Tales from an American girl living in Denmark
Hello friends. As most of you know I always try to combine my leisure travel with some continued learning. I’ve recently returned from my summer holiday so you know what that means… Time for an agency visit post and pictures! (You’ll have to forgive the iPhone photography.)
This trip my travel-study host was River, a digital interactive agency located in the Södermalm neighborhood of Stockholm. I met with the executive creative director, Daniel, who kindly answered my questions.
Eighteen years ago River started as a team of four people. Many of their first projects were created to market feature films on a much simpler version of the web than we’re accustomed to today. Since then the agency has grown considerably and has been awarded in Cannes and One Show, and just this year, nominated for Agency of the Year. Now they are a team of about 50 who focus on interactive digital projects for both local and international brands including big players like Nike and Sony Music.
They’ve also worked on some controversial social campaigns that generated a lot of buzz. Take for example the project they did with SOS Children’s Villages. In order to raise awareness about the vulnerability of at-risk children, River teamed up with Swedish celebrities who agreed to have pictures of their children digitally manipulated.
These well-known children’s images were transformed into dramatic compositions showing the child homeless on the street, begging for food, or noticeably ill. The pictures were then uploaded to Instagram where users would unexpectedly come across them in their regular feed. Needless to say, it got people talking.
I started out by asking Daniel about the style of working they find most efficient. As you would expect, their approach is tailored to each client, but generally they steer projects through set stages rather than use an entirely agile model. They measure progress in milestones and don’t go ahead until they’ve determined everything is moving in the desired direction.
This led our conversation to the topic of prototyping and how to go about it. I’ve noticed for a while now a definite shift in the digital design field toward visual designers becoming junior developers. And by junior, I just mean familiar enough with code to do an accurate job of prototyping a concept in browser before passing it on for full development.
Daniel explained that this is indeed the way they operate at River. He said the days of strictly visual UX/UI designers and a separate team of devs are dead. There can no longer be “silos,” but rather integrated teams within which each member sees projects through from start to finish. They employ hybrids who are fluent in HTML5 and prototype straight in the browser.
This allows them to show clients a working model that offers an accurate representation of how the end production will feel. They try to bring clients into the process as early as possible so that the client can collaboratively work alongside the team. This approach works better with smaller clients who are more educated about the dev process, but they still try for this even with large marketing departments to the degree they find appropriate.
A question I asked about one of their past projects briefly shifted our discussion toward branding and the components essential to that process. At River, they break it down into a series of sub-steps, all of which fall under two main elements – THEORY & EMOTION.
Well-researched theory elements should result in a particular emotional response to a brand among its consumers. How do you find out if it does? Show your client and targeted test groups how it will look outdoors. Hand them a proposed business card. If the branding is for a car, put your proposal on an actual vehicle and show it to them. That’s precisely what River did a while back for Mabi – now Sweden’s largest independent car rental company – during the incubation of their brand.
Some of the last questions I had for Daniel were centered on what entry-level creatives can do to develop themselves. “You cannot study creativity,” he told me. But it’s important to develop strong skillsets like HTML5 and a fundamental understanding of how users interact. These developable strengths enable creative vision and utilize ability.
And finally, because I’m always curious about people’s sources of inspiration I asked Daniel where and how he finds his. “Inspiration is highly individual. Cook! If that’s what inspires you,” he told me.
Of the things he listed, one struck me as especially neat. He said that one of his biggest sources of inspiration is seeing his creative colleagues grow – he’s inspired by other people’s success. What better source of creative fuel is there than the triumphs of those around you who share the same passion?
To learn more about River, visit them online here.