Tales from an American girl living in Denmark
Have no idea what I’m talking about below? Read this post for context.
Getting from my friends’ home in Larum (near Geel) to Antwerp went smoothly enough, but finding our way from Antwerp Central Station to our hostel was a bit of a challenge. Jess and I were already getting into Antwerp a lot later than we planned due to all of the flight madness so by the time we got to the hostel I had to really rush to find my way to the address that is home to Flink. My contact there, Lenny, was so great. She let me into the office even though I turned up later than planned looking a little (or maybe a lot…) haphazard from the overnight drive from Copenhagen and sniffling from the poorly timed onset of the head cold I mentioned in an earlier post.
Flink is located in a charming multistory building near the center of Antwerp on a street that opens to a handful of small cafes with inviting chairs settled outside on the cobblestone. Lenny said their building was expected to be occupied by a law firm or maybe something financial because of its location and ample space for files and desks. Instead, Flink moved in and took advantage of the space leaving it open and airy. The place has great natural light and a comfortable area to receive clients, and clearly it provides a wonderful creative environment, too.
So what/who is Flink? Flink is a small Belgian agency made up of just four people. They’ve been in business for 10 years and take a very definitive, efficient approach to projects. Their summary says it best, but if you don’t feel like clicking on anything you can read what I have to say instead!
Flink takes design needs and weaves intricate solutions that leave no detail unconsidered. Brand design is Flink’s specialty and they usually focus on that element of a job exclusively. For example, with a web project, they send the development work out to another group after the design is solid and every possible branding element is polished and ready to go to work. They see the whole process through to the end, and despite all the hours of complex crafting that goes on behind the scenes, what they hand to the client is as simple to implement as IKEA furniture would be if it was actually as straightforward as the diagrams claim.
Lenny herself has a background in business administration and marketing communications, and she handles the commercial approach of the group. When we sat down she showed me the type of presentation Flink would usually introduce to a new client, and even though she just clicked through casually for our purposes, I could see that it was airtight. I thought it was fantastic that their creative strategy was included in what they show the client right from the beginning rather than bringing it up later after wowing them with past projects and ideas.
Different agencies call it different things and go about it different ways, but advice that I’m offered repeatedly is to have a solid creative strategy and make sure everyone is onboard before the ship leaves the dock. Flink lays out their strategy beautifully. It’s fair to say that at Flink they’ve successfully designed the design process. If I were a potential client I would come away feeling comfortable and informed which is truly invaluable. With that in mind I took a lot of notes about Flink’s strategy because, as has been stressed to me time and time again, planning is probably the biggest challenge since people tend to prefer diving straight into the creative fun (especially us over-eager students and noobies).
On the broadest level they begin by thinking about the identity, how they might design the visuals, and then through which cross-channels the designs will ultimately interact. They then go through a longer process that develops depth through multiple steps of analysis, strategy, design, and execution. During the earlier stages a lot of thought goes into building the core, position, and story that will create a brand’s footprint. Once that has been perfected, content – the actual words and punctuation on the page – is created. When a brand is being developed Flink charts out answers to essential questions to help ideas take definitive form. For example, they consider things like: What is true about the brand-to-be? How is it different than existing brands in the market? What makes it relevant to customers? Going through the design process at this scope from the beginning turns out robust design solutions free of backend strategic flaws that might limit a design’s success once it hits the road.
I also asked Lenny about how they first started to build their business before anyone knew about them, and she said they’ve found a mixed approach works best. In the beginning traditional avenues like trade magazines and a strong online presence were helpful in building awareness and attracting new clients. Then once some of their work got out there it began to market itself. Below I’ve written about a few of Flink’s clients whose projects I really dig.
I’ll warn you that it’s a bit lengthy since I wrote about lot of things that are just personally interesting to me.
Brems, at its core, is a lumber company. Over time, however, it became more famous for it’s designer doors. Since the company is still active in timber trading, but possibly loved most for its doors, Flink had a challenging brand identity project on their table. The solution needed to speak to Brems’s roots and also clearly reflect their more recent reputation for designing excellent doors. That meant, too, that the brand’s new identity needed to attract two considerably different audiences: construction contractors, and high-end homeowners. How do you appeal to both?
True to their strategy, Flink took what the brand is and created an identity that emphasizes how the brand is different. In this case, that meant deriving inspiration from things at Brems’ production site (the company’s physical core, you could say), and injecting the visual attributes of those things (stencil markings on wood, for example) into a modernized representation that nods to the company’s current popularity among custom-home owners. Why does it work? It works because the new identity plainly tells contractors what the company is, and it visually relays to homeowners that the product they offer, although basic at its root, has evolved through careful design into a fine good fit for a luxury environment. Well done? Well done. Beyond the initial identity, Flink also designed promo materials and a website for Brems.
Duvel. I LOVE what Flink has done with Duvel. There’s not much Flink doesn’t do for them from a design perspective – what I’m about to summarize below are just two or three things I was stoked about. First of all, in case you don’t know, Duvel is a brand of Belgian beer. They have their own iconic beer glasses (that you drink out of, not the figurative goggles), and in the past they’ve released limited edition designs by well-known international artists. First, because there are people like me in the world who really enjoy the process and story behind design, Flink created a mini magazine that showcased the Duvel Designers. The very design-y papers were distributed to cafés and bars for patrons to flip through and learn about how the limited edition designs evolved. Such a cool way to appreciate the artists and stir up some publicity for Duvel as well!
These special glasses needed to be displayed, of course, so Flink mounted them on white sticks, which, when placed together on a clean base created an ambient “cloud” of glass. When the displays were set up outdoors the glasses tinkled in the breeze, doubling as wind chimes. How’s that for effectively engaging physical space, and visual, tactile, and auditory senses all at once?
Then at the end of 2011 Duvel decided to give any artist the chance to submit a design for a new collector glass. It was Flink’s job to create promo collateral for the campaign and they did everything from video spots to traditional posters. Duvel received hundreds of entries from all over the world, and the finalists’ designs were displayed in an exhibit also designed by Flink. The installation needed to be easy to set up and strike in a variety of locations without sacrificing elegance. The solution was transparent white beer crates through which a variety of custom lighting shone. The glasses themselves were displayed atop the crates. I don’t personally associate beer crates with design or elegant display apparatus, but after a little creative modification these cleanly checked each box of the project’s requirements. I am a huge fan of boiling things down as simply as possible and using what you have. So naturally, I find this solution simply beautiful.
I think part of the reason I love the Duvel glass project so much is because of the multifaceted, collaborative nature of it. On a larger scale, collaborative design is something that was discussed frequently in my classes because we work in a world in which designing a final solution to hand down to people is no longer a designer’s only task. A growing amount of design challenges can only be met when we design with the people who will experience the result. I think that designers today are increasingly put into the position of designing the framework that will structure the final creation of multiple contributors. Design contests like Duvel’s and various other companies (think NFL Super Bowl Ad contests) are just the commercial tip of that iceberg.
Two other interesting projects Lenny talked to me about are those they designed for the companies Puratos and AWW (Antwerp Water Works). They’re both a little different than the type of project you’d associate with designs crafted with traditional consumer publics in mind.
For Puratos (an ingredient supplier to food industry establishments), Flink was called on to create a signage system that simply and efficiently directed various business visitors and deliveries. The final design also needed to align with the company’s branding and be easy to install at the different locations. Flink designed the internal and external signage, the style guide, instruction booklet, and even the technical drawings for the installations that the signs would mount on.
Before school, I used to think about design very narrowly. Strangely, I tended to associate it with various graphic aesthetic elements and not with physical form or function. So I like hearing about projects like this Puratos one that show something you take for granted everyday, like a sign, for what it is – a design solution. Add a fun element like a branding challenge, and you can expect me to officially geek out over it.
With AWW (a large Belgian water system company) Flink worked on a project that sought to form public image, improve usability, and effectively relay information. Hopefully I didn’t misunderstand, but my impression was that AWW had some boring (for lack of better word) information that people were more or less disinterested in. In this case, it was AWW’s annual report. Now, if you can get people to engage with information not generally considered to be exciting reading, then there’s probably not much you can’t do.
Flink designed a beautiful website that was fully branded (Flink also did AWW’s branding a few years back, btw) and made the most important parts of the report prominent and easily accessible. Instead of dry blocks of text like you might expect in an annual report, they included photos of employee faces and job activities that humanized the company. Previously the report was published in print form so the interactivity of an online representation really helped to increase views.
I liked hearing about this project because it’s another example of the behind the scenes ways that design can really make or break something’s functionality and make a big difference for a business. The way I see it, design is functional. You can’t cheat – if it doesn’t work, it wasn’t good. I think it’s a trial by fire kind of thing; design should take something that isn’t fulfilling its purpose and turn it into something pleasantly useful.
So that’s that. I’m so, so glad I was able to work out a visit with them! I highly encourage you to poke around their website (which is really gorgeous) and check out some of their other work.
* Except for the first two, all photos are borrowed from Flink’s website.