Inside the Studio with Landor China’s David Mineyama-Smithson

What drives successful design? 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, asking what it takes to produce innovative, award-worthy work. Up next: Landor China’s executive creative director, David Mineyama-Smithson.

Twenty years of experience across four countries in three continents. Four years managing Landor’s Chinese design practice. Nearly 10 years as a founding partner of the European creative network and innovation platform Weiss-heiten. Mineyama-Smithson’s experience is vast, with clients ranging from AECOM, Barclaycard, Visa, and Zurich Insurance to the English National Ballet and Boots UK. In this latest installment, we’re going inside the studio with Landor China’s David Mineyama-Smithson to get his take on design.

Inside the studio with Landor China’s David Mineyama-Smithson in our Hong Kong Office

1. What is one unexpected way you gain inspiration for your designs?

I draw most of my inspiration from real-world experiences. It may seem like an unusual concept today, but I’m a firm believer that we absorb and process information—and come up with more innovative ideas—by stopping for a minute and looking at the world around us. Taking in what we are doing, feeling, and seeing lets us reflect on our lives, and also reminds us that if we are experiencing certain things or feeling a certain way about our lives, it’s extremely likely other people around the world are thinking and sharing those same thoughts and emotions. When you’re focused on social media or sharing your experience through technology, it can be hard to see what’s going on in the moment.

For me, the real world is where unexpected influence comes from. I used my own marriage proposal as the basis for a new ring box design for one of our clients. My son’s Lego creations became the palette for a cosmetics brand. Found objects in flea markets led to visual systems for financial brands. Countless conversations, encounters, stories, and sights have acted as starting points for almost every creative project I’ve undertaken.

Inside the studio with Landor China’s David Mineyama-Smithson in our Hong Kong Office

2. How do you know when you or your team has designed something good?

I have three meters for judging a good result: passion, pride, and jealousy.

  • Passion: If you can feel the team’s passion for and excitement around the work, it’s a good indication that you are onto a winner.
  • Pride: At the end of the day, if your work is something you’d be proud to tell your mum about or put in your personal portfolio, then you know it’s a job well done.
  • Jealousy: When you’ve been really close to a project and finally see the outcome, inspiring a little jealousy in others is a good thing. If other people wish they had thought of the concept—especially designers you respect or regard highly—then you know you got it right.
Inside the studio with Landor China’s David Mineyama-Smithson in our Hong Kong Office

3. What’s your personal motto and how does it impact your work at Landor?

“Good enough is not good enough.” Let’s face it: If you want to be rich, being a designer is probably the wrong career. Design is about creation, about loving what you do. As a result, designers tend to hold themselves to an inherent standard of pushing boundaries and surpassing expectations. Therefore “good enough” just simply never is—you can always strive for a better design, clearer communication, or a more innovative idea. This phrase acts a reminder for me to go beyond the ordinary and create the best possible work every day.

4. Now that design blogs and commentaries are more vocal than ever, how do you cope with loud and negative reviews?

Sometimes I take an almost perverse pride in the fact that people care enough to comment either good or bad on something I’ve been involved with. But mostly it’s easier to be ambivalent to the noise. Everyone is equally entitled to an opinion, but that does not make all opinions equal. In a sea of chitchat there are very few comments that will ever cut to the bone. And if you come across one that does, then listen and try to learn from it.

Inside the studio with Landor China’s David Mineyama-Smithson in our Hong Kong Office

5. What advice would you give aspiring designers looking to join a company like Landor?

It’s hard for me to pick just one. But here are the things I would want to know if I were just starting my career:

  • Fill your life with as much experience and passion as possible. This will be the key to letting your creativity blossom.
  • No one can be right all the time. Don’t be afraid to express your opinion, but also don’t be afraid to change it when you hear those of other people.
  • Fail every day. Often, we learn more from getting it wrong than from getting it right.
  • Determination and drive are just as important as talent.
  • Always remember: No one is going to die. It’s good to take your work seriously, but you also need to see the larger context and allow yourself room to breathe.
Inside the studio with Landor China’s David Mineyama-Smithson in our Hong Kong Office

6. How do you define success? Is it notoriety within design circles, ROI for our clients, influencing trends, or something else altogether?

Success is when your mum knows you did the work even before you tell her.

 

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