Here’s to question marks

Tomorrow something exciting is happening at Wolff Olins London. It’s not the everyday kind of exciting. And it’s not steak and chips in the kitchen - as far as I know anyway. Tomorrow we’ve got a new recruit joining us. He’s called Dan Germain, he’s the creative director and long-time voice of Innocent - famous for its groundbreaking brand and much-copied language - and he’s also Wolff Olins’ inaugural visiting creative director.

Why is this a big deal? After all collaboration - in one form or another - is nothing new. At Wolff Olins we urge businesses to think beyond defending their market positions and embrace collaboration in the service of bigger shared ambitions - often with competitors from whom they would once have guarded their ideas fiercely. The brands that embrace this need to think differently - less rigid, more porous. For these brands the boundaries between traditional competitors become blurred, as do distinctions between a brand’s creators and its customers. Lego is a good example of this type of brand - in its collaborations with the likes of Star Wars and Muji or its Builders of Tomorrow programme.

This also poses an interesting challenge for designers - to design for brands whose expression isn’t singular or fixed, where experience and behaviour are more important than identity or logo, where constant change - in partnerships, in customers’ needs, in technology - makes a mockery of traditional rules and guidelines.

This kind of challenge has led us to look beyond our own boundaries for help. We want to work with people who know more than we do, who can stretch our thinking - like Universal Everything who we collaborated with on AOL, Time Based Arts who we worked with on EE and the wonderful Onformative who we’re cooking up something special with right now. What we share with collaborators like these is the ambition to push boundaries and try new things. In that spirit, this year we’re taking what seems to be the logical next step - and inviting them in. Hence our visiting creative director programme.

We plan to have one visiting creative director per ‘term’ - each a a brilliant creative who’s changed the game in their field, each with a different lens through which to challenge and stretch our thinking, each with an outsider’s fresh perspective and curiosity. As the philosopher and all-round enlightened thinker Bertrand Russell said “It’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” And that’s what we hope our visiting creative directors will do.

So what will Dan bring? Well, a client’s-eye view, and in particular the view from the creative heart of a super-successful brand with a big ambition at its core, also a passion for storytelling and an understanding of how important that is in creating great experiences, a bucketload of enthusiasm and - we hope - a few question marks to hang around the place.

We don’t know exactly how it will go, but that’s part of the fun. We’ll be keeping the blog updated and Dan will be hijacking our Twitter feed every Friday for the next three months. Bring it on.

Owen Hughes is Creative Director at Wolff Olins.

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