What drives successful design? When is a concept really finished? How do Landor designers create inspired ideas for some of the world’s largest global brands? This year, we’re sharing the inner workings of our studios around the world through our Inside the Studio series. We’ll speak with some of our top creative minds and ask them all sorts of questions about what it takes to produce innovative, award-worthy, effective work. Up first: Landor New York’s executive creative director, Wally Krantz.
With over 20 years of experience, Krantz has worked in two Landor offices—New York and San Francisco—at three different points in his career. With clients ranging from the American Red Cross and FedEx to LG Electronics and S&P Global, his experience crosses industries, organizational structures, and geographies, giving him unique breadth and depth.
1. At Landor, we work across a variety of industries on myriad projects. When faced with a new engagement, where do you start?
I always start in the same place: Immersion. I want to know as much as I can about the organization, the employees, and, of course, the customer. It’s about understanding how our client runs their business, why they do it, and what their needs are (as a company and for the project). I want to talk to my client partner, spend time in their world, and grasp how their communications work. Where it goes from there is different every time.
2. What is one unexpected way you gain inspiration for your designs?
I’ve carried some sort of camera with me every day for over twenty years. You see your environment differently when you have a camera in your hand—whether it’s your iPhone, a point-and-shoot, or an SLR (single-lens reflex). You begin to see objects and relationships that unintentionally stand out, cutting through the clutter and noise on the streets and in your surroundings.
Sometimes subtle, sometimes significant, these objects and relationships reveal themselves in new ways.
Over time, you end up collecting a tremendous amount of information and learning from your observations of objects, forms, volumes, colors, lights, types, and unexpected juxtapositions. Wherever I am—the streets of Manhattan, home in Brooklyn, in Landor’s offices, or traveling for meetings or for pleasure—observing the environment is a source of inspiration for me every day. You can catch a glimpse of this on my Instagram, @wkrantz.
My real interest is in how designs work once they’re out of our hands—how they will thrive in the real world. The ideas and concepts we develop live in extremely complex environments, removed from the hermetically-sealed, proposed futures that we share with our clients during work sessions.
3. How do you maintain creative vision and still keep your client involved in the process? What do you do when a client partner disagrees with what you consider to be the best design solution?
Having our clients involved in the design process is integral to it. I prefer to have frequent discussions and dialogue with my clients rather than only seeing them at presentations. Think about it: They know their business and audiences very well, while I’m an outsider. They have ideas, but we’re the ones tasked with developing and giving form to them. Our client partners rely on our experience, perspective, and opinions.
The best ideas come when I get to know my clients a bit before the design process starts, and foster this relationship throughout. We’re able to build a stronger understanding of their situation and establish greater trust among the team. Having this relationship and trust is necessary to create an environment where bigger ideas can be developed.
In terms of working through idea selection, disagreements happen. They happen in the studio, they happen in meetings with our clients. As with any situation where there are opposing viewpoints: ask questions, have a conversation, dig deeper, and pinpoint the underlying issues. I’ve found that initial disagreements often produce even richer thinking. I don’t view this as compromising the integrity of an idea; I see it as making a new idea—even a better idea.
4. Now that design blogs and commenters are more vocal than ever, how do you cope with loud and negative reviews?
I’ve become largely immune to them. Look at the blogs and comments on any piece of design—the negativity is remarkable. Since most reviews are extremely critical—informed or not—you come to accept that as soon as your work gets out there, it won’t be treated any differently. Designers have very strong opinions about design, especially when it’s design they didn’t create.
Ultimately reviews reflect an opinion. They’re fine if they’re done with journalistic rigor. But many today don’t have this base. So the bigger issue, I believe, is that the design community is damaging itself in the process. One important thing to keep in mind—and most good reviewers do this—is that brand programs often go beyond any singular change in the present. They are usually part of a long-term strategy that will become clearer well after launch—and well after the outrage expressed in comments sections has subsided.
5. How do you know when you or your team has designed something good?
The first indication is during a critique, when designers start to riff and build off one idea, especially when the idea isn’t their own. When people start to get excited and talk about the possibilities for how that design could live and grow—that’s when we know it’s good.
Then, when the client we’re partnering with sees the same qualities in an idea that our team did, we know it’s really good. It’s not a matter of presenting the work at that point. The work stands on its own and its potential is inherent. When a concept is beloved by both our designers and our clients I know we’ve got something great.
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