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Tricky design made simple

Idealog: Where did the idea come from that led you to founding Tricky?

Jill: I’ve been working for Chevron Global Lubricants in the US for years, and every brief seemed to get more challenging. We’re talking about a massive organisation and almost always a huge amount of internal alignment needs to occur before success metrics can be properly identified. I started developing new techniques to achieve team harmony – and better work started resulting from it. At the end of a particularly successful creative workshop (with engineers!) my client said “God, that was tricky!” That got me thinking that every answer is born on the inside of a healthy organisation.

How is it differentiated from its sister branding agency, Radiation?

Jill: Tricky carefully designs and positions the brand to represent itself across culture and customer experience, as well as marketing message. Radiation is a true omnichannel comms agency that can tell brand stories anywhere. It’s fuelled by a squad of really experienced solutionists that can get to the consumer fast, wherever they’re hanging out.

Two out of three of Tricky’s partners also run global design-led businesses besides Tricky, which they’ve grown from the ground up. Can you talk a bit about them?

Denise: I have a fine jewellery brand for young girls called Little Darling Co. It’s inspired by the tradition of gifting jewellery on special occasions, most common in Latin and European countries. It sells in high-end jewellery stores in Europe and Brazil, as well as online.

Our other partner, Luke Morreau, has an amazing nursery brand called Woolkin. Currently, Woolkin makes the award-winning Sleepnest, a woollen baby carrier and bed, as well as range of toys such as fire trucks, tractors and toy planes out of its own developed and exclusively-owned woollen material, Naturesclip.

Do you think this gives you a unique insight into the wider problems entrepreneurs run into, besides branding?

Denise: It absolutely does. You quickly understand how difficult selling a product can be when you try to do it yourself. You realise some design solutions may be beautiful, but are not the right answer to a particular challenge a new brand must face to grow. Budgets need to stretch further and you get more creative when resources are scarce. You learn to listen to customers and their responses.

How have you incorporated these insights into Tricky’s practices when it comes to assisting other businesses on their branding journey?

Jill: There’s a critical moment when there’s a clear plan and the strategy is handed to the creatives. Historically, I have found that most of the time the strategy gets diluted or is at massive risk of being misinterpreted or even ignored once it changes hands. Even worse, it’s taken to another agency to execute.

Denise: With Tricky, there’s an opportunity to follow a high-level piece of strategy with first visualisations of how design can support it. Once we have this design language, we can then make a customer experience plan, we also engage the right professionals for each of the relevant channels and only then will we enter execution phase.

What does the branding process look like for your clients?

Jill: Before anything, Tricky talks to all stakeholders; we listen and absorb the dynamic of a company before we start creating anything. This is the phase that takes the longest in our process, and because of that, we’re able to generate creative briefs so sharp and to the point that the design is a relatively fast process.

Denise: It’s a seamless flow from strategy to creative that’s quite unique to us – the proof to that is we often present a singular direction to our clients, and they buy into it because suddenly it all makes sense – they see themselves reflected in the design at the same time as they can envision what they could be.

Can you explain the belief system the Tricky process is based on? What you mean when you say it works ‘from the inside out’?

Jill: We like to work with true stories, not invented ones. If the story isn’t good enough at the outset, we’ll work with the client to strengthen and authenticate it before we take it to market. During my years in ad agencies running big creative departments, I would often be charged with delivering massive campaigns with new positioning strategies that were literally invented by the agency planner. You only need to look at an ad break to see that still goes on. So no matter what kind of brief we get, we’ll always look under the hood first.

After recent criticisms around brands who ‘woke wash’ through their marketing, Idealog recently hosted an Audacious Change- themed online month where we celebrated businesses that lived and breathed a meaningful company purpose. Is working with brands on this a key focus for Tricky?

Jill: We’re massive believers in businesses genuinely driven on purpose, by purpose. Not only can they create a sincere advantage for themselves, they can do good while they’re at it. We’re doing an increasing amount of work at the very foundation of companies with their vision and purpose. The model we use is very simple. We want every person in the company to be able to read, understand, and ultimately believe a company’s founding principles.

Denise: People can see straight through the BS when brands decide to join a certain social movement with shallow intention. The Kendall Jenner campaign for Pepsi will haunt them for a long while yet!

What’s next on the horizon for Tricky – are there any exciting projects you’re working on?

Jill: We’ve been working with the brilliant Dr Claire Barber on positioning, naming and designing Spark’s new future tech subsidiary, which will be live imminently. And we’ve just been approached by an ex-Chevron client, still based in California, who now works for a massive global consultancy and wants to work with us on a new energy project. Super tricky, but super exciting!

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