Beautiful simplicity

Last Wednesday lunchtime, a motley cross-section of the team legged it across a windy, rainy Sheffield to attend a Sheffield Hallam University for a ‘Curated by…’ event we felt we just couldn’t miss. We’d heard that guest speaker Oliver Maltby would be talking about how he has helped his clients to grow by delivering creative and strategic tailor-made design systems.

And since he also has 16 years of experience working at some of the world’s most respected agencies such as The Chase and Interbrand, we had a feeling that the illustrious Mr Maltby would be very much our kind of guy.

There is no perfect formula

And so it turned out to be. He began by taking us through some of the designers who inspire him with the beautiful simplicity of their ideas. He then moved on to talk about the process of having ideas and where they come from. And while was keen to emphasise that ‘creativity is not a mathematics’, he shared some great tips on ‘jump starting’ the creative process that work for him:

Start with a blank sheet of paper and pen

The temptation for many designers/creatives is to immediately jump on the web to see what’s out there already and seek inspiration from other peoples’ work. Don’t, said Oliver.

Grab a good old fashioned piece of paper and a pen. Ask yourself, what is the essence of the product or brand? What clichés, metaphors and stereotypes spring to mind? Sometimes, he explained, a fresh twist on the familiar is far more powerful starting point and can lead you into new ways of thinking.

Look within, then look outside yourself

But not necessarily to those who’ve designed before you. Inspiration can be found in all mediums and places. For Maltby it’s often newspapers, Pinterest or even BBC Sport.

Be a generalist

Keep tabs on the world around you. Watch programs you wouldn’t normally, for no other reason than that you wouldn’t normally. Expand your points of reference and be open to new areas of inspiration.

The solution is in the problem

A great example of the beautiful simplicity that he constantly looks for was the multi award-winning Royal Mail Year Pack of 2008 he helped to create. At the end of each year, the pack celebrates the special stamps issued by the Royal Mail. The brief was to unify a number of disparate collections, from Insects to Women of Distinction. No small challenge.

However, as he explained, the solution is often hidden within the problem you’re struggling to solve. The unifying element in this case was the medium of the stamp. So, Maltby took his inspiration from the iconic perforated stamp edge we all recognise and used it to create giant 3D frames for photography for the year-pack. In his own words, “the frame was always there, always the same. It was just a case of pulling that out”.

As we dodged the showers back to the office the team agreed it was fascinating to see how someone else in the same business doesn’t just go about seeking inspiration and solving problems but also working with clients in a holistic and collaborative way. The ‘War Room’ approach of involving your clients in the creative process he talked about is something we’re particularly keen to do much more of. And we’ll certainly be back for more ‘Curated by…’ events this year.