Im Gespräch mit Chris Moody (Chief Design Officer) und Owen Hughes (Creative Director) von Wolff Olins aus London über Tradition, Brand Experience und das Ende der Design Manuals.
agenda design: Wolff Olins has been playing a leading role in the world of corporate identity for half a century now, with your co-founder Wally Olins as one of the most influential voices. What role does tradition play in this field that is usually very much driven by the need for innovation?
Wolff Olins: I have been with the company for about twenty years now and I remember reading Wally Olins book Corporate Identity maybe twenty-five years ago and being very exited about it. A lot has changed, but some of the principals he was writing about still hold true. His idea was to use design and creativity to make businesses more focussed, clear and user-friendly and this is still absolutely relevant today. Hardly anybody before had thought about using design in this way – to change business. But that is essentially what we are still doing. The biggest change is obviously that brands are now perceived through digital media. We are doing this conversation through a screen, and that is not unusual anymore. That has changed how brands can present themselves to the world and what assets we can create for them to do that. It is still the same job as it was in the 1960s, but now it is being done through a slightly different type of paper.
agenda design: Speaking of the medium of our conversation … didn’t you also do the branding for Skype?
Wolff Olins: We didn’t design the original Skype identity. As with many of our other clients, we got involved at this very interesting stage when the successful start-up has to enter its second stage of growth. These companies already have very popular products and services, but the initial growth and euphoria has plateaued a bit and a viable business model has still to be found. They have to ask themselves: What do we want to do? What is our purpose? How do we organise ourselves around that purpose? And these are questions we also ask when we start working with our clients. So for those second generation start-ups, we try to make an existing identity system more complete, building around elements that are already there, making them more rich, more engaging, more human.
agenda design: So what exactly did you do for Skype? Also the sound design and the animations?
Wolff Olins: The logo and the colours were already there. We reduced the existing elements and introduced a style of photography that mirrored the experience of using Skype, with details such as cropping of the heads of people slightly to make them feel like real moments. The sonic experience of a brand is very important too, and more recently, in other work we have started working with haptic elements and motion capture. We help evolve a purely visual to a much more rounded experience. That is really a big shift. Back in the Wally Olins days, it was about creating a consistent visual identity, now it is about creating a coherent experience. Not everything has to look the same anymore but the different elements must feel like they belong together. For example, a brand like Amazon is not about visual consistency but about the experience of using the service. And if you use Amazon Echo, even though the context is different than on the website, it still feels like the same experience, because the underlying principles are the same.
agenda design: For Zocdoc, a service for scheduling medical care, you developed a very modular and playful logo system that allows for a great variety of appearances. Why have these systems become so popular?
Wolff Olins: In the old days a brand was mainly reproduced on paper or on hard things and you could specify precisely how and where it appeared. Control was very much in the hands of those who created it. These days, users experience brands differently and they have more control now. The brand is as much defined by them as it is by us. So having a modular identity, with different elements adaptable to different contexts, users and needs, has become very advantageous.
agenda design: Do you still produce thick manuals to ensure other designers are using your systems correctly?
Wolff Olins: Not as much anymore. They aren’t as useful, because things get changed more quickly too. As the technologies have changed, the iterations of the designs have become much faster, more collaborative. The results are never finished, never perfect. As for the manuals, we have learned that it is far better to tell people the story of why an identity exists and why it looks the way it does. Explaining to them how it works can be done very simply, with a couple of pages. We’d rather give people digital tools to create with, than rules to follow. And the few guidelines and principles that we do give them are orientated around a coherent experience for the user. That works across different media and is much more important than the exact position of the logo. Hard guidelines have always been a challenge for the designers who had to follow them, because they couldn’t add their own creative input and the results became repetitive. Today, especial in digital media, you want people to add their own layer of creativity – to make the design rich, relevant and fit for the time it is living in.
agenda design: You also advocate letting the end-user play with a corporate identity. What about the risk of your modular tools being used against the brand in a kind of adbusting endeavour?
Wolff Olins: I wouldn’t be too worried about that. We experienced that type of reaction when we did the brand for the London Olympics in 2012. There were quite a few tongue-in-cheek imitations of our design, but I think that’s a good thing. I rather create something that gets people exited and reacting, than something that nobody notices. You have to accept that the days where you could create something and prevent anyone from doing anything with it are gone.
1965 gründeten der Grafikdesigner Michael Wolff und der Werber Wally Olins die Marken- und Strategie-beratung Wolff Olins mit Hauptsitz in London. Wolff verließ die Firma 1983, Olins 2001. Heute hat das Unternehmen 150 Mitarbeiter und zusätzliche Standorte in New York und San Francisco. Wolff Olins hat bereits Markenidentitäten für zahllose große Konzerne und Institutionen entwickelt, darunter auch das Erscheinungsbild für die Olympischen Spiele 2012 in London.