Designboom is an official media partner of the annual Design Indaba Conference in Cape Town, which showcases how design, creativity and innovation can positively impact the world. The line-up of international speakers hail from a range of sectors, sharing their expertise and experiences.
During Design Indaba 2015 we spoke to Stanley Hainsworth, the Founder and Creative Director of Tether, a creative, cross-discipline studio with offices in Portland and Seattle. Tether works across different medias to help world renowned brands such as BMW motorcycles, Gatorade and Google tell their stories.
Designboom: What originally made you want to become a designer?
Stanley Hainsworth: I have a bit of a unique background. I was an actor for years in LA and NYC but I was always curious. I was an entrepreneur long before I knew how to spell the word. Because of that curiosity and DIY attitude an opportunity came along to work for NIKE in their design group. I think what I liked about the transition from acting to design is the act of creation. Creating something out of nothing – whether a character on the screen or a design for the consumer. And so I morphed from actor to NIKE designer. And then on to LEGO and then Starbucks where I led all their creative efforts. Now having my own agency, Tether provides me with a creative playground – letterpress to 3D printer to editing suites – to create whatever we can imagine.
DB: How would you describe your approach to design?
SH: I approach everything with a natural ignorance. I try to do that difficult thing, look at a project with unbiased, unfiltered eyes. Leave all preconceptions at the door. Look at the project with that childlike wonder, with the joy of creating something that starts with the wisp of an idea and develops into something that will move a person.
DB: Who or what has been the biggest single influence on your way of thinking?
SH: An early exposure to Philippe Starck was definitely an influence. This was when I was first at NIKE around 1990. I remember staying at one of the hotels he designed in NYC and seeing that he had designed everything from the environment to the menus to every detail. It helped me realize that design has no boundaries. I love his child-like approach to life.
DB: Has anyone or anything recently challenged your views on design and branding?
SH: The ubiquity of design has challenged my views. The fact that anyone with a computer is now a designer. As well as the crowdscourcing movement. This has given me pause to think; what is it that I have in my cranium that is unique? That is worth something? What do my years of experience bring to this project that is valuable?
DB: What would you say is your strongest skill and how have you honed that skill over the years?
SH: Those years of training and practice as an actor are probably still the strongest influence on how I approach design. I mean, the world really is a stage – isn’t it? Every person I meet is a potential character in the play that is going on. I approach it that way at least. That means I approach everyone and everything with a curiosity. What can I learn from that person or this situation? From the start I’ve approached everyone I met as a possible mentor to learn from. And have continued that through to today. Working with a client, I am there to learn from them, I’m never going to know as much as they do about their brand or product, how can I learn from them and combine that with my experience and to come up with something that will touch the consumer.
DB: What type of brief or project do you enjoy working on the most and why?
SH: I love working on a project with a client that is excited to try things. A client that comes with the attitude of, ‘you have a special skill and experience set. I have a problem but know my industry. Let’s see how we can together do something that will get noticed.’ As creatives there’s nothing more discouraging than coming up with a creative solution that is memorable and differentiating but then the hesitancy of taking chances rounds off all the sharp corners until something fairly generic is left.
Let’s be aware of the market and the competitors and then let’s do something that will create that emotional connection. I’m always looking for that ‘hair standing up on the back of the neck’ response to the work. also, the more touch points to the consumer, the better.
My favourite projects are those where we work on the positioning and strategy, then create the brand story, and then design the product, the packaging, the promotion or advertising, and the interactive and retail experience.
DB: What are your thoughts on specialisation vs generalisation?
SH: Times have changed. In the past you were trained in one discipline because the tools were so specific. Now, the digital tools we have are so accessible that a graphic designer can also be an interactive designer, packaging designer, environmental designer, etc. I love the swiss army knife attitude of designers. Whether they have multiple skills or at least have the mindset to learn and explore.
DB: How do you think online resources have influenced the design being produced today?
SH: The accessibility to design resources is amazing now. There’s a tutorial for every possible thing it seems. The downside of the accessibility is that inspiration many times comes from looking at others’ work as opposed to being inspired by things out in the world. We are all inspired and influenced by what we see but if we are only inspired by the work of others we lose the opportunity to come up with more original ideas by seeking inspiration out in the world.
DB: What are you currently fascinated by and how is it feeding into your work?
SH: I’m fascinated by the links between cultures. I think it started when I was first training to be an actor. At the time I had a Southern U.S. accent from growing up in Kentucky. I was shamed, after auditioning for a shakespeare play, in divesting myself of the accent for something more neutral. It was only later that I discovered that the Elizabethan era accent of England was more closely preserved in Kentucky (where immigration brought the Englanders of the day) than in England today. I love the infusion of one thing into another and how it influences and inspires. How can the South African music I recently heard influence a design I am working on?
DB: How do you try to keep your ideas fresh?
SH: When I have a problem to solve, I look at everything around me as a possible solution. Whether I’m at the opera, walking around the block or browsing at retail. Everything I experience is possible inspiration for an idea or a solution. And everyday we all encounter new images, experiences, etc., so any day can bring us fresh inspiration.
DB: Do you have any rules that you live by?
SH: Never repeat myself.
DB: What’s the best piece of advice you have heard and repeat to others?
SH: ‘Then why did you show it to me?’ This was the response of a very wise client I had some years ago when I showed her three design options. I used the ‘bracket’ method, where one was too conservative, one was just right and one was too far afield. She picked the too conservative one. I’ve never forgotten that lesson as I ask my designers, ‘would you stand behind that solution and be happy with it if the client chooses it?’
DB: What are your personal and professional goals for the near future?
SH: To finish another book because books are finite measure of ideas and time which is a nice counterpoint to the changeable digital world we live in. I’d also like to find opportunities to collaborate more with all the amazing people I encounter on my travels.