MB’s James Bull dazzles students at San Francisco’s Academy of Art

On Thursday, September 27, 2012, our own James Bull took the stage at San Francisco’s Academy of Art to lecture a packed house of design students on the unique processes, strategy and creativity of Moving Brands.

James began by explaining the essential role that storytelling plays in branding. Along the lines of connecting brands to people and people to brands, James talked about defining the core story of a company and then creating the identity and delivery systems to tell that story to current and potential customers in innovative and impactful ways.

The students were surprised to hear how much time, energy and emphasis was put on the Assess phase of a branding project. As James put it, “If you haven’t defined the story, you can’t draw anything that isn’t going to be either clichéd or non-specific and applicable to anyone in that sector.”

That all began to make sense as James took the audience through a series of client case study films, including: HP, Swisscom, Coyote, Ness, CX and Norton & Sons. The importance of finding the essential truths behind the stories for these wildly varied brands was clearly articulated through both the big concepts and small details.

Particularly interesting for the students was the story behind the unusual “S” in the Norton & Sons brandmark, which was inspired by an “S” that fell off of the storefront during WWII and was accidently replaced upside down. That story was discovered in an Assess phase that included digging through the Savile Row tailor’s basement and finding typefaces, logos and crest dating back to the 1800s. All of that research facilitated the creation of the identity systems for Norton & Sons and E. Tautz. The rows of nodding heads in the audience served as a clear indication of the students’ comprehension of figuring out the “why” before putting pencil to sketchbook. Lesson learned.


The common thread throughout the 90 minutes was the importance of partnering with the C-suite at companies that have a real appetite for change and involving the client throughout the entire process. James acknowledged that it might feel counter-intuitive to have corporate executives involved in internal creativity, but he cautioned, “The worst thing you can think is that a client doesn’t “get” good design…The client has much more to gain or lose from our designs than we do. Often times, their job depends on their customers’ understanding the new look and feel, so if an executive doesn’t “get it,” there’s a real chance that the public won’t either, even if we think it’s brilliant…We have to remember that we don’t understand design more than a client, we just think about it differently.”

There was a question about the documentation of the creative process as seen in the case study films that drew an insightful comment from James that he attributed to Moving Brands CEO Ben Wolstenholme, “We are what we document.” James went on, “if you didn’t document it, you might as well have not done it…and besides making it much easier to put together case study films, there’s nothing worse than losing that old sketch you need in a book that you threw away months ago.” While many of the students had probably not yet had the opportunity to put together a case study film, it was obvious that most could relate to the feeling of kicking themselves for losing old sketchbooks. Again, lesson learned.

Among the audience were a large delegation of Moving Brands San Francisco creatives, some of whom had attended the Academy of Art and were welcomed back by their professors and peers.

The response on Twitter was brilliant, with tweets like, “@movingbrands is so legit. The work they’ve done for Coyote Logistics and Norton and Sons is crazy inspiring! #mbpresents,” “at the @movingbrands lecture. Really amazing and inspiring work. #iwanttogothere” and “Enjoyed today’s @movingbrands #mbpresents lecture: they remain one of the few who provide consistent interdisciplinary design at a high level.”

As James tweeted later that night, “Thank you @academy_of_art students for your interest and questions – we love meeting new creatives!”


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