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Sat, Apr

IR talks to... Silas Amos, Designer and founder of Silas Amos Ltd.

Silas Amos, a designer and design strategist, is a keynote speaker at the Drupa Cube this year.  He “helps create, interpret and express insight and strategy through design literate eyes”.

I asked him what exactly that means - and what we in the large-format print sector can learn from his experience in working with the likes of AB InBev, Bacardi, Diageo, Heinz, Mars, Unilever and HP.

Silas, you work with some very big name brands. What exactly is it you do for them?

Good question. Broadly I try and help them figure out what is the ‘inner spirit’ of their brand - which can be formed by anything from a well-remembered old advertisement, to a product truth,
to the founder’s philosophy. I then figure out how the brand’s design can make this inner spirit tangible. Which is a long way of saying I figure out the design behaviour and expression for brands, so it is true to them. I also have ideas, and they can help my clients move their business forward, or help add a bit of engagement to what they are doing.

I believe I was asked to talk at Drupa because I’ve spent so many years thinking about where branding is heading as a business, and I hope I have a few insights worth sharing about staying relevant and competitive in what is a fast evolving industry.

You are one of the keynote speakers at in the Drupa Cube this year. So what will be your key message at that event?

Well, I’m still writing it! But broadly I think we are going through a technology driven shift in creative and marketing culture that is equally exciting and scary. There will inevitably be winners and losers. I subscribe to the Darwinian view that survival of the fittest is not predicated on being the strongest or the smartest, but on being the most able to adapt. We all have to adapt to keep pace. But actually keeping up isn’t enough. The rewards will come to those who embrace the opportunities opening up and exploit them with creative gusto.

It will be less about David’s Vs Goliaths than about being true to oneself and what makes one special whilst flexing what is already working for you.

I believe that print is far from ‘dead’ - indeed it might be heading into a golden age of innovation. But its use by people will certainly be changing.

In marketing we hear a great deal about ‘integration’ 360 and getting rid of ‘silos’. I believe that print will not thrive by being an island - or being thought of as a last bastion of quality and tactility. Hard though it is, we need to figure out how ‘print’ integrates better with the modern world in order to be more relevant, rather than an anachronism. Fine as a philosophy, but what does this actually mean practically? I hope my talk can offer a few tangible pointers.

So I hope to share a message of encouragement, based on a bunch of examples of people ‘getting it right’. If I can plant a few ideas then I will be happy. The truth is I’m glad I am not a PSP - these are challenging times, with a welter of confusing options to choose from. But I believe understanding oneself is key to understanding which path to take next, so I will talk a little about how to figure this out.

At the start of the year HP told us about the release of ‘Digital Print: A Bigger Spectrum’ – a tool to help educate the wider creative market about the possibilities of digital print. You handled the writing and creative design for that project. We’ve done something similar here at Image Reports with our Think Bigger reports. How responsive do you think ‘creatives’ are to these attempts to ‘educate’ them about new print-based possibilities?

I think seeing is believing. Give a creative tangible evidence of what they can do on a new train set and they will inevitably want to play. That is as true for artists as it is designers and creatively inclined marketers.

The real challenge is with marketing, procurement and production. They all get that there are new ways to do something - on a personal level they might be interested. But it isn’t on the to do list their boss gave them, typically. So changing the world wont change their bonus (and indeed might place it in jeopardy). So getting them to behave in an entrepreneurial ‘lets give this a go’ fashion requires talking to the very senior decision makers, or much smaller companies, and presenting compelling sales data as well as a crazy idea.

What do you think the print sector can do to help stimulate the ‘possibilities’ conversation with creatives/designers then?

I think the best stimulation will be one that has the longest reach and can grow organically. So some kind on online ‘museum’ of great work, attached to a current ‘show’ of technological potential would be great. Having said that, nothing beats actually holding a piece of innovative print to get the creative juices flowing.

I would go further - nothing beats talking to a smart enthusiastic printer who is as interested in the output as the fee. That always wins hearts, minds and business in my experience - just being ‘up for it’.

I think designers respond to market needs - the whole chain of influence needs to be addressed. We have to convince client procurement, media strategists and marketing heads of the commercial power of print innovation. Sales figures and strong return on investment will be more powerful ways to get projects going than made up awards or suchlike.

One tip - often great new print techniques are marketed via really quite ugly ‘pretend brand design’ produced on the cheap by the manufacturer. Designers are shallow enough to be put off by this. If you are going to invest serious money in the tech and R&D perhaps consider partnering with a decent agency to bring it to life on a compelling project.

You said in your LinkedIn profile that you “truly believe the design industry is enjoying a moment of revolution and re-invention.” Why is that, and do you think print (digital inkjet in particular) has a part to play?

I have worked in the design industry for a quarter of a century, and have never felt so excited. Packaging, where I cut my teeth, is a lumbering old process, but digital print is giving it the agility of a speedboat. It means design can be more conceptual, more topical, and more involved in the overall brand communication.

The digital and analogue worlds are merging, and the age of the specialist is for now being replaced by the age of the visionary. Craft will always be important, but who says you can’t be a craftsman with an inkjet every bit as much as with a hammer and chisel?

I don’t think anyone knows where all the innovation is ultimately heading. But it is accelerating. I find this exciting and stimulating. It’s also quite daunting - but what a privilege to working in this particular era, that straddles the technology of the 20th century with the brave new world of digital production.