BBH Design Dept.

  • Team,

The mission to elevate design inside a legendary advertising agency

Building, growing and nurturing a design department

Much of the work that's done when leading a team goes unseen — so how do you show it in a portfolio setting? The output of work is only one way (albeit one of the most important ways), but when we talk about team culture, leadership, processes, people management, vision-setting and the general day-to-day, it's somewhat intangible, incremental and marginal. This page is an inside look to my role as Head of Design at BBH.

Role

Head of Design

Period

2022–

Agency

BBH

Defining a what we do and a what we stand for formed the basis for how the department could be developed


The steps taken to get the Design Dept. to new heights

Stepping in to lead a department at an established creative company comes with a unique set of challenges. There are people with specific capabilities and defined roles, history within the team and beyond, a pre-existing dynamic with how personalities interact with one another, along with set processes and ways of working. I had the task of leading design at BBH to new heights — introducing new capabilities, methods of work, growing the team and galvanising the culture.

Stage 1: Assess

Who's who? What roles exist? What roles need to exist? What are we capable of? Where do we need to improve? How happy are people? Where are the opportunities? Where are the weaknesses? How do we fit into the agency? How do we fit out of it? What's the culture like? So many questions, and not a lot of time. Figuring out the lay of the land, quickly, is key.

Stage 2: Plan

Once some questions were answered, it's time to get moving with defining the vision for the year. Opportunities for new capabilities to be introduced and existing capabilities to be bolstered. It's imperative to get design involved in the project conversation early in the process. These are the beginnings of what the vision for design at BBH was looking to accomplish.

Stage 3: Act

No time to waste — let's get going. We have BAU to get on with amongst everything, after all. Start with the small things, but get people excited about the big things. Share the plan with the leadership team, and implement it within the design team. Marginal gains towards the bigger picture — a weekly department meeting there, an all-agency e-mail there.

Stage 4: Nurture

It all begins and ends with the people. Keep them as happy as possible, and the environment we all work within, and great work inevitably flows from within that culture. Not too much newness all at once, but a gentle nurturing over time that brings everyone along for the journey so we're all part of it. A new hire here, a new project on a new capability there.

Stage 5: Announce

Internally, externally — share that vision. Make the point of view understood and recognised, and galvanise it through the culture of the department. Share new work, share stories, share wins, promotions and all the things that celebrate and mobilise that point of view. Those marginal gains get a little bit bigger every single time every step along the way.

Stage 6: Build

The building blocks are in place, so it's time for the growth plan to be put to the test. As projects come and go — all with new asks and demands — bringing in and putting the right people in place to deliver will get the wins needed to make the point of view the truth. It's not always smooth, but smooth seas never made a good sailor anyway.

This six-step process gets reset every year, building on the learnings of the last


Highlights

From pitch wins and staff promotions to internal projects and entity launches — my time at BBH has been riddled with moments of joy where myself and the amazing teams that surround me have made happen because of the tenacity, drive and enthusiasm that we have all shown.

+60%

Departmental net revenue increase in 2023 compared to 2022

+1233%

Net revenue increase against original target for brand identity workstreams

x8

Promotions of key personnel to senior roles within the department

x42

Department size at largest point, levelling out to x25


Team culture

I'm a firm believer in putting people before everything. By creating the right conditions for work for the people, we'll have happy people, and great work only comes from happy people. The big things — like the design and layout of our physical space, through to the small things, like empowering pockets of the team to own social events in and outside of work — all build towards creating the most positive cultural setting possible.


Pitch wins

In all the recent big pitch wins across the agency, design has played a key role in the concepting and selling of the ideas that brought in the new clients. We leant on the great brand identity already in place with the Premier League. We put forth a distinct digital vision to retain the Audi business. 3D Design was the expression for the Samsung Care win. Häagen Dazs' umlaut was the driving force behind that new business. With 1800, the simple visual technique of refraction was the only work to make it out in the world after winning that pitch, and following the Candy Crush win the client specifically called out the incredible design work as one of three reasons they chose us.

I insisted that the way design plays its part in pitches needed to radically change — not just as a tool of execution but integral to the concept of the work as part of the storytelling in the pitch itself


Industry Press

Working with the PR team within BBH, I had opportunities to contribute some thought pieces and opinions about design to various outlets of the industry press. Between Little Black Book, Creative Salon, AdAge and Creative Review, I had written pieces on topics such as slow design, romantic design and the Pepsi rebrand. I also appeared on podcasts from Unknown, The NDA Podcast and Pirated Material.


Black Sheep Studios

One of the first big internally-led tasks I looked at (alongside Stephen Ledger-Lomas and Rory Forrest) after joining BBH was how we re-launch the already established, internal production entity Black Sheep Studios — with a wider offer encompassing music and design. Aside from being responsible for guiding the visual identity and website to fruition, my role has been to carve out a design-led point of view for the studio, as well as building a culture fit for design to thrive within it — through casting of the right team and a revitalised approach to process.

The updated Black Sheep Studios visual identity was designed by Miriam Menendez


Introducing: Brand Identity

Ad agencies tend to position themselves to build brands, not create them. Upon joining BBH, there was a desire to explore this new avenue of work, and all eyes were on me on how best we venture towards it. Working alongside the Co-CSO, we created the 'Five D's' — a simple and robust process that acts as guardrails for us to approach inventing, re-inventing and transforming brand identities.

A somewhat new and uncomfortable position for internal stakeholders — such an orderly process allowed us to productify our thinking, making it incredibly easy for clients to understand and buy into. As a design-driven process, designers and strategists experienced a love affair from the word go as we immersed ourselves in client worlds, defined strategy together and linked up visual identities that had a clear strategic thread throughout — all created with considerations for communications baked in as we started to develop the brands for advertising at the end of the process.

Considerable change management as a constant task throughout each project — having the organisations adopt a complete overhaul of their company’s beliefs, strategies, and brand image meant a lot of stakeholder engagement at every level of the business.

All four brand transformation projects in 2023 had design driving the creative with me directing — from naming, visual identity, guideline documentation and in the case of Movu and Ennovi, websites as part of the final delivery. See Enstall here (and Qlar soon)


Mint Sauce

I was keen to connect to the global BBH offices through their design teams, with a view to create a joined-up, worldwide design culture at BBH. For this endeavour, we developed a series of quarterly meetups called Mint Sauce — a place to share work, discuss design, process and meet fellow black sheep from around the world. Each meeting was hosted by a different office, with the visual identity changing each time as it was developed by the design teams from said office.

The drippy, saucy visual language that adorned the inaugural Mint Sauce was design by Adam Buckland


The Drop

Working with the creative leadership team, we re-booted the all agency quarterly workshare session. The main aim was to put the onus on the people across the company to share updates in a fun and engaging way, without dictating a running format or theme. They just had to make it interesting, and the rest was up to them. It had to be an organic, bottom up endeavour. A new name and format called for a refreshed identity too — something that would capture the interest of everyone in the agency and get them excited to come along and see what everyone had been up to.

The Drop visual identity was designed by Andrea Ferrara


BBH Design Digest

To get the agency more educated by all things design, we developed a monthly all-agency e-mail newsletter that celebrates work from around the world of design. Taking it in turns through the whole design department to curate stand out projects from communication design, type design, fashion design, interior design, identity design, digital design (and so on), the result was a regular-enough-but-not-overbearing flow of design-led inspiration for everyone.

A regular flow of inspiration from around the big wide world of design


Design Barn

BBH already had a successful and unique incubator for the creative department called Barn. When we worked up the visual language for it — we thought, why not a Design Barn? Getting it off the ground in a different format as a simplified internship-based program, we also did university talks, portfolio reviews and agency tours under the same banner — linking with Staffordshire University's and Lincoln University's graphic design awards.

Ant Jones and I shared responsibility of getting Design Barn going and maintained


Designing internally

From all-agency deck designs, running clubs and football teams to externally facing career schemes and creative initiatives — to uphold a sense of creative excellent across every single moment at BBH, these tasks came through design and were embraced as important projects.


What've Ewe Been Up To?

Another department initiative, another sheep pun. WEBUT is the weekly run through of everything that is happening across the department. As we grew, it was more and more important to share what all the designers are working across — especially considering the fast pace of business as usual projects, new joiners, freelancers coming in and out, across disciplines and between hybrid working setups. It gives the design department to regroup for 30 minutes every Monday morning and all get to talk about what's gone on the week before.

Different design leaders are responsible for getting work from the team every week, then compering the presentation


Department ← → Agency process

Ensuring a smooth as possible process between the design team and the rest of the agency means designers knowing what they're working on, who's working on said brief, where to find and store files — all equalling effective project delivery in an efficient, organised fashion.


Being made partner

A partner at BBH is an honour bestowed upon only a select few each year — an agency accolade that gives recognition for outstanding contribution and dedication to the company. It acts as an extension to a job title that signals to every person at BBH an example to be set; a bar to reach and an attitude to uphold. Being part of this small group of people means being involved in agency decision-making as a guiding sounding board for the leadership team — of what the rumblings are in the day to day, of what the true culture of the place is — and LT aside — as a beacon for anyone else across the organisation that might need a helping hand, attentive ear or guiding light.

The size of the partnership group is roughly 10% of the agency at any given time