Original Interview: October 2014

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We talked to Senior Designer and Creative Director of RE, Sam Byrnes and Jason Little. RE is the Sydney-based Brand Consultancy of global network M&C Saatchi and the team manage to balance great studio culture with big brand capabilities. (Update: After 2.5 years, Jason has departed to set up his own agency. You can follow them on twitter @ForThePeopleAu).

When/ how did RE: start? Who is involved? How has it developed?
Back in 2009, M&CSaatchi was working on some big international branding projects including the identity for Abu Dhabi. Since M&CSaatchi is in fact an Advertising Agency, it made sense to bring in some design and branding expertise to work on this project. This soon led to the creation of RE, the branding agency within the M&CSaatchi group, with Simon Hong as the Creative Director and Pat Guerrera as the Managing Director. Early 2012, Simon left for Korea. Several months later, Jason Little, then Creative Director of Landor Associates Sydney and Paris, decided to break the 6 year run, and take up the leadership of RE.

We’ve focused on building notorious brands for ambitious clients, and really taking a stance against mediocrity. RE has managed to position itself as a creative agency built on doing brave work. The past 24 months have been quite the journey. We’ve doubled in size, and continue to grow. We’re made up of designers, copywriters, strategists, and client managers, and a studio manager. We have some incredible talent in our business at this point, and this is evident through the work we’re doing with our clients. In the past 18 months we’ve picked up accolades in all the major awards, including D&AD, Cannes, One Show, Clios, ADC, NY Type Directors Club and many more.

Most importantly, the culture of our business is thriving. People enjoy turning up to work each day, and we work hard to make sure it’s as enjoyable as possible. We’re all here to make a difference and hopefully create radical work that can transform business and opinion.

You’ve worked in a large agency prior to RE, what are the differences in work processes and outcomes between a large agency and a small branding studio?
Big or small, it’s all the same. In any branding agency, you have teams working on specific clients and projects – the larger the client, the larger the team.  We’re small enough to give enough attention to each of our clients, and large enough to work on the biggest and most complicated of projects. As a medium sized business, we don’t need to employ every skill under one roof – instead we have a strong network of specialist agencies and partners who we can connect with on a project-by-project basis. This helps us stay nimble and adaptive.

Like other larger agencies, WPP, STW, Publicis, Omicom, RE is also connected to a massive network. The M&C Saatchi group has 21 offices around the world, and a multitude of smaller businesses within that group offering other capabilities. RE is based in the Sydney HQ of M&CSaatchi. We have some shared clients and work closely at times. For the rest we act and work independently. That’s awesome because we get the benefits of a large agency, while keeping the freedom of a smaller, independent business.

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You have been involved in some amazing projects, what have been your favourite to date and why?
We’ve been fortunate to work on a diverse array of clients locally and abroad. The past 12 months have seen us help Optus transform their business and really change the outcome of a very tired brand. They’re a fantastic company to work with, and everyone who has been part of the brand transformation has enjoyed the journey.  We also created a new character for them, which was a great experience. Other highlights include branding for The Sydney Pavilion at the Shanghai Biennale; the creation of surf and lifestyle brand Flow & Yonder; the three-part system for New York based film company, Visualaz and the very playful identity for JasonL office furniture  (not named or owned after our CD). 

Every day is different and it’s all very exciting. Our bottom draw includes some exceptional but unfortunately unrealised brand identities for Dubai and Cape Town to name a few. Both are some of the most exciting and daring work we’ve done. However with such work, comes the risk that politics and unknown circumstances result in the work getting the kibosh without much reason or sense. We’ll keep fighting the good fight, and working with clients who see bravery and creativity as one and the same.

What advice do you have for recent grads looking for a job? What gets your attention?
It’s not hard to stand out from the crowd. 3 things: The work, attitude and intelligent communication.

The work
For a start, the work needs to be attention grabbing: original work, with a strong idea, and executed well. And then photographed beautifully – the cherry on top. It’s also about being selective. One of the common misconceptions graduates have is that everything they’ve ever designed is worth showing in their folio. Wrong. Just because you did a sale flyer for a furniture store while on an internship, it doesn’t mean it’s worth putting in your folio. Show your best side, and be smart about it. If you want to work in editorial design show work in that sector. If you want to be a packaging designer show us your best packaging. If you want to work in branding, you need to show a good grasp of how an identity can expand beyond a logo and a business card.

Attitude.
Being a good person gets you far. ‘Jerks need not apply’. Some of our best hires have been a fifty-fifty split between creative ability and attitude. If you score a role somewhere, whether you’re an intern or a junior, you have to prove to a studio that you’re indispensable. And come to think of it that doesn’t change throughout your career. Never stop learning. On the flip side it’s important that a studio can recognise potential and be able to nurture that too. Show us the unexpected. Go above and beyond. Bring us something that we wouldn’t have even thought of doing. That keeps us all on our toes and makes for design that breaks boundaries. Bring your personality to everything you do. Bring your sense of humour. You’re allowed to laugh at work.  It’s your unique take on things that makes you valuable as a designer.

Intelligent Presentation.
It’s true what they say – ‘knowledge is power’. The more you’ve read, seen and understood, the more you can talk intelligently around an idea, topic or way of thinking. It gives you a place on the table, where some designers unfortunately miss out. How do you talk about your ideas? How do you express your thoughts and opinions to others? How can anyone take your opinion seriously if it isn’t backed up by sound knowledge on the subject. Being able to communicate your thinking well can make a huge difference. You might be an exceptional thinker and creative problem solver, but if nobody sees or hears it, then those great ideas might never see the light of day, and that great job might pass you by.

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What’s one thing most graduates/ junior designers don’t know?
That ideas are better than execution and that their ideas can be as good as anyone’s.

Which blogs are a must read for you?
The first port of call for most of the branding industry is BrandNew.
http://www.underconsideration.com/brandnew/ 

Most of us check this out on a regular basis as it keeps us up to date on branding around the world. It always makes for an interesting morning when you read some of the comments from faceless internet critics. It’s always good to be reading from blogs like Disciples of Design, ‘thought of the week’ by Johnson Banks, and the blogs of companies like Wolff Olins, Landor etc. Throw in some visual feasts like reform.lt, a photography blog or three. I (Sam) personally love fontsinuse.com. It’s great to see how different designers use fonts to different effect. We also encourage our people to dip into things that aren’t just design blogs. It avoids the all too easy mimicking of other people’s design work. We have a good group of bloggers at RE, who curate and manage our own blog. Check it out: www.re-blog.co

What’s on the horizon?
It’s never the same at any given moment on any given day at RE. We’ve been working on some spectacular briefs over the past year. Some will be launching soon, some will be in another 12 months or so, and some will never see the light of day. We’ve been lucky to work on an Olympic bid for 2024, a foreign country brand, a foreign city brand, the identity of one the biggest electronics brand in the world, a very important charity, a theatre, a law firm, two fashion retailers (big ones), an architectural firm, a life-changing dairy product and major development/place-making in Sydney. All in the past 12 months! Quite exciting and scary at the same time.

As a nice plus, we’re working on some small little briefs such as the recent AGDA calendar of events for this year. It’s nice to balance some of these massive, life-changing projects with something craft based.

A final piece of advice?
Get involved. There is so much opportunity out there to do something incredible.  Take part in initiatives, and make a difference. Jason is AGDA Chairman of NSW this year and it’s an exciting time to be a part of AGDA. There’s a constant push towards new content and more engaging events – an exciting time to be involved. Two of our team are involved with the Sub-committee and student council. We all participate in industry events as a way of contributing to a fantastic Australian Design community. So take part and help show the world what Australian design can do.

re-sydney.co

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