Written by Kate McGuinness
Creature, are an award-winning Wellington agency, specialising in brand, visual identity, campaigns and marketing communications. Kate McGuinness recently spoke to creative director Janelle Rodrigues, one of the agency’s founding partners, to learn about how this studio continues to thrive in a fast-paced industry.
Herriot Melhuish O’Neill Architects. Photography: Andy Spain.
Kate McGuiness: What are some of the biggest changes you have noticed in the design industry over the past five years and how has your studio adapted?
Janelle Rodrigues: The way we work with our clients and the work being commissioned has changed dramatically over the past five years. More recently, our collaboration with clients has increased, including upfront creative strategy and iterative conceptual work. We have embraced our magnetic walls in the studio and use them frequently, fostering internal discussion and reviews of work. Clients love them too, not only seeing their work but other work too (if it’s not confidential of course!).
I guess the kinds of projects have changed too, although Creature has always worked ‘very wide’ in a design agency sense. We have become more channel agnostic; we are not a rigid studio, instead, choosing to see what we think a project needs to meet the client’s objectives.
KM: How would you describe your studios creative process? Can you let us in on some of your secrets?
JR: We have a clear methodology but we really think about each client and discuss with them the best way to work on their project(s) depending on who’s involved, deadlines, budget, sign-off process internally, etc. This means our designers need to be flexible and open to how each project may operate. It could entail: deep dive research, quick sprint brainstorm, sketched scamps, realised territory boards based on strategy, or initial exploratory design visuals, all valid ways to kick start a project, but we take the time to work out the best way for our clients and the project at hand. Not really any secrets in there eh?
One of the most important questions I ask myself and my team is, “Is that the most interesting way to tell that story or present that idea?” We are always searching for a new way of seeing something, pushing for a unique view – which gets harder and harder as there is so much content created out in the world.
KM: What have you learnt about the client-designer relationship?
JR: It takes time to build a good working relationship with a client. There is a lot to learn, not only about their business, but their internal structure and dynamic or personality as an organisation. They also need to get to know you, your agency and your approach.
The best tool in getting to know clients is your ears. Listen. Really listen. I read somewhere recently that we need to listen to understand, not listen in order to respond. I found this really useful as I believe most creatives are very motivated to listen to respond because we always want our clients to feel that we are engaged and excited about their work, but I am finding that I am much quieter in meetings these days. There are many times in these meetings where a little gem just pops right out of the client without them even realising it, and to hear that, we need to create the space to let them talk and share. It’s also important to know and learn that some relationships just don’t go as well as others. This is not necessarily a failing on either side of the relationship, just that the personalities of both client and agency aren’t quite the right fit.
KM: How does the studio celebrate its successes and deal with failure?
JR: This is an area I’m not great at to be fair. We have a good internal culture of sharing good times/good projects but we have not yet developed a consistent way to discuss those as a full team, as far as a learning opportunity. We are a studio that really quickly moves its focus to the next project – but I can see that there are valuable learnings inside projects – the good and the bad.
KM: Are there any recent projects that the studio is particularly proud of? Could you tell us a little about them.
JR: Two that stand out at the moment have more to do with a real shift we’ve made for the businesses involved, perhaps even more than the design work developed. Kiwi Property asked us to work on their investor relations suite of collateral but we’ve done more than that; we’ve looked to shift their position in the market. Their reporting work now really looks at the dynamic of the customers visiting both their retail and commercial buildings and looks to visualise a changing and dynamic new New Zealand. This is a change for a property company, usually showcasing its bricks and mortar assets only. It is an important aspect of Kiwi Property – they are really smart people always looking at their offer based on customer insights.
We have also developed an internal brand for Oji Fibre Solutions. I love the design output of this work – but potentially more exciting, is the way this work will unite and recognise the expertise that exists inside the organisation. The internal brand is driven around the idea, ’Solutions by Nature’ – embracing the solutions driven nature living inside this company.
KM: Professional development is a hot topic at the moment. How are staff within your organisation encouraged to develop new skills and grow their potential?
JR: We encourage and assist our team to attend design events in Auckland and Wellington. We share valuable articles and celebrated projects from around the world. But mostly, professional development for a studio our size is really self-initiated. When we have some down time, we expect our team to use that time to dip into a good read or play with some new software.
KM: The new office fitout (completed by Herriot Meluish O’Neill Architects) recently took home an interior architecture award at the region’s architecture awards. How important is the physical environment for staff? Can you tell us a little bit about the overall design?
JR: The shift has been such a good move for all of us – we got a chance to create a new home for the studio in Cuba Street. The building was being totally renovated and had the character we were looking for. Our whole team was asked to share what they wanted visitors to feel when they spent time with us in the studio, and they were each asked to mood-board images that captured what this might look like. We took that work, edited it slightly (to align with our budget) and then used that work to brief our architects HMOA. They have done a great job and have embraced the idea of us being involved all along the way. The result does get the feedback we set out to achieve – ‘a grown up creature’, ‘a space I’d like to live in’ – a mix of hospitality space and apartment living was the aim.
KM: Looking ahead to the future, what does your studio hope to achieve?
JR: This is a good question and a timely one – we are currently working on our business plan for the next few years fine-tuning our offer in Wellington and Auckland and building on the work we have done in the last 15 years so watch this space!
KM: Finally, what do you love about your industry?
JR: I feel pretty fortunate to have spent so long doing what I love – the people I’ve met so far and some beautifully powerful work we’ve been given license to create. I think I mostly love that the industry is always morphing, adapting to what our clients need. I also enjoy how diverse our portfolio has been at Creature; there is never a dull day. It takes a special breed of creature to enjoy that, it’s not for everyone. I have a fairly busy brain and have always loved working on a wide range of client work, so it has been the best place for me. In saying that, I do need some space to breathe along the way – some quiet times to settle that busy brain and re-energise myself, just to keep up!