The Art of the Concept

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Creative Director Amo Bassan lifts a glass to the creative process.

Amo Bassan | JANUARY 26, 2016

SO FAR THIS MONTH we’ve focused on the first of Evviva’s two work stages, “expression.” We’ve looked at building your brand, gathering the right information, and defining a long-term strategy. In this post we’ll open up the last step in Expression, the creative concept phase from brief to delivery.

The Brief

The whole project team gets together. It’s the most crucial part of the process, and it has to start off on the right foot. A brief can take many forms. At worst, it’s a purely functional one-page Word doc laid out like this:

  • This is the client 
  • This is the problem we need to solve 
  • Here are some current work examples 
  • Here are the brand guidelines 
  • These are the timings

But that’s pretty dull, and it will probably sound and feel like this. Of course our brief does contain functional information, but overall it’s more like a bespoke presentation, and no two are the same. We do this because a brief is supposed to be more like this. We use music and video to inspire and describe the overall feeling we want achieve, and we also share this with our clients, even if they won’t make an appearance in the final creative. Once we’re happy that we have everything we need to start, it’s …

Kick-off

So we’re out of the blocks – now what? Well, if you’re a creative director, obviously it’s time to make your colleagues nervous by disappearing, playing games, standing in the corner of the room or hiding in the pub nursing a Guinness. There is a reason for this: I’m nervous too. We’re having to prove our right to exist as an agency all over again, and we want to do justice both to our clients and to our colleagues. To make things even more interesting, we never re-use old creative concepts. There’s no lucky-dip bin called “we’ll re-use these one day.” So, with that in mind, I’m back at my desk playing Berlin ’82.

I’m doing one thing and thinking about another. It’s my way of dissecting the brief in my head and slowly gravitating towards the most interesting words or the points that really stuck out in the brief. Note, this isn’t forcing yourself to create; it’s setting yourself up to create in the right way for that particular project. At the same time, I’m working with the copywriter to make sure that we end up with a unified concept or concepts. Art doesn’t follow copy or vice-versa. These key words will become benchmarks that I’ll refer to when thinking about concepts. For example, a key requirement in a recent brief was, “we want people to opt-in or opt-out when they see the campaign” (which sounds like almost every campaign objective). In this case, we interpreted that request to create a design that looked like a blank square but it was an optical illusion. Those with the patience to take a closer look got the message and opted-in; those that didn’t naturally opted out. It was completely at odds with what the client has previously done or what others were doing and that’s what we aim to do.

This brings up the question of taste. We don’t have or want a house style. Everything we do reflects our company and when you put all our work together there is a definite thread that runs through it that represents – from project to project – our curiosity, love of words (as shapes too), typography and color combinations. As we’re working, we’re aware that whatever concept is chosen will have to live across a range of media and platforms. If you’re going to work on something for a year or two, you can’t box it into a strict style. So, we always try and build in some flexibility – a way to keep the concept interesting for us, and more importantly for the client and the target audience. This can be achieved through something as simple as an extensive color palette, or – slightly more complicated – a graphic system that is reconfigurable every time without losing its meaning. Once we complete a concept, we adjust it to align with the benchmarks we’ve chosen

That still doesn’t mean we’re done: we have other benchmarks, too. Our Brand, Insight and Strategy heads review the work to confirm that it accurately reflects the most salient points of their brand work to date. Assuming the message is clear and on target for each of the three criteria, the creative decisions rest with creative. If the concepts fly, we’ll work them up to a standard that’s representative of the final creative, knowing there will be some fine-tuning to do in the production phase.

The Client

We normally present three concepts. We don’t ever want to make clients uncomfortable; that said, we do want to gauge their appetite for change. That’s why we’ll push the boat out much further from the shore than they might initially like, but we’ll also work hard to present another concept that feels familiar, and a third, enhanced one that sits more or less between the two.

The key here is to present only designs we’ll be happy to work on therefore there’s no need to push a particular ‘favourite’ on a client. Our approach gives the client a choice of concepts with conceptual and visual range. Along the way, we’ll share our sketches so clients can see how we arrived at a particular solution. if there were any bumps, and how we overcame them. We always prefer to present concepts face-to-face.

That’s about it

At Evviva we never set out to find an easy or templated method to getting things done and that approach has both enlightened and infuriated us and I guess it’ll continue to do so.

Cheers!

Amo Bassan is Evviva Brands’ Creative Director. He looks after the company’s creative team and output. Since 1997 he’s worked for a number of agencies in the UK, US and France working on print and digital projects for Apple, Depeche Mode, O2 and Casio amongst others. he has a passion for typography and type design and lives in Edinburgh.

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