Knut, when and where do KMS TEAM employees have their most creative ideas – at their desks, during meetings or in their bathtubs at home?
Oh, that’s tough to say. I think it’s different for everyone. Feel free to ask around if you’d like (laughs).
What about you?
(thinks for a moment) I don’t have any specific method of finding inspiration. Here’s an example: We developed a glowing Annual Report for our client OSRAM by embedding super-flat LEDs into the cover for an elegant look. As far as I know, no one else had ever done it before. The idea occurred to me while talking to a lighting designer. I think that coming up with ideas is a combination of searching, coincidence and work. You spend time working with a client or on a specific task, and you suddenly see or hear something that inspires you. At that moment, you have that great feeling: Yes, this could work.
You pick up the scent and follow the tracks?
Exactly. A creative path emerges. You instinctively think that you need to continue working in that direction.
And how does this turn into truly good work?
For me, good creation means taking a new approach to thinking about and realizing something within a predefined framework. You need to question and go beyond existing boundaries to develop something further. The aesthetic qualities are also important. Does it have a strong look? Is it unique and distinctive? Is there something magical about it? If our work can also make our client happy, we’ve achieved our goal.
Is impact more important than design?
You can only make a lasting impact with good design. There are plenty of gaudy campaigns that simply attack people’s attention. You might think it’s cool the first time you see it. The second time, you think: well, okay. And it’s annoying the third time. We try to create something that people can look at 20 times and think it’s better every time. I want all of our work to be this clear, strong and powerful.
Do your clients want the same thing?
There will always be moments in which the client spontaneously says: No, that doesn’t work. Then we have to discuss the solution, try to convince the client and appeal to our relationship of trust. For example, our client Canyon was initially critical of the new wordmark and typographic style we developed because of its very unconventional look. Over time, however it has gained in intensity and strength. Today, Canyon loves it.
Is good design the result of sudden inspiration or hard work?
Both. Often, inspiration only comes after very intense work. You need to take the time to embrace, thoroughly examine and understand the task at hand. Then, you start the almost chaotic and fluid process of creation. It involves a great deal of experimenting, exaggerating, reducing and going against the grain in searching for the right solution. In the end, you need to sort all of your ideas once again and apply them to the actual project. This is the only way to produce truly visionary work.
KMS will be 30 years old this year. Are you worried that you might run out of ideas at some point?
Not at all – and age and experience don’t keep us from doing excellent work. Look at Martin Scorsese. He’s still making amazing movies, and he’s over 70. As long as everyone is inspired and eager to collaborate and create something new, we’re in good shape. Of course, the teams need to be outstanding as well.
What makes for a good team?
We took a conscious step when we moved into the machine shop in 2007. We said: KMS TEAM wants to think big and explore new directions. Nothing boring. We want to create an idea that inspires our clients. It means that our teams need to be a good combination of strategists, copywriters, designers and project managers. Experienced and newcomers alike. Unconventional thinkers and craftsmen. People who can generate new ideas and keep everything organized. Everyone on the team needs to bring each other up to create something great and revolutionary.
It sounds stressful.
Well, it’s not a sanatorium (laughs). We challenge each other and raise the bar very high, but always maintain a level of fairness, respect and recognition in our work. This is extremely important to me. We are always focused on producing results in line with our clients’ specific needs.
How would you define your role?
(smiles) Lion tamer? Director? Conductor? My job is to create a good atmosphere for collaboration, which is a combination of tension and relaxation. Pushing the team at one moment and slowing things down the next.
Has your attitude about creative work changed since you founded KMS TEAM in 1984?
When I was younger, I wanted to do everything myself as a designer: my idea, my strategy, my design. Thankfully, I was able to let go of my vanity and the need to control everything over the years. I did keep my focus on quality, and I’m afraid that I can be really relentless sometimes. But I often find myself saying: It’s good, let’s leave it be for a little while. That’s when things really start to happen. The result is most important to me – it needs to be amazing.
What is the biggest difference between KMS TEAM from yesterday and today?
The combination of strategy and creation has become more important. We appreciate analysis as much as we do creativity. Can I link a creative idea to a client’s business and strategic goals in a way that makes sense? How can I work with the client to establish an overarching system that brings strategic and creative components together? We find answers to these questions. This is what makes KMS unique.
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