Johannes Torpe is considered a bit of a wild child in the design industry. A former night club owner and professional drummer now doing creative consultancy for global companies like Skype and Bang & Olufsen whilst running his own studio in Copenhagen creating beautiful retail and hospitality spaces for distinguished clients around the world and engaging himself in small start-ups – you can easily lose breath trying to keep up with this guy. We sat down with him and picked his brains about creative leadership and how to foster original ideas and innovation for today’s brands.
Q: From the perspective of a creative Director, what should CMOs be doing to amplify creativity in their role?
In a creative business it is crucial that the true values of design thinking are acknowledged and that a level of design activism is allowed throughout all areas in a company – this generates more creative energy in the teams which in the end make more profitable businesses. For many reasons creativity and marketing are typically perceived as oil and water, but to me this is somewhat outdated. Good marketing is achieved through creative problem solving which is exactly what designers are experts in. So one could argue, that both are in fact creative.
Opening up for this conversation is something that in my experience eases the sometimes-difficult communication emphasising that the two are co-dependent. Sales numbers are not the only measure of value in a company, but without revenue there will be no business and hence no platform to exercise your creativity as a designer.”
“To me, true luxury is about originality, authenticity, craftsmanship, the love and understanding of materials — and most of all — people.”
Q: Some of your work at Bang and Olufsen has been to revitalise the 90 year old brands. How do you go about maintaining an immortal brand? What can you reveal about the evolution of the B&O brand moving forward?
Immortality is a difficult thing. When I started as Group Creative Director, the 90-year-old brand was in both a financially and creatively vulnerable situation. As part of my work strengthening the creative side of the business it became a priority to identify the company’s unique design language. I think an important step in revitalising a brand is to look at your past and understand where you came from. Without this understanding of your own history you can’t move forward. We created a design manual that has proven to be an invaluable document for the design teams and a cornerstone in the company’s understanding of its own creative and aesthetic roots. I am very proud to have introduced this direction creating consistency, not only aesthetically, but also in the product releases, the retail concept and the overall brand message. Therefore I was also able to leave Bang & Olufsen last October with peace of mind.
Q: In the luxury space who do you feel are really making waves with regards to creativity and innovation in design and UX?
To me, true luxury is about originality, authenticity, craftsmanship, the love and understanding of materials and most of all, people. It is about creating the right products for the right people.
Relevance and connection are key words in the new world of luxury in my opinion. The consumers of today want to connect emotionally with a brand and for that to happen you need to create holistic experiences that go beyond the luxury space. Connectivity needs to be present on all platforms and all consumer touch points. I see a lot of brands that understand true Omni channel, so I won’t highlight any one in particular, just state that I see a very positive and interesting development.
“I think an important step in revitalising a brand is to look at your past and understand where you came from.”
Q: It is argued that the creative industry in general is suffering from a lack of dynamic and innovative professionals. What would be your advice in encouraging original thought and bold ideas in the industry?
I think this is a problem that applies for most industries. Big companies who want to develop or attract creative talent need to be aware that this means implementing structures that allow for creative processes, otherwise it will be a lost cause – either you won’t attract the right people, or they will leave your company soon after. In the creative industry particularly it is extremely important that leadership does not lose sight of the source of their business, namely creativity.
At Johannes Torpe Studios we have a 24-hour open door policy, so the team members always have access to our facilities and are free to use them for their personal projects as well. I believe this openness to personal autonomy is part of what keeps my team members on top of their game. And Champagne. Champagne is a very important ingredient in original creative thinking (haha).
Q: Leveraging the aural experience of the consumer has boosted innovation at B&O. What can other Brands takeaway from these insights?
Again I think it is about the process of going back to your roots and understanding the history of your brand. For Bang & Olufsen, part of the discovery we made was that they have a history of creating magical sound experiences. This may sound simplistic, but especially in big companies it is surprising how easy it is, to lose touch with your original purpose and visions. The idea about magic became vital in the company’s work in both product development as well as the overall task of invigorating the brand.
Creating ‘magic’ became a strategy in all areas of the business and was also incorporated in all consumer touch points, including the new global retail store concept that was developed together with Johannes Torpe Studios, which specialises in experience design for retail and hospitality industries. I think this is an interesting experience and I hope the Bang & Olufsen case can be an example of how a creative change can accelerate the creative growth of a company.