Dispatch: Danish Agency Visits Pt. 2
I recently returned home from an incredible six weeks in Copenhagen as part of Block Club’s signature Residency Program, and just wrapped up my first week back at the home office in ol’ Buffalo. One of the key components of the program is for Block Club staff to make connections with other creative agencies, studios and designers to share knowledge and gain insights on how the industry functions in different parts of the globe and in different cultures.
During my time in Denmark, I was lucky enough to meet with a number of amazing people at great agencies willing to show me around and talk shop for a bit. These meetings were all incredibly rewarding for me professionally and left me with many strong takeaways, some of which I recently recounted here on Block Club. As I continue to mentally unpack the experiences I had during my residency, I have a few other special agency visits to share as a followup.
Design is truly the heartbeat and life’s blood of the ambitious and creative studio, AM. This young agency, consisting almost entirely of designers, is led by founding partner and managing director, Kristina May Pries. Kristina is a passionate and brilliant creative with a keen understanding of the industry from both sides of the coin, having cut her teeth working as a designer for larger, established agencies before breaking away to create the studio which would become AM. Through it all, she seems to have gained a special knack for seeing the forest for the trees, which is especially refreshing in an industry so tethered to the process and standards of the status quo.
I was invited to AM’s bright, beautiful space at noon, which meant I got there just in time to join the team for lunch, a daily in-office ritual at AM (and many other Danish agencies, I came to find out). Over a delicious spread of food, Kristina shared her insightful perspectives on branding and unique strategies for achieving successful outcomes for clients, all the while tossing off quotable one-liners and pearls of wisdom. “Design is all about understanding the big idea and then making it into a shape” is one such quotation has stuck in my brain ever since. We discussed AM’s fluid approach to branding, in which they seek to look beyond the standard identity conventions in favor of a custom “toolkit of design solutions” approach, which clients can use to carry on their brand identity with maximized success after the initial logo and website design is complete.
What I was most struck by at AM, though, is how the designers there are king and are fully integrated into all stages of a project from start to finish. Designers handle many aspects of strategy and client relationship management autonomously—tasks which would typically be delegated to account management or strategists at a more traditional agency. Actually their team of about 15 is almost entirely made up of designers and Kristina wouldn’t have it any other way, being in the business of creating and selling design solutions. In her view, there is no advantage on either end to creating a buffer between the client and people actually making the product they’re buying. Regardless, the approach seems to be working well for the team at AM as they make some truly stunning and creative work.
e-Types / Playtype
During my final week in Copenhagen, I was lucky enough to be invited to the multifaceted Danish powerhouse e-Types for an informative and inspiring visit with CEO and partner, Mari Randsborg. Seemingly one of the more established creative agencies in town, e-Types was a name on the lips of just about everyone I met in the Copenhagen design scene. And I just had to walk a few short blocks from my apartment towards the bustling heart of Vesterbro before I found myself in a busy multi-level open space teeming with creative staff (again, just in time to partake in a delicious spread, put out for the team’s lunch).
Beyond their many decades of success and stunning portfolio of work, what makes e-Types so unique is the ways in which they’ve grown and diversified, always channeling their success into new internal structures and projects. Currently, their 50-plus employees are spread out across several divisions, each focusing on a different aspect of design: new concept creation, brand implementation, digital design, or typography. These teams function as semi-autonomous sub-companies, each with their own set of projects, yet the overall team seems fairly fluid, with a collaborative spirit that encourages employees to come in and out of projects depending on their specialities or skill sets. Mari put a lot of emphasis on her team’s freedom to be creative and work to the best of their abilities or their particular strengths, always pointing to what they learned from past processes which may had stifled creativity or created tension, resulting in the current finely tuned environment where the work reigns supreme.
A few days later, I found myself back at e-Types to meet with Mathias Jespersen, head of Playtype Foundry, another division under the e-Types umbrella. Mathias walked me through the painstaking feat of seeing a typeface design through to a finished font, and the different ways in which they’ve been able to service client’s needs through custom typeface design.
Speaking again to this unique history of diversification, Playtype took shape when e-Types realized that there was an independent market for the service of custom type design, which they were already offering their clients as part of comprehensive branding projects. A temporary popup of the same name intended just to promote the new type foundry with branded products also found independent success in the retail market and soon became another part of the e-Types family.
All in all, it was a great way to conclude my trip and round out the roster of amazing professionals I connected with during my residency. Now that I’m back at our home base, the next step will be digesting what I’ve learned from these visits and thinking about how we can apply some of these ideas to our process here at Block Club.