During the “Innovation2” conference at the 2013 Belgrade Design Week, delegates learned a lot about the work of Wolff Olins from Owen Hughes and Christopher Moody. Recognized by Fast Company as “one of today’s boldest branding and innovation firms”, Wolff Olins is a brand consultancy, based in London, New York City and Dubai. It now employs 150 designers, strategists and account managers.

The company specializes in creating positive social impact for clients, developing brand experiences, creatively led business strategies, and visual identity systems. Wolff Olins developed corporate identities for various large european companies.

During the 1990s it focused on corporate branding. Their more recent work has included sony ericsson, london 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games, new York City, Mercedes-Benz and many others…

What does it take to be innovative?
Christopher Moody – I think if you are innovative you’ve got to be willing to want change. Change is the thing that drives innovation and if that’s the thing you are thinking about when you are creating a piece of artwork or a piece of design communication, you will always be innovative. Innovation is such a great topic because it’s always gonna happen, as long as people want to change things, as long as people are not happy with the status quo, as long as people think they can do things a little bit better, innovation will always be there.

Owen Hughes – I think to innovate really well, you need to understand what people need, you’ve got to really get under the skin of the people you are making things for, understand the pain points that they go through, understand the frustrations that they have, really get into their world. I think the second thing that helps you innovate really strongly is maybe thinking beyond the traditional boundaries of where you are. At Wolff Olins we try to mix disciplines, we try to hire designers who aren’t traditional design craft people. Mixing disciplines and looking from a different perspective really helps you innovate as well.

Is it difficult and frustrating to innovate in such a competitive world like advertising?
Christopher Moody – Yes, it’s not necessarily frustrating, but I think you’ve got to be aware of what’s going on in the world, and that means going out and finding out what people are doing, and making sure that you’re always out there, and try to be ahead of the curve and ahead of everyone else. I think innovation is starting to get slightly more incremental, though it’s not necessarily a bad thing… Things can change, actually, in very small steps, but over time they’ll create huge changes. Small steps that have been made in touch sensitivity on i-Pad devices are gonna have huge effects in the years to come. And it’s those little incremental changes that are really important.

Owen Hughes – I think, in a way, it’s about being plugged into what’s going on in the world, so you can look again beyond the boundaries of your own traditional discipline or practice. Innovation doesn’t come from nowhere – it comes from identifying some really key needs that aren’t being met. You can’t innovate for innovation’s sake – you can only innovate to meet specific needs. If you can really understand those needs, coming from a different angle, then maybe you can innovate.

Advertising is sometimes perceived by consumers as being manipulative…
Christopher Moody – I think good advertising doesn’t manipulate, good advertising guides you to helpful choices that you may probably make anyway, and it just guides you into a specific area. Bad advertising perhaps manipulates or twists things or presents the facts that aren’t necessarily true. I think it’s just the separation between good and bad, as opposed to manipulative or not.

What do you consider to be your mission, as designers?
Owen Hughes – I think our mission, fundamentally, at its very most basic level is to make things better. That’s what I believe, as a designer. Now, what you make better depends on how you’re trained and what tasks you set yourself. As a designer, you might make a transport system better, so people get to work easier, you might make a map better, so people can find their way around, you might make products that are better…

What is the innovation of the moment?

Christopher Moody – I think the biggest innovations are going on in terms of nanotechnology: really small pieces of micro technology. There’s lots of things going on all around the world whereby mechanics and keyboards are getting much, much smaller and I think, over time, that’s gonna be the thing that’s gonna have the biggest impact. When you think of medical devices and the way in which it could affect all of us every day, this tinny nanotechnology is gonna be really, really important.

Owen Hughes – The thing that really inspired me when I read about it a few weeks ago, was mini 3D printed technology that you can implant into people’s bodies, and that can deliver treatment for illnesses, and then they can dissolve, so you don’t have to take them out again. The nanotechnology is a world that we can’t even imagine yet, and it’s gonna be huge. It’s gonna make all kinds of existing technologies and treatments obsolete.

Your thoughts on this year’s Belgrade design Week?

Christopher Moody – I think it’s been great, really interesting, because it’s a great mix of people: yesterday the focus was on products and getting product out in the world, and today it’s much more about communications, and I think there’s a really rich, diverse group of people here. That’s when it gets really interesting: people who wouldn’t normally meet, coming together and sharing stories and conversations, and hopefully going away and being able to carry on those conversations elsewhere.

Owen Hughes – Crazy, energetic, exciting, on the edge…

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B.D.W. is "Being with your whole creative self in WONDERLAND". Getting out of the line (box), navigating into the world of sensation and intellect, showing curiosity and sharing knowledge, living in clear and vague situations, bringing Art & design to talk to each other, loving, touching, eating, growing, expecting the unexpected and yet always being surprised, never accepting what was planned a month earlier. And people, interesting people, creative people, wonderful, open-minded people, beautiful people, people who think DESIGN IS A WAY OF THINKING. All of this is true. I was lucky to be there and loved it.