On Agencies & Brands

In Conversation with Daniel Leyser, Global CEO MetaDesign

Never-Ending (Creative) Story

When typographer Erik Spiekermann and his three partners founded their agency in 1979, they probably had no idea what a success story MetaDesign would become. Today, the agency has 43 years of experience in the market under its belt, seven branch offices in the USA, Europe and China, positioning itself as a creative brand consultancy that firmly believes in the transformational power of design. The ability to operate at a steadily high level for decades, to anticipate societal change and apparently weather global crises completely unscathed is by no means a matter of course given the current agency climate.

The answer to the agency’s success may lie in the fact that, in addition to its everyday creative work, MetaDesign also keeps an eye on the building blocks of its own future, which shows, for example, in inclusive and diverse working conditions, where competence takes precedence over hierarchy. Another decisive factor doubtless is the agency’s strategic and passionate approach which brands such as Porsche, Volkswagen, Henkel and Deutsche Telekom bank on.

Goal-oriented global brand design also involves clients’ organisations and processes – or as the agency’s credo puts it, “We use the power of creativity to transform businesses for the better.”

Red Dot spoke to MetaDesign's Global CEO, Daniel Leyser, about his view on brands and their positioning, about responsibilities and about MetaDesign's specialities.

Red Dot: How do you successfully position a brand over decades?

Daniel Leyser: Giving a brief answer to that question is difficult, because there are so many variables that come into play. The first question that arises is whether the people in charge have a clear understanding of the company’s brand and its significance and – even more crucial – whether there is a general consensus on what that brand actually stands for. That is the only way to adapt brand messages over time and keep them relevant without diluting the brand’s core. But strong brands also keep visibly repositioning themselves vis-à-vis current issues and developments. One key to success is to implement the  positioning internally and externally with programmatic clarity and consistency, making it experienceable and reliable beyond mere lip service. Adaptability is also key. The world out there changes every day – socially, technologically, and with regard to media. The challenge facing brands is, at best, to anticipate developments, to adapt to them or even come up with things that are ahead of their time. Only if a brand manages to do that, it will be able to create that much buzzed-about relevance. And that is only achievable with competent employees who understand that their actions directly impact the company image. It is those people who, directly and indirectly, make the company and the brand what they are. The last point I would like to make concerns good infrastructure – good governance processes and instruments, regular training and effective brand management.

In your experience, has brand communication become more streamlined internationally?

One reason for the strength of outstanding global brands is that they cover a wide cross-section of topics and messages that resonate with people and work across national borders and in different cultural contexts. At the same time, these brands generate real affinity and identification by embracing or supporting specific local topics. The key here is to create a strong, globally effective framework as the base but leave enough room for local and culture specific interpretation.

Today, corporate designs tend to be complex systems –how flexible could or should they be to cover all channels while still ensuring consistency?

Wow! It is not possible to give a general answer to that question. What is clear is that corporate designs per se today have to be a lot more flexible. This has to do with the number of channels and points of contact available, but also with the fragmentation of potential interest groups. While consistency was central in the past, the focus today is on coherence, on the compatibility of contents and design. There are two fundamental questions, the answers to which determine the extent of potential flexibilisation: are there any established visual brand components that are strong enough to guarantee recognition even in a flexible framework and context? And, secondly, there is the question of the design maturity of the organisation: is it able to manage such flexibility and still continue to clearly express the brand and its contents? It doesn’t help anyone if we develop a modern, ultra-flexible design system when the client organisation lacks the necessary understanding and tools to apply it effectively.

Daniel Leyser, Global CEO MetaDesign

“Ein Grund für die Stärke herausragender globaler Marken ist, dass sie einen breiten Querschnitt von Themen und Botschaften abdecken, die bei den Menschen ankommen und über Ländergrenzen und in unterschiedlichen kulturellen Kontexten funktionieren. ”

How do you handle ever-shorter deadlines and let customers know that good creations take time?

That is a recurring challenge and the answer to it is as simple as it is challenging. It is a realisation that we either impart in dialogue with our clients or is learned the hard way over the course of an on-going project. Clients generally know what good creativity looks like and are able to assess results in the context of the time available. But we don’t only have to cope with ever-shorter deadlines. Clients check in and look over your shoulder a lot more frequently, too. That makes sense, particularly as we love working very closely together with our clients, but it also robs our client teams of the chance to take the often expected “big leaps” and offer the positive surprise of sudden significant project progress. It’s a constant weighing of options and a balancing act.

What responsibilities should agencies today have, apart from their day-to-day business?

There are essentially two areas that are relevant: for one thing, we have a responsibility for the people with whom we work on a daily basis. We have to find ways and solutions that account for our colleagues’ changing needs. Personal development, flexibility, a reasonable workload, the work-life interface, an open and diverse work environment, a sense of meaning and, quite simply, fun are all points to be considered here. On the other hand, we also have a great responsibility to the brands we have the privilege to work for. What counts here is viability into the future, success and thus, ultimately, also jobs, but always viewed in a context of fundamental questions such as environmental and social sustainability. As an external partner and consultant, we are not only able but have a duty to work with companies to influence, initiate and accelerate necessary change in a positive way.

Today, a successful brand has to …

… know what it stands for and stands against and how to translate that stance into real action.

For brands, social media channels are …

… the direct route to reach their interest groups, but still a challenge for many with respect to meaningful use and modulation.

Sustainability is a value that …

… could not be greater and more significant. It challenges all of us to question our previous thinking and behaviours and to make the necessary changes.

As an employer, MetaDesign is …

… a colourful collection of people who are crazy about brands and committed to giving their best every day for clients and colleagues without elbowing others aside.

MetaDesign wouldn’t be MetaDesign if …

… we didn’t have the best team that I am proud of working with.

Honorary title „Red Dot: Agency of the Year“ in recognition of consistent creative achievements.

Having positioned itself as a creative brand consultancy, MetaDesign has been assisting companies in all brand-related matters since it was founded in 1979. These include brand design and employer branding, the development of digital products and services as well as in-store experiences and experiences at trade fairs or exhibitions. The agency now has approximately 300 employees in seven locations on three continents and is part of the global communication network Publicis Groupe.

MetaDesign has received this year’s honorary title ‘Red Dot: Agency of the Year’ in recognition of its consistent creative achievements at a very high level.