Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Meet Design Strategist Drew Smith of Creative Mornings/London

To stay ahead of your game, you need to constantly transform yourself. Meet Drew Smith, an Australian guy who dreamt about being a car designer and became a brand strategist. Now based in the UK, he works at the consultancy Sense Worldwide and runs CreativeMornings/London. 

What is your background/who are you?
I grew up in Sydney, Australia knowing from a very young age -try 6- that I wanted to be a car designer. Given that my mum’s an artist and my dad’s an engineer, it was pretty much a certainty that I was going to become a designer!

After high-school, I did a degree in industrial design and moved to the UK in 2005 to do my Masters in Automotive Design. After graduating I went to work in an automotive design strategy consultancy in Germany before landing my dream job at Sense Worldwide, a creative strategic consultancy in London.

Tell us about Sense Worldwide!
At Sense, our clients often come to us with a problem –communications, branding, product or even with their entire business- and have no idea where to start on solving it. First, we help them properly define what the problem is and what a successful outcome is. Then using a people-centered approach we embark on a creative journey to find a successful solution, taking our clients on this journey with us.

What do you think is significant for the industry today?
In the last 12 months, we’ve been looking beyond simply offering innovation consultancy to our clients; innovating within a category is simply the cost of business these days. Now clients are realizing that they need to be more than just excellent, they need to change or transform the conversation that’s going on in their sector to stay ahead. Iterative improvement is no longer enough; transformation and creative destruction is what’s really driving the market leaders. 

What is innovation to you?
Innovation is one of those words that’s used a lot these days. Walk into any bookstore and you’ll see hundreds of books on the topic. To me it’s being as excellent as you can be in your category through constantly refining your. Innovation is constantly testing new ideas, breaking them and rebuilding them in a way that allows you to be a category leader. 

What do you think young talent is looking for in companies today?
From a personal perspective, I think it's the kind of organizations that recognize that the way we express ourselves and, therefore, our creative output is incredibly varied. Working in an organization that is responsive to this is incredibly important for morale and for building the kind of flexible, dynamic and project-specific teams that will suit clients best.

I also think that, increasingly, it’s the agencies that offer a truly bespoke, project-specific approach to defining methodologies, strategies and deliverables that are going to be most attractive to young talent. It helps satisfy our urge for creative exploration and also appeals enormously to clients who are disenchanted with the sausage-factory approach that some agencies fall into the trap of.

Finally, agencies that respect our external activities and welcome them into the work environment are winners. In my case I run an event called CreativeMornings/London and Sense Worldwide provide some sponsorship towards the event and allow me a bit of time to build the CreativeMornings presence in London. It helps me maintain a broader perspective on creative practice and also helps develop the networks that Sense draws upon for its work. It’s a win-win situation.

What kind of leadership or what kind of leader do you think the industry will need in the future?
In my experience, where young creatives need the most leadership is in helping them see the big picture. Universities tend to allow students to wallow in the detail of what interests them and they become masters of detail. This is a great attribute when working towards the thorough understanding of culture that can lead to breakthrough strategies. But when you have a finite period of time or budget to develop and deliver a grounded strategy, you need to be able to extrapolate that detail into a long-term vision. It’s this big picture thinking that’s so valuable in agency leadership. 

Also, I think that now more than ever, the ability to provide ongoing mentorship is crucial. We need leaders that can continue to educate young creatives by example. A university education leaves so many creatives not fully formed and lacking the confidence to be as great as they can be. By passing on the passion and experience that has elevated our leaders to where they are today, they give the new generation the confidence to step up and maximize their potential.

What’s your favorite car brand?
I swear that this has nothing to do with the fact that you guys are Swedish but my first two cars were Volvo! They had a brand that resonated so strongly with me, one built on a subtle, beautiful functionality. Their old cars like the PVs, 140s and 240s are not sexy but there’s a profound level of consideration inherent in their design which is deeply attractive. More recently they’re an example of how a brand can completely lose their way (the recent S60/V60 models) and make a triumphant return to what made them great (the Concept Universe).

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