What drives successful strategy and design? How does Landor 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 and strategic minds, asking what it takes to produce innovative, effective, award-worthy work. Up now: Landor Moscow’s strategy director, Oleg Kuzmin, and design director, Nicolas Zeuss.
With over 20 years of experience, Oleg Kuzmin has worked on both the client and agency side for a range of major companies in Russia. His vast experience crosses industries with clients that have included Danone, GE, Land Rover, Mars, Microsoft, Rostelecom, Sberbank, Unilever, VTB Group, among others.
Nicolas Zeuss is a well-seasoned designer who has been with Landor for over six years. Working out of the Moscow and Hamburg offices, he is an integral part of the Procter & Gamble team, bringing extensive global experience to his work. Venezuelan by birth, Zeuss speaks English, Spanish, Russian, and German, and has worked across industries for big-name clients including Aeroflot, Kraft Heinz, Mareven Foods Central, Novartis, Pernod Ricard Russ, Philip Morris International, Tetra Pak, World Economic Forum, and Yum! Brands.
1. What are some unexpected ways you gain inspiration for your work?
Oleg Kuzmin: It may seem unusual, but often I gain inspiration from sports. Especially sports like rowing, biking, and cross-country skiing that are cyclical in nature. When I’m exercising, my mind is free and at rest, but somewhere in the background it is still working on the problems I’m trying to solve. For me, athletic activity brings double value: It’s good for my body and good for my clients.
I also strongly believe that the best ideas arise at the junction of what we already know and what we’re in the process of discovering. We connect past knowledge with new objectives, tasks, or information, thereby creating a novel approach. So it pays to stay curious and open to new things, both inside and outside the areas of your professional interest. From trends and societal changes to new experiences, music, and culture, expose yourself to new stimuli as much as possible.
Nicolas Zeuss: For me, inspiration is everywhere, but the most important source is people. The more I interact, ask, and discuss, the more interested I become in the world around me. Whether from a thought, experience, image, or even a song, I often receive something through the exchange that I didn’t consider before, opening doors to fascinating worlds.
When I apply this experience to my work, it suddenly becomes an insight. Real-world experiences let us understand how others live their lives, how different generations interact, how people use technology, why certain consumers prefer one service over another, or what makes customers feel good about a product. Understanding inspires designers to deliver unexpected yet intuitive solutions.
2. What differentiates Landor’s design studios from other agencies?
Nicolas Zeuss: Landor has no frontiers—I mean it. We are so well connected that when you go to another office or send an email to a colleague, it’s like you’ve known the person or place for ages. At Landor, we have a common vision and we work together seamlessly, regardless of distance.
This creates a tangible advantage for our clients. We can have a strong team on the ground delivering relevant strategies infused with great design from the other side of the globe. For a project in Moscow, we used the Landor network to deliver concepts in just 48 hours with the support of our Paris, New York, and Mexico offices—with all concepts fully laddering back to the original strategy.
3. At Landor we work across a variety of industries on myriad projects. When faced with a new engagement, where do you start?
Oleg Kuzmin: With every project, especially in a category unfamiliar to me, my goal is to say, “I know what’s going on here.” It’s like uncovering a riddle or solving a detective case—one by one I find the right answers and clues until meaning appears. I usually start by looking at the bigger picture and trying to understand the main drivers behind a specific market. Then it’s about being relentless: I can’t stop at a superficial level of knowledge. Although there is a lot to learn on the internet, I believe it’s important to get out of your office, observe real behaviors, and talk to people.
4. What advice would you give aspiring designers and strategists looking to join a company like Landor?
Nicolas Zeuss: Today it’s not about being a designer or a strategist, a marketer or a manager. It’s about being a thinker. You have to exercise a wide range of skills to create meaningful work for our caliber of client partner. The look or design isn’t enough. You have to articulate the brand in meaningful ways.
Others skills to cultivate: Being flexible and adaptive. Cultivating curiosity about how technology creates and shapes businesses. Having the guts to speak your mind and share your ideas. Staying grounded enough to remain humble as you grow.
Oleg Kuzmin: Let me draw inspiration from the six behaviors of agile brands. Just as we know that strong brands are a combination of being principled and adaptive, authentic and modern, new employees must be knowledgeable about basic theories and classic principles while also being up to speed on the latest trends. For designers this means familiarity with visual composition, color theory, and history of visual arts, among other things. In today’s world employees have to know how to work in digital environments, how to adapt to new media channels, and how to interact with product and user interfaces. All of these are relatively new areas that brands are taking advantage of.
5. Do you have any personal or side projects you’re passionate about? If so, what are they? What made you want to get involved? Do they impact your work at Landor, or vice versa?
Oleg Kuzmin: I am a passionate photographer. I think photography has a lot in common with the discipline of branding: Both can be seen as a combination of science and art, and both are capable of telling a powerful story. In photography you need to convey a mood to emotionally capture the viewer. The same is true of branding. And when you are shooting, you make myriad decisions based on a multitude of possible combinations, all to capture just one frame of reality. Like branding, the goal is always to create the single interpretation that feels just right.
6. What’s your personal motto and how does it impact your work?
Nicolas Zeuss: “Just because something’s affordable doesn’t mean it needs to look cheap.”
I believe deeply that design can influence human behavior and impact society. The brands, products, and services we work on are our medium, and they wield the power to inspire people through everyday use. My motto is a reminder to myself that no matter what I’m designing, my creation can affect human emotion and change how someone feels about a product or brand—it deserves the best possible work I can produce.
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