Story Matters

Shop Talk

Look In, Look Out

The art of finding arresting ideas.

New York City’s Tag Collective has helped the public believe that eating snacks made of cricket flour is normal, even beneficial. They’ve created visual concepts for restaurants that speak to the history and flavor of the food coming out of the kitchen. The list of design feats continues.

(Photo: Vinesh Kumar)

How do they arrive at their ideas?

Becca Eley, co-founder and creative director, says it involves both engaging and ignoring the world around you and the world within.

We’ve actually (and very intentionally) structured our process to allow for both focused attention and creative wandering. We’re very question-oriented in our first round of discovery with a client—it’s about listening to them and where they want to be, not necessarily where they are. Then we build a framework for the project, outlining goals, personality and values. It seems very rigid and defined, but really it’s a structure in which it’s OK to explore. And because of that, we of course get all our good ideas in the shower.

We are conscious of what we put in front of ourselves. If we’re designing a wine bottle, we might look at home decoration and that might inspire totally different packaging than a traditional wine label. We’re careful to not just look at examples in the client’s category. Sometimes doing an audit of the whole ecosystem of a brand is needed, but a lot of times it’s secondary. It can help to just quickly look at what’s working/not working and move on.

One thing we do well is step away from the visuals to help crystallize the ideas. We’ll consider a company’s values, to understand what they are—whether that’s words like empowering or educational. Once we have a good understanding of what it is they are doing and—more importantly—why, then we can put visuals to those ideas.

There are so many input centers nowadays: We’ve got Twitter and we’re trying to run Instagram—all things that are very attention-demanding. So we always have five more things to do. One of our sayings around here is “one thing at a time.” We’re good at coming up with ideas, but because of that we’re always trying to get ahead of ourselves. We have to slow ourselves down.

Making work that stands out is a bit of a funny process. You have to look at the landscape (whether it’s an identity system, or a package or an entire restaurant) and then you have to sort of forget what you just saw and try to approach the problem from a different angle. At the end of the day, our work may stand out for a more selfish reason, though—we want to do something that hasn’t been done before.

The next story