The year of remote creativity
Ben Harwood, European Creative Director at Feed, and Co-Founder of branding agency So Far So Good, looks back at a year spent - to a large degree - in isolation, and says that being apart has brought many companies together.
Looking back over a year is always an interesting mix of highs and lows. Some brand standouts, invariably a few national or international moments, and sometimes a macro-economic incident that has had a broad brush effect.
But 2020 reviews will be unlike any before. Of all the impacts that the coronavirus pandemic has had, one of the most universal and instant was the diktat to work from home if you could. For the creative industry that was pretty much everyone. But what was interesting was that despite the entirety of our labour force finding their working conditions changed overnight, there was much to be celebrated in this volte-face.
Of all the impacts that the coronavirus pandemic has had, one of the most universal and instant was the diktat to work from home.
Working from home taught us that – when it comes down to it – we’re all rather good at self-motivating. We’ve seen the same, or maybe even an uplift, in productivity while working from home – helped by innovative thinking and collaboration.
Above: Technology such as video calls enabled huge swathes of workers to stay connected.
Technology was paramount; for instance, our bespoke software automates daily planning and accurately records each creative’s timesheets. But the biggest winner has been video conferencing software, which allowed teams to access global offices remotely, something we’d be foolish not to take forward.
During 2020 we learnt how to work together when we’re not together.
Harnessing new technologies like Figma, Pitch (an emerging competitor of Google Slides, streamlined for pitching) and Slack gave an almost ‘in-person’ level of interaction and collaboration. Software like Figma was a game changer for working processes, allowing teams to collaborate, comment, observe and share live design files. An unlimited number of team members could work and support each other within the same document - particularly handy in a fast turnaround pitch environment.
During 2020 we learnt how to work together when we’re not together, such as scheduling regular, all-creative team catch ups so that everyone knew what the rest of the agency was doing. By sharing work in regular meetings it gave creative teams a voice, allowed offices around the globe to bond, as well as gave creative leaders the chance to quality check their team’s output.
Above: Working from home meant far fewer opportunities to draw inspiration from life in the outside world.
Of course, it’s not all been ideal. On the downside, working from home meant days blended into one, with fewer opportunities to draw inspiration from the outside world. With no commute there were no commuters to observe, no papers to scan, no billboards to scrutinise. Without the local city food markets at lunch there were fewer amazing smells to absorb, less signage to soak up. It’s never been more important to take an hour each day to go outside and remember why we love the world and everyone in it.
On the downside, working from home meant days blended into one, with fewer opportunities to draw inspiration from the outside world.
But what about the loss of the traditional studio space and workshopping ideas at speed, those intensely creative, hour-long meetings with a group of people and A3 pads? There will always be a place for the studio environment from a creative standpoint. Beyond the agency world, it was interesting to see how brands maximised their creative opportunities.
The global adoption of sites and plugins like Shopify and Oberlo allowed brands of any shape and size to stay in business during the pandemic. On a larger, corporate scale, we saw how inherently important it was for retailers to rethink their customers’ journeys; to ensure their websites were streamlined, that their CRM was appropriate for these changed times; that their communications were the right frequency for their customers. Tone of voice was critical in the pandemic and its accompanying restrictions, with many brands nodding to it yet never explicitly referencing it, in a bid to keep the brand’s tone safe and understanding, yet upbeat.
Above: Technology enabled agencies and brands alike to beat the restrictions of the pandemic and carry on working successfully.
With online shopping becoming the default, 2020 websites had to be transformative and inspiring. If the website was for a destination such as a hotel or restaurant, it had never been more necessary to transport the visitor to that space with full bleed video, 360-degree photography, or user interactions to help bring the ambience to life. Retailers had a different focus, highlighting ease of delivery (and returns) through re-considered user journeys that complemented the new majority of orders coming from consumers at home, the products never having been seen in person.
How could a brand’s online experience feel closer to the in-person, in-store shopping that older demographics were used to?
And who brands were targeting had to be reconsidered, with more and more demographics taking to the web to fulfil their shopping lists. For instance, silver shoppers are now online so brands had to consider how they interacted with websites, and what technological barriers existed. Increased font sizes for older visitors, colours that don’t impede how accessible it is for those with poorer eyesight all had to be thought through. How could a brand’s online experience feel closer to the in-person, in-store shopping that older demographics were used to?
This year has taught our industry a lot about how we work, how we communicate and how we derive our creativity. That looks set to continue next year.