June 11, 2013
For Kyoorius Magazine 15′s Special Report, we spoke to design and advertising professionals to understand what actually motivates them to work on personal projects or alternative ventures along with their successful and hectic main careers. Here is the edited version of the report. To read the entire report, check out Kyoorius Magazine 15.
At one of the big advertising agencies he was working for, Ji Lee, who is now Facebook’s creative director, had a brilliant campaign idea to talk about the five different flavours of Cheerios, ‘Only their holes taste the same’. The idea was initially loved by the client but was eventually smothered to death over a discussion. After four years of trying to produce great ideas and seeing them being killed over something ridiculous, frustrated Lee to no end. He finally decided that if he really wanted to make something happen, he would have to do it himself. And that’s when the now universally popular ‘Bubble Project’ was born.
Today, Lee works on a huge number of personal projects along with his Facebook job and is a great advocate of these projects. Based on our conversations with various creative professionals, we have divided the report into three parts based on the three pieces of advice that Lee has given in his presentation (above):
“I can’t depend on others to make things happen. I’ll just have to do it myself.”
One of the most common reasons is a need-gap situation which has led professionals to set their alternative/personal projects in motion. When Sudhir Sharma, who runs his own agency Indi Design, felt that conventional media was not interested in covering design, innovation and creativity, he took the onus upon himself and launched POOL magazine.
V Sunil (executive creative director) and Mohit Jayal (managing director) of Wieden+Kennedy, had pretty much the same reason for launching Motherland magazine. “We talk about our deep culture and values all the time, but there is no one including all the top publishers and brands doing anything about it. We thought that it is our responsibility as a creative organization to help package culture well,” says Sunil. In many cases, frustration with the existing situation has also led professionals to dive into personal projects. Nicolas Roope, founder of the digital agency Poke in London, launched Hulger phones in order to take a radical departure from what was happening in mobile phone products ten years ago.
Raghu Bhat, co-founder of Scarecrow Communications, was frustrated with the fact that Man is destroying God’s designs and replacing them with his vastly inferior designs and his personal venture Fungus Designs (which produces a range of designer laptop bags, notebook cases and sleeves) was a psychological outburst towards the fast spreading epidemic of ugliness.
Not all projects, however, are born due to need gap or frustration. Rajesh Dahiya, founder, Codesign and co-founder, UnBox Festival says that UnBox was an outcome of two creative groups coming together. “In 2009, our studio Codesign co-located with Quicksand Design Studio to a new office in Gurgaon. We started with a ‘let’s create an inter-disciplinary platform’ discussion and ended with the UnBox.” Codesign also launched a design book Dekho last year.
(Dekho by Co. Design)
Himanshu Dogra of Illum Design says that his alternative venture Play Clan, a home, apparel, gifts and stationery store, was inspired by everyday observations and local culture. “The idea was to narrate stories through product design in a playful way and that is how it all started. No business plans and numbers, just a simple belief.”
“It’s healthy for the team to let loose and go back to their passion and creating for the simple joy of creating. Working for yourself as the designer and the client allows you to work on the ideas that truly matter to you without the pressure of deadlines or budgets,” says Hemal Kapadia, founder + design director, Olive Design who started her alternative venture East India Dezign Co.
“Time is a concept which can be stretched.”
The juggle between professional commitments and personal/alternative ventures cannot be easy but if Lee is to be believed then one hour can easily become three hours. Everyone that we spoke to agrees that managing both things together does get difficult but the passion is so great that it all works out.
Ruchita Madhok, founder and principle designer at Kahani Designworks, along with Aditya Palsule, started Perch, an online platform for Indian perspectives on art, design and culture. Talking about the time management, she says, “We consider Perch a part of our studio’s work and not just another side project. We’re committed to the effort and make sure to write even when we’re travelling, visiting design events or having conversations with people.”
Kay Khoo, director, Figtree Design, who also works as creative director at Kyoorius and Addikt, feels that he doesn’t consciously think about juggling between things as he takes everything as a project. However, he admits that sometimes it gets difficult in the case of Figtree as it has real clients and deadlines whereas Kyoorius is more of a passion. A similar problem was faced by Rohit Malkani, senior executive creative director and Mumbai creative head at Grey Worldwide whose personal passion is theatre. While he managed to juggle the two quite easily so far, things got quite tricky when workload at Grey became too heavy. However, due to sheer passion for theatre, Malkani has made a resolution this year to figure out a way to go back to theatre even if it means doing just one play a year.
“Personal and professional projects complement each other.”
Interestingly, while they get the freedom to do what they want to do without a client’s brief looming large over their heads, most professionals we spoke to genuinely believe that starting their own personal ventures have actually helped them in understanding their clients’ point of view and their issues better. Poke’s Roope thinks that a personal project is like having a second eye which gives him a much better perspective on how things work and fit together and what motives and connections are important across the chains that join businesses with their customers and with other partners and facilitators.
In terms of skills, there is a clear interlink between the two for many professionals. Madhok thinks that writing helps them articulate design concepts more clearly. Malkani believes that theatre has given him a lot of confidence about his presentation skills so it really helps when he has to present an advertising idea to clients. “Observation, for example, is something that crosses both the fields and it also helped me in constantly building a reservoir of doing things differently. Working as an actor in 30 second ad films taught me about the economy of words and thus helped me as a copywriter,” he adds.
Meeting a new set of people through personal projects is something that provides creative stimulus to professionals and help them widening their skills. Khoo has taken up a lot of “personal” projects over the years along with his studio work. He has managed a café, a bookstore and has also worked for a news portal. “Doing these projects not only gives me energy for my commercial work, but they also help me meet different people,” he says.
Dahiya sums this up simply. He believes that if through their main careers and personal projects, people learn to tackle difficult situations, meet interesting people, curate rich content, and manage to remain happy while doing so, they will chart their own successful and meaningful design career.
Clearly, personal/alternative ventures seem to be assimilating well with the main careers of these creative professionals. Not only they get to follow their passions on their own terms, they understand their clients’ better and leverage their skills in their professional assignments. And time, as Ji Lee pointed out, seems to be stretching itself for them, with a little effort perhaps.
Kyoorius is a bi-monthly print magazine on visual communications. Subscribe here. For buying a single copy (or any of the previous issues), write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can order the issue from Tadpole, get the digital copy from Magzter and also buy it from bookstores near you. For any feedback on the magazine or to submit your work, do drop in a mail to us at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter