What drives successful strategy and design? How do we produce 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, asking what it takes to produce innovative, effective, award-worthy work. Up now: Landor Hamburg’s executive creative director, Markus Blankenburg.
With over 20 years of experience, Markus is a highly motivated and ambitious creative leader who focuses on reinventing categories and pushing the boundaries of business as usual. He believes in a fundamentally simple relationship between brands and consumers: a promise is made, and a promise is kept. An avid car enthusiast, Markus has extensive experience leading award-winning work for car brands such as Audi, BMW, Opel, Smart, and Volkswagen. He also created comprehensive, multichannel brand experiences for Adelholzener mineral water, Ceconomy, COR furniture, Kärcher, Metro, and Procter & Gamble.
1. What is one unexpected way you gain inspiration for your work?
Inspiration is everywhere. I live in a city that is one of the best places in the world to find inspiration: Berlin. Here, you don’t need to get lost in some crazy subculture to feel inspired. Inspiration is in the streets. It’s embedded in daily life. Between the past influence of Prussian splendor, Nazi fascism, and German Democratic Republic injustice, today’s Berlin is a capital of relentless unexpectedness. Whenever possible, I’m sure to get out and make the most of living in this European cultural hub.
2. How do you provide conditions that allow creativity to flourish in your studio?
To create agile brands, we need to be agile ourselves. As a result, Landor Hamburg’s culture allows for a high degree of self-determination. This is a key condition for creativity that enables our employees to flourish—far beyond the walls of the studio. My takeaway: Control is just an illusion. Let loose.
3. Which project at Landor stands out as having been the most challenging, and why?
The Metro Group demerger. The challenge: Transforming a €58 billion business into two independent, leading brands—Metro and Ceconomy—in just four months. To manage this we set up a One Landor approach with a strong partnership between Landor Hamburg and Landor London. We crafted the strategy, positioning, and design of both brands, resulting in a powerful and agile cross-regional collaboration—and two incredibly impactful new brands.
4. What’s your personal motto and how does it impact your work at Landor?
“Digital transformation, always.” It’s common sense, sure, but from a personal perspective, this is a reminder to constantly keep pace with our ever-evolving world. Tech can be demanding, but knowing only a smattering can leave you exposed—especially in our industry. Make tech your friend. And if you can’t, at least make friends with a techy.
5. What differentiates Landor Hamburg from other design studios?
Our international background. Landor Hamburg is a melting pot of cultures. Fifty percent of our team is not German. Our office language is English, and even offering German classes to our team hasn’t changed that (what a tough language to learn!). Our diversity brings unique perspectives and cultural flavor to all aspects of our work. Our clients are constantly seeking this international perspective. No branding or design agency in Germany can claim a similar heritage or approach. We are truly unique.
6. How do you define success? Is it notoriety within design circles, ROI for our clients, influencing trends, or something else altogether?
A simple way to measure personal success: the number of headhunters reaching out to you.
7. What advice would you give to aspiring designers looking to join a company like Landor? What do you wish young designers knew?
My advice: Learn how to change your instincts. Sometimes you have to teach yourself the right way to think, respond, or approach a new challenge or opportunity. My personal game changers in design: (1) Empathy is king. If you don’t care about the human aspect of your work, the result will be meaningless. (2) Start with a sketch. While lecturing I often see students staring into their computers. Shut down your laptop and get out your pencils again. The clarity you can find is amazing. (3) Innovation is a team sport. Lean into it by learning the basic principles of design thinking. (4) Prototype everything. Designers at Landor believe in this deeply, and it is one of the biggest reasons for our success. (5) Have a bias toward action.
8. Extra credit: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Good things happen to those who wait. But better things happen to those who get up and get shit done.
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