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 minds, asking what it takes to produce innovative, effective, award-worthy work. Up next: Landor’s chief creative officer, Peter Knapp.
From London to Hong Kong and back again, Peter Knapp brings over 20 years of experience to Landor’s creative practice. His knowledge of integrated branding and design programs has helped him launch, reposition, and reintroduce hundreds of brands around the world including Adecco Group, BP, British Airways, Etihad Airways, Johnnie Walker, Land Rover, and M&S. His specialty lies in merging graphic design, 3-D design, digital technology, and engagement platforms to create comprehensive customer environments for Landor’s clients.
1. What is one unexpected way you gain inspiration for your work?
The thing about inspiration is that it can come from any place at any time. The trick is to stay open minded and receptive. I recall once seeing a postcard in a bar for a new range of kitchen hot plates. I knew there was something strangely compelling about the image, which looked like the sun. It was perfect for the Pressbyrån project we were working on at the time. Our final design draws pretty closely from that postcard, which had a spooky sense of rightness to it. That was about 20 years ago, and the identity is still on the streets of Sweden today.
2. Who is one of your favorite artists or designers, and how have they influenced a project you’ve worked on while at Landor?
Gene Roddenberry, Tadao Ando, J.M.W. Turner, Miles Davis, Peter Saville, and Renzo Piano have all been people whom I have greatly admired and been inspired by. But I also strongly believe it’s important not to bring them into projects. Unconscious plagiarism is a very real thing—and something to be wary of. We should strive to create our own original solutions; inadvertently referring to other people and their work can crush any hope of producing your own brilliant idea. (I should add: Plagiarism is also the danger of casually constructed mood boards that show direction driven from other people’s brilliance.)
3. How do you provide conditions that allow creativity to flourish in your studio?
Creating these conditions is essential to the well-being of our people and the quality of our work. Open discussions, sources of inspiration, and a good atmosphere are all vital.
Though I work in many Landor studios, the one I’m most familiar with is Landor London. Our employees and clients enjoy it because of its busy and free atmosphere—in part due to the music being played loudly—even if from a few rather dubious DJs.
4. How do you know when you or your team has designed something good?
It’s partly a sixth-sense thing, a kind of intuition. I’m a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s definition of intuition as noted in Blink: “The ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and people based on very narrow ‘slices’ of experience.” If you’ve absorbed the context, the strategy, the brief, and the market—and you trust your own experience—you’re already hardwired and loaded. When everything adds up to something that is appropriate, relevant, compelling, and brilliant, all you have to do is recognize it.
5. What’s one avenue of design you would like to explore at Landor that you haven’t yet?
Rebranding a football club. Or rebranding NASA. That would cover two major passions of mine. I’m grateful for all the amazing projects, sectors, markets, and countries that I’ve been able to work on (and in) so far. Continue to watch this space as more is sure to come.
6. How do you maintain creative vision while keeping your client involved in the process? What do you do when a client partner disagrees with what you consider the best solution?
I always focus on keeping both the client and the customer in mind. I ask myself to walk a mile in the customer’s shoes and imagine what the end user would think of the work. I ask myself how my family would react to it. If it’s not going to motivate the intended audience, it’s time to start again. The solution must be both original and relevant. If it’s not, then it’s wrong. End of story.
When one of our clients feels differently about work than our team does, the first thing to remember is: Stay calm! It’s important to find the right time and place to have a rational conversation about the work. We can calmly explain the merits of our preferred solution, and our client can also voice their opinion. Sometimes a discreet, off-line, one-to-one chat is the best way. If you passionately believe in the work, you simply have to find a way to make it live. Never be disrespectful, but always believe.
7. When faced with a new project, where do you start? Do you have a standard process?
There is no such thing as a standard project, so there is no such thing as a standard process to start creative thinking. If there were, a lot of branding would look the same. One constant: Be open to as many diverse, original inputs and stimuli as possible. Then filter for relevance.
8. How do you define success? Is it notoriety within design circles, ROI for our clients, influencing trends, or something else altogether?
It’s simple. Success is about taking pride in the result. The design may look amazing. Or it makes a difference. Or it performs really well. But it has to make you proud.
9. Do you have any personal or side projects you’re passionate about? If so, what are they? Do they impact your work at Landor, or vice versa?
The things I do outside work are purposefully different from my life at Landor. I play and watch sports, especially football and specifically West Ham (supporting them has taught me to seek new levels of tolerance and to be grateful for small victories). I learn about astronomy (we are only space dust). I listen to music (my life’s diary). I city-hop (mind expanding—both visually and culturally). I am a keen archer (it teaches me to focus and be in the moment). All are ways of creating a valuable separation from work, and this buffering space is important to help me detox from the intensity of my job. Things invariably cross over between the two sides of my life, but I always try to separate being in and out of work to some degree.
10. Now that design blogs and commentators are more vocal than ever, how do you cope with loud and negative reviews?
I really don’t care what they say. If we have done our job properly—and we always do—I’m confident in our work. Typically, our industry is slow to congratulate each other, which is a real shame. It does not make us stronger collectively. I wish people were more capable of making favorable and generous comments when the work merits it. Have you seen Interbrand’s new identity for Juventus? I love it!
11. What advice would you give to aspiring designers looking to join a company like Landor?
First, design a decent CV. Please. Virtually all of them are as dull as ditch water. It’s the first point of contact a potential employee has with a potential hirer, so be interesting or don’t bother at all. Think about a résumé like a first “hello.” Why would you mumble? When I review CVs, I’m looking for a “HELLO!” For example: “The other day I saved a family of otters and it inspired me to…” or something that shows an interest beyond “I like going to the cinema and hill walking” (Oh, please!). The other day I got a CV that said, “I am genuinely not a dick.” While it may not be the most eloquent statement, at least it got my attention! The same goes for examples of work and portfolios.
Second, remember that every interview is a great opportunity, so don’t blow it! You can do amazing things if you are smart enough and bold enough. If no one notices you or your work, you’re wasting your time.
12. Extra credit: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Plant more lavender. This small act could have a major impact on the shocking decline in the bee population.
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