opera House, the shoot that still stands out in my mind was shooting for Tourism New Zealand’s exhibit at the Chelsea Flower Show. The ‘Union Jack’ execution was made with a living forest floor built in the studio, with a lot of fishing line to manipulate our main tree fern. The ‘tube map’ execution was accomplished by flying to the wild west coast of the South Island, and hiking up into the native rainforest to find the perfect untouched section where we could also dig downwards (thanks to it being on the photographer’s sister’s property). Both executions were a lovely craft experience on top of one of my best ever visual concepts.
What ingredients make up the ideal client? The biggest one for me is someone who has an investment and enthusiasm in their own brand/product – someone who is genuinely engaged in what they do, not just churning out ads as a way to get attention and promotions.
An understanding of the creative process is really useful, but not always feasible – so really it boils down to an open mind and willingness to take on board the experience and advice of the creative/photographer/director/producer etc.
I’m also a fan of decisiveness. Even if they disagree with me, I respect a client who sticks to their guns rather than saying yes then later weaselling away from their decision to curry favour with a board member.
Tell me something you’ve learned along the way that you’d like to pass on to other creatives. Don’t make work that only other creatives can interpret. Ask your cousin, or the cleaner, and see if they get it.
As a junior, I presented concepts to the CD with hesitation and doubt (I knew they weren’t perfect but time was short), and he said “If you’re not excited about your ideas, why should I be?” I’ve taken that to heart ever since, especially in pitches. I remind myself to always present with passion, even if inside I know it’s not 100% watertight.
Much of the time, clients, consumers and colleagues don’t pick up the nagging nuances that make you doubt your work. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t craft your thinking to the best possible potential; but remind yourself that creatives can often be their own ideas’ harshest critic, when even the best ideas really need a friend.
What’s your dream brief? This is very much a dream, in the sense that there’s no specific organisation or company I know of that would necessarily be able to fund this, but I would love to be part of a long-term project to shift (as in, eradicate) the beliefs and attitudes that create the market for the pointless destruction of endangered wildlife – for instance shark fin soup and “remedies” made with Rhino horn. Not just stopping poaching or fishing practices etc, but somehow culturally and emotionally discrediting the actual beliefs that make those animal parts valuable.
This hypothetical brief/project would be something like road safety and seatbelt campaigns – probably taking years, and needing to utilise advertising, documentaries, experiential, PR, VR, merchandise, games and just about every media channel you can think of. As a conceptual challenge it would be hugely daunting, but if I could be part of a larger creative team with rock solid research, cultural advisors, behavioural change experts, and of course decent production budgets, it would be a dream brief to bring such change to the world.
What one thing would make your job easier or better? Despite the seriousness in some of my previous answers, I’d love the chance to be a bit more off-the-wall. As I’ve gotten more senior I’ve gotten more strategic and big-picture, and found myself having to think hard about all the mechanisms of digital engagement etc.
I’d love to work on some briefs where I could recapture the simple joy of being creative, with a focused piece at the end that would make people laugh or smile.
If you weren’t an Advertising Art Director, what would you be? Probably a journalist. As mentioned, I’m also nurturing a slow-burn documentary-making aspiration, but that’s a hugely difficult path to earn any money with, and I still enjoy all the diverse potential that comes with insight-driven ideas.
Thanks Bryce. Good luck with your wildlife saving and documentary making dreams. Sounds like the perfect combination to me, so who knows.
What’s the difference between a creative person and a non-creative person?
This isn’t the opener for a self-indulgent joke, but a question that’s been nagging me for a while now.
I’ve worked with hundreds of creatives over the years and there is definitely something a bit ‘special’ about them. Over the course of their careers, creative problem solvers, be they copywriters, art directors or designers have to magically pull tens of thousands of creative ideas out of the hat. For ‘non-creative’ people, that would be a mind-boggling, and frankly, impossible task.
So where do creative ideas come from?
One theory that I personally subscribe to, is that there is nothing new in the universe. Everything is a manifestation of what was already there. Whether we like it or not, we are all rediscovering and recycling. It’s not a case of inventing, but re-inventing.
According to Christopher Booker, there are only seven basic plots or themes that are recycled in movies and novels:
1. Overcoming the Monster
2. Rags to Riches
3. The Quest
4. Voyage and Return
Others expand on this list, but whatever the number, academics pretty much agree that every story ever told has been retold over and over in slightly different ways.
The same goes for jokes. After researching 20,000 rib ticklers; theorist, Alastair Clarke, concludes that there are only eight joke structures in the whole world:
1. Positive Repetition e.g. a catchphrase
2. Scale – such as oversized features on caricatures
3. Qualification – a familiar word said in an unfamiliar way
4. Qualitative Recontextualisation – when something familiar is changed
5. Application – when words have a double meaning
6. Completion – the audience has to imagine the end of the joke
7. Division – a joke is broken up and told by different people
8. Opposition – irony and sarcasm.
So if there really is nothing new under the sun, why does an idea come along every now and again that seems to shake things up? Well, just because there is nothing new as such, there are infinite ways of combining the universe of things that is already out there. William Boeing copied the Wright Brothers – who copied Joseph-Michael and Jacques-Ètienne Montgolfier – who copied Leonardo da Vinci – who copied the birds (not sure who the birds copied). At each stage, it may have seemed like a massive innovation, but really, each invention was a borrowed and re-engineered version of what had gone before.
13 million minutes worth of input
At this moment in time, I reckon I’ve been alive and conscious of my surroundings for at least 13 million minutes. How many words, pictures, stories, jokes, magical moments… have I been exposed to during this time? How many combinations of this data could I come up with?
There are 118 chemical elements, 26 letters in the English alphabet, approximately 10,000,000 colours (in the spectrum that we can see) and 1,831 types of cheese on cheese.com alone.
And that’s not including shapes, words, textures or savoury crackers!
The point being, there is no end to the influences that shape our thinking
So here’s the conclusion I’ve come to about creative people and their ability to come up with creative ideas. They are basically the same as everyone else, but they are spongier. They soak up everything they come into contact with and they have an innate ability to create ‘new’ ideas by filtering and mixing everything in their memory banks. Ideas don’t just appear from nowhere, they are constructed by combining memories.
So to generate creative ideas, all I have to do is juggle things around that already exist and Bob’s your Uncle:
Or how about…
Of course, it’s not quite so simple when you have to answer a real-world creative brief, but the principal remains the same. Creative people absorb more information and have a knack for spewing it back out in a way that makes their ideas compelling/convincing/attention-grabbing.
What else does it take to have creative ideas?
By my reckoning, there are a handful of qualities that any good creative person needs. Not all of them can be taught, but they can be nurtured and encouraged to blossom by keeping inspiring company and through discipline.
A love for it – If you don’t love what you’re doing, it shows in the work. There’s a great solution to even the most seemingly dull creative brief. Whether or not the client will buy it is another thing.
Curiosity – everything is fascinating once you start to scratch the surface. You don’t have to be an expert in anything, but the more stuff you expose yourself to, the greater the mental library you can draw on.
Child-like enthusiasm – it can be tough coming up with idea after idea. Every day, as much as possible, needs to be approached with a hop, skip and a smile. Creative people find the fun in what they do – ideas die on treadmills.
Perseverance – sometimes your first idea is the best one, but more often than not, it’s the one that you haven’t unearthed yet that’s the real killer idea. If the deadline allows it, great creatives keep sniffing around for something even better.
Openness – remember the kid at school who hid his work so no one could copy it? Don’t be that kid. Ideas love being bounced around. The best creatives aren’t scared to share them. For every idea that I’ve ‘had’, there are at least 2 or 3 that have morphed and been polished by sharing them with colleagues, family and friends.
A very, very thick skin – ideas are our babies and people are queuing up to tell us just how ugly they are. No matter how much we become attached to them, we need to be prepared to sacrifice our beloved creative ideas for something that the client is happier with.
Courage – “Yes, it’s a bit bonkers, and yes it’s not exactly on brief as such, and you’re right, no one else in the sector is doing it, but it just feels right.” Sometimes you’re going to have to fight to get an idea through. It takes guts to stand up and champion something that no one else immediately understands.
The ability to detach – no one liked your ideas and they’ve run with a boring old cliché. Now is not the time to shuffle off into a corner for a sulk. If we cling on to every great idea that is rejected, then sooner or later we become bitter and deluded (and often end up in rehab). You fought for it, you lost; now move on, there’s thousands more ideas where that came from.
The other quality that separates really creative people from the ‘normals’ is the ability to have creative idea after creative idea. When the deadline is looming, writer’s block won’t cut it as an excuse.
This, of course, is just my opinion. Creative ideas may actually be born under the gooseberry bush or be delivered by pixies, but I’m sticking with the above. Either way, I’ll leave you with this rather jolly quote from John Steinbeck:
“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”
The seventh in a series of posts wiggling around in the grey matter of creative people. Copywriters, Art Directors, Creative Directors, Graphic Designers, Photographers, Illustrators; they’re an odd, mysterious bunch – or are they? Introducing David Taylor, Graphic Designer and Art Director.
Hello David, let’s kick this off by you telling us what it is you do.
Hi Jonathan and Happy New Year. I work at Saentys; I’m a Graphic Designer and Art Director. Our studio is based in London, Shoreditch, and we also have offices in Paris, Geneva and Lyon, bringing together ideas for real estate, corporate and retail branding.
I work alongside a fantastic team of well-rounded and talented individuals, and this year we became 10 years young. We creatively push every project we take on and ensure that our clients always receive a design that is uniquely theirs. Obsessing over the details and experimenting with finishes and formats is a thing I really enjoy. I love to deliver beautifully crafted ideas that inspire and visually communicate to an audience.
So what first got you into a creative career?
At a young age I would be constantly doodling, creating posters with friends, replicating logos over schoolbooks, bags, whatever the ‘fad thing’ of the time was. I would write short story books and spend days designing the cover, which in turn would give me further ideas on the stories I wrote.
Family and friends told me that I was the ‘artistic’ one in the family, but I wasn’t sure of which direction to take. One day a good friend, Nathan Hallet, put his college portfolio in front of me and suggested I take a look. I flicked through a mix of photography, hand crafted illustrations, bold and subtle lettering and proclaimed, “fuck, I want to create stuff like this”. He wrote me a brief to design a fashion label and I got started. Visually designing for purpose fascinated me and studying design felt like the next thing to do.
Where did you study design and how did you land your first design job?
As an Essex lad, I started at the South East Essex College of Arts & Technology with a BTEC in Graphic Design. From there I went on to study in North London at Barnet College, for a Higher National Diploma in Art & Design and then onto Middlesex College to study for a Graphic Design BA Honours. I met some interesting people and friends along the way, with whom I shared digs, crazy nights out and some very in-depth, late night design theory discussions.
A lot of my study work involved creating design elements by hand – back then the Apple Macintosh Power PC was pretty slow by today’s standards. I learnt a lot from lecturers, but a hell of a lot from other students. Looking back at my study days it wasn’t about what was taught; it was about the effort and enthusiasm put in. The level of creativity other students produced really pushed me to stand out with my creative ideas, which helped me build my folio and pursue my career.
My first job was as a Junior Designer at the North London design agency, David Mills Graphic Design. I landed the role through sheer passion and willingness to learn design, that and recommendations through good friends and businesses in the industry I met whilst living in the local borough. Once I had mastered the tea and coffee process, I would help to create illustrations, logos, typesetting etc. to add to the outgoing studio work.
As a Graphic Designer and Art Director, what’s your go-to starting point to get the creative process moving?
A pencil, paper, good coffee, Spotify and gut instinct. I research, pull ideas apart and then put them back together. It’s good to get lost inside a thesaurus, take note of words that leap out, doodle, gather related patterns, explore colours, textures and images, then research some more.
When on a Mac, I collate folders of photography, Illustrations, typefaces, colours, finishes etc. to help me clarify a starting point. If you’re able to sit down with other designers and get opinions back, then do; from then on just keep exploring.
Who have you worked with along the way who has influenced you?
I had the privilege of working with Brand Strategist, Peter Bonnici many years ago, who sadly died in 2013. We shared a similar visual language in how to see design from a different angle and pull apart the obvious.
Since my study years, idols in design and music, all have influenced me in one way or another. Glazer, Fletcher, Tschichold, Barnbrook, Crouwel, Carson and Brody opened my mind’s eye, made me question design, its form and function. Magazines like Raygun, Blah Blah Blah, The Face and ID all flipped ‘the norm’ on its head. Working alongside many fantastic Design Directors in the past at various design agencies, each mentored me creatively in their own unique way.
Putting you on the spot, what’s your favourite piece of work you’ve been involved in?
I’ve created brand concepts in various sectors such as The Crown Estate’s Regent Street and St. James’s, The British Museum, Shakespeare’s Globe and East Village E20 to name but a few.
Working at Saentys, I’ve produced a vast amount of property and marketing campaigns all over the heart of London, and each I’m proud to say I’ve been involved in. Currently I’m designing collateral for the transformation and refurbishment of The Minster Building in London’s ever-growing iconic business district. We are strategically re-branding and marketing the property to challenge the market’s preconceptions of the building and its location. The identity campaign has repositioned the building as a new leading City lifestyle destination for 2018 and I’m looking forward to the next stages.
Also, the re-brand for our Saentys identity was a great job to work on. There have been so many different design proposals, concepts and logo marks crafted with all the Saentys team input, thoughts and ideas. To help change the tone of voice of the company I began working for 6 years ago and to see how it has grown is really inspiring.
What ingredients make up the ideal client?
An open mind, honesty, enthusiasm and forward thinking. One that values your services and wont dilute the creative ideas. One that believes great design can communicate more effectively. A client that doesn’t mind being asked questions, then more questions, even the peculiar ones in order to strengthen a brief. A client that pays on time with a budget that lasts all year. Perhaps most importantly, a client that doesn’t drive you crazy with changes at the eleventh hour.
I could go on with a few more descriptors, but you get the gist. When you meet a client that you get on with, respects your opinions and gives you the creative freedom to do work you’re proud of… look after them.
Tell me one thing you’ve learned that you would like to pass on to other creatives.
Know when to shut up and listen, research and define your audience, observe trends, collect and share inspirations, always be learning (sorry you asked for one thing).
Collecting inspiration on Pinterest turned into an obsession for me, this led me to start a blog called Collected.
Sites like Pinterest are a great source for ideas, but I wanted to create a more personal go-to collection of inspiration that informs and inspires, often making me think “damn, I wish I had done that” and that keeps me on my toes.
At the beginning of the creative idea and talks, there is no such thing as a bad idea. Bring all of your thoughts to the table, as I have learnt that the bizarre and smallest ideas can ignite the first seeds of a great concept.
Keep in mind the ‘tell me I’ll forget, show me I’ll remember’ analogy.
As a Graphic Designer and Art Director, what three pieces of work do you wish were in your portfolio?
There are so many pieces of work that I’m inspired by right now. Three that spring to mind would be:
– The TV identity for Channel 4 directed by Jonathan Glazer, with fonts created by globally renowned design agency Brody Associates and commissioned by 4Creative.
– The 2016 Graphic Design Festival Scotland designed by Freytag Anderson.
– The design proposal for Norway’s new bank notes designed by Snøhetta.
I’m constantly spotting design that I wish I had worked on or could have been involved in, and those I’m particularly inspired and somewhat envious of.
What one thing would make your job easier or better?
I think all designers would agree that more time to explore ideas would be heaven sent, but that’s not always the way. Procrastinating about an alignment, colour or typeface can sometimes cloud the imagination, so my advice would be to sometimes go with it and move on, step back, step away from time to time.
If you weren’t a designer, what would you be?
I wanted to be a magician at the age of 7, a boxer at the age of 10, an author at 11, a musician at 14 and a painter at 16. As a designer now, and without sounding corny, at the moment I wouldn’t want to be anything else. Visual communication is always changing and I like to think that I’ve always got my eye on future design trends, doing what is right for brand and brief.
No doubt, as a Graphic Designer and Art Director, there’s a little bit of the magician, boxer, author and musician in everything you’re doing now. Thanks for the interview David, and here’s to the next 10 years of Saentys.