Uwe Melichar, president of EPDA and managing partner at Factor branding agency (Hamburg): about splendid Russian culture, “human factor” in branding and corporate design for the orchestra.
Uwe, you have been working in Russian agency during one week. Did you feel yourself at your place here? How do you think, is it possible for you to work in Russia on daily basis?
The atmosphere is very amicable! There is a great amount of good people in here! Unfortunately, it’s not easy to adapt to the work here because of the language. I can’t deal with typography but it’s extremely important to know. I like the style of work and it’s very similar to our work in Germany. Visual language is almost the same. The main difference is in cultural values. Yes, I think I can easily work in Russia.
What kind of experience would you like to acquire in Russia? Which ideas to confirm?
I’d like to know more about Russia and Russian culture. It can help me in better understanding of design issues. I see that there are different cultural aspects behind. I think that you can find “German roots”almost in every Factor project held. Concerning global branding issues, you do the perfect work on stable international level.
Have you found something new and breaking through in the format of Russian agency work?
Definitely, yes! You show the results of work in a very modern style: you prepare videos after every finished project, clearly state strategies and ideas and integrate playful moments in your work. This is something we can learn from you. German processes of work are more structured. Moreover, I like the twinkle of Russian designers’ eye (laughs).
This year you became a new president of European brand & packaging design association. What are your plans for association development?
EPDA is an association which manages the dialog between the industry, on the one hand, and designers, members of association and brand on the other hand. The association influences the communication processes, gives right impulses to development: educates, inspires, “brings up”and shares the information. At the same time this work is strongly connected to business and creativity. My personal opinion is that we can be more relevant. We want to be pace setters in Europe and we are sure that we are coming closer to it.
Could you, please, provide a feedback about representatives of the association in Russia? Who, if not you, can evaluate their work.
People are very open, nice and simple in communication. You can see here a lot of creativity and playful manner of dialogue with each other in solving professional problems. There is a feeling of a young and ambitious studio. But it is worthwhile to pass along the corridor with diplomas and awards - there are no other thoughts except "wow!". I'm really happy that I have the opportunity to get a week's experience working with projects in such an experienced and eminent company as Depot WPF. And still, when I first saw the building where the agency's office is located, I was very surprised: it's almost the same as our studio in Hamburg (laughs). The only one exception is that in our territory there used to be a factory of musical instruments, but here, as my colleagues explained, used to be the chevron manufacture.
Uwe, how do you think: what changes in the nearest future will affect the branding market in Europe?
Branding is already experiencing great changes. It becomes more dynamic. It fluctuates greatly due to the transition of communications to the digital area. Brands need to become more flexible, more vivid. I do not notice stagnation, something is changing all the time, transforming and moving. In Europe, and especially in Germany, brands are becoming bolder. It seems to me that the same thing happens in Russia. The main trend is the active use of new technologies. There are changes in the capabilities of digital printing and digital in general.
What are the main features of design in Russia?
It's hard enough to judge, to be honest.. I do not know Russian culture well. It is very different from German, and it is visually richer: more illustrations, colors, more completed ideas. I was pleasantly surprised with the various works of Depot WPF. They have so much fun, light and liveliness. They are really modern and international. The Russian market is in the bulk like that and I really like it!
What can you advise Russian brands to learn from global experience? Are there any successful techniques that we can use?
It seems that Russian designers have succeeded in storytelling, illustration and creating beautiful packaging. But I would advise you to be more attentive to the transfer of information in a more structured way. You often "split" the information. For example, if we look at packaging in a distance, we get one type of information. And coming up a little closer - we see something else. If you present it more consistently - it would be better for the market and for shelves.
In general, my main advice to Russian designers is: be innovators. Do not always do what the client says, but try to come up with an option which can be different from everything previously created. Break the rules, do some things upside down. It works.
Did you want to convey the same thoughts to the audience during your speech at RosUpack?
I talked to colleagues about packaging as an instrument of competitive practice. Among all the key components of the brand, packaging is one of the most important ways of communication with consumers. And I wanted to share my experience on how to influence and how to act to convey the core values of the brand as fully as possible and do our work efficiently.
In Russia we have a stereotype that Germany is a country of rationalists, logicians with a strict systematic approach. You know: "German football machine", "Ordnung musse sein" and something in that spirit. And how is this "prudent" approach applicable to German branding and design?
Germany is a country with strong traditions of production and engineering. We have such kind of things in our DNA (laughs). I think it will always be like this. Germany most likely can find some problems with the speed of reaction to changes in branding processes. It seems that rationality and technical experience somehow restricts us in comparison to other European countries and the world in general.
And if we talk about work in Factor, according to your experience, is it more successful to focus on this traditional "engineering" approach in building a brand? Or creative solutions and the "human factor" are more important?
If you want to create effective branding, you should look to your target audience and to specific people who will buy these things and use the services you are working with. Therefore, I believe that empathy is a very important factor. Ideally, the designer who is engaged in development should combine systematic work with the audience, add some "fun" moments and spontaneous ideas. So, you should get a good mix in the end. We work in a very rigid framework, but we always try to bring emotion and understanding of potential customers into our work.
Have it ever happened that one particular person told you that "here is a great idea" - and you listened exactly to his opinion and left aside the usual schemes of work?
Sometimes it happens. Sometimes someone stands out with such a good idea that it breaks the whole methodology and all systems that were built in the process of work. It does not matter whose idea was it: trainee, boss or client. If it is effective, then it has a right to exist. We try to support such ideas in any possible way. Even if we have to build new formats for them.
We know that you are a member of the jury of The Red Dot Award festival. Can you name the main features of a successful festival project? How do you like it personally?
If the project is successful - it is always something different from what is already on the market. For example, the milk packaging is usually made in white color, but you can make it in black - and it will be noticed for sure. According to my working experience in the jury I can say that there are a lot of similar works. And we always have a tense discussion: is it really worth giving an award to a project or not.
Do you like being in the jury?
This is a very difficult job. Three days of struggle, 5000 works - exhausting. And, at the same time, very encouraging: you get an overview of all the works, you see works from China, the USA, Europe, Russia - from around the world. I adore these three days! But I always need to have a rest after the festival.
Uwe, in conclusion tell us, please, about some Factor works that you are proud of.
One of my favourite projects is Gardena brand - garden equipment. I was asked to structure information and develop packaging for a line of 85 different products. And it was really difficult to find the approach to this project. Moreover, I had limited toolbox, because I had no right to change the format of the package. But in the end everything worked out! I just turned them upside down: the reverse side of the package made a new "cover". Thus, I had more space to convey all necessary information, to show the advantages of the product. And this decision was a success: sales at Gardena have grown.
Another good project, which we recently completed consists of design and branding for the orchestra of Elbphilharmonie. The building Elbphilharmonie is a new landmark in Hamburg. It is a great concert hall. The construction was carried out by architects from Switzerland. And we created a connection between the design of the orchestra and the architecture of the building itself. This is very good and subtle, it's hard to reproduce it in words - just have a look!