'We Should Never Repeat Ourselves.' A Blueprint for Design

This simple career advice has informed every aspect of my work

In my first few months after joining Trollbäck+Company and stepping into the chief creative officer role, Jakob said something really profound to me: "We should never repeat ourselves." This simple insight has stuck with me and informed many of the decisions that I make every day, for our client partnerships, and for the direction of our studio.

In my industry, many creative companies build fame based on a singular style. This is true for many creative people who sell their services: Directors, photographers, illustrators, animators and composers often gain recognition for a repeatable style. Many clients, especially ad agencies, love to hire for very specific aesthetics, knowing they will receive work in line with their expectations. I applaud this level of expertise and artistic excellence within a clear aesthetic vision, and I find it useful when I need to hire a specialist. But when your focus is building brands that stand apart in a complex business environment, having a "house style" is antithetical.

Within Jakob's words, "We should never repeat ourselves," I heard a clear challenge to evolve beyond the status quo. This challenge becomes a reality each time we begin a new project. When reframing the business opportunities for Betterment or FOX Entertainment, or even launching a new brand like Disney+ or HBO Max, our team made conscientious choices at every step of the strategic design process to push into new territories and implement new ideas. Every decision was in service of advancing our client's business goals and differentiating their brand. For us as designers, it requires that we never assume that what worked before will work in the future, or that an appropriate solution for one client is a good idea for another.

Does this mean we just make it all up each time as we go? Absolutely not. I'm a firm believer in the design process for achieving results. We've built a strategic methodology and intuitive workflow that we use as a flexible framework to guide our teams and clients through the design process. I see firsthand every day that being creative, building something new, and pushing boundaries is anxiety-inducing for business leaders, so it's important that we clearly outline the steps we're taking on the journey. The ultimate design solution may be abstract at the beginning of that journey, but there's nothing more exciting than seeing it come into focus as we progress. Along the way, there's a lot you need to discard to arrive at the best ideas: many failed experiments, half-baked notions, or things that just didn't make the cut. I try to stay committed to the goal, not attached to the outcome.

Jakob's words have been instrumental in shaping my perspective on the design process, and they blend well with other design leaders' insights that guide my work. Dieter Rams' Ten Principles For Good Design are as useful to me as Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies, which sit on a few of our desks at the studio. Our team loves Paul Rand, who said, "Simplicity is not the goal. It is the byproduct of a good idea and modest expectations." And futurist Alvin Toffler shows up quite often in our client presentations when discussing how to build a successful brand. Toffler said, "You have to think about big things while you're doing 
small things, so all the small things go in the right direction."

Alex Moulton
Alex Moulton is chief creative officer of Trollbäck+Company.

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