Moving Brands on 20 years of bringing life to brands - and keeping its brand socially responsible

Moving Brands' CEO speaks out on inventing living identities for brands, and ensuring a living, diverse future for the planet.

20 years is a long time in the creative industries, and in the state of the world. Back in 1998, we were all awaiting disaster from above thanks to giant space rock movies like Armageddon; now we’re expecting armageddon from our own man-made impact on the environment.

’98 was the year brand design leaders Moving Brands first hit the ground with impact, as by Central Saint Martins alumni straight after graduating. This was long before words like ‘start-up’ were bandied about, and when design agencies were still a comparative niche. Starting your own business though is still a risky venture as it was then, especially in the creative fields, so its natural to chase the dollar before setting down principles for your business. But will that guarantee you a decade of existence, let alone two? Mat Heinl has a few thoughts on this as CEO of Moving Brands (MB) — and how a design agency can play its part in the struggle for the diversity and sustainability that the world strives for in 2018.

We spoke to Mat, who has been with the company for 15 years, in celebration of MB’s 20th anniversary, a successful run that has seen the company bring brands like Netflix, Apple and the BBC to life with a winning combination of graphics, sound, motion. He began with some advice for anyone wanting to set up their own agency as we approach the 2020s.

“The starting moment of a business is a really good opportunity to just think about the purpose of the organisation before you open your doors,” he tells us by phone from MB's Shoreditch HQ in London. “Because at that point you can actually say, ‘How do you want to do business in the world? What do you want the type of work you do to be? What are your values?'

“Then you can get really practical and say, ‘I actually want to work with these types of organisations who are doing these sorts of things.’ Or, ‘I want to make sure we have real pay equality and diversity in the organisation.” Because I believe that’s the proper perspective,” he argues.

These discussions form part of the day to day for MB, where for Mat and company there’s a need to be the ‘best’ in that arena.

“There’s a lot of issues in the world at large where I think people with a creative and design background can actually add a ton of value to improving those things, if they put their mind to it,” he believes.

“There’s too much conversation of, ‘I have to do any work that comes my way. I’ll do that bread-and-butter work with that company I don’t like, to pay the bills so that I can somehow do the stuff that I like doing,’” he continues.

“By doing those sorts of things you’re undermining your own values, and people who work in the company will be very sceptical of that sort of behaviour," he warns. "You’ll find it harder to hire who you want to hire, and therefore you’ll find it harder to produce the quality of work you want to produce, and therefore you won’t get the clients you want to get.”

“The second thing I would say is,” Mat says when continuing on the issue of advice for newbies, “is that if you’re not considering sustainability at the core of what you’re doing in the world, you’re going to be a passenger. 

“Sustainability is very front and centre for us. We’re doing quite a lot of work on this, for instance looking at every single supplier we have. Even for a relatively small company, we’ve got hundreds of suppliers, and we’re essentially reviewing them on the basis of things like what are their environmental credentials and how do they behave, their workforce, and so on.”

Stella McCartney Diamond Sky - created from concept to installation by Moving Brands, an iconic storefront for the brand’s first directly owned store in Asia

Mat believes this approach ties back in to the questions new businesses should be asking themselves from the outset about the company they keep.

“From the business’ point of view I consider that if we buy something on behalf of the business we’re effectively investing in that company and endorsing it as Moving Brands. So we’re looking at it from those measures and totally re-editing what we buy in the world towards the types of companies that we want to align to.”

Apart from global concerns, Mat has seen other changes in the two decades since MB opened doors.

“There’s loads of start-ups who really seem to value design, even at the earliest stages of the company,” he says happily. “I think design in general is better understood and appreciated in the world of various different types of organisations and businesses. So maybe 20 years ago it would have been a bit odd to think of having a designer in a finance business. (But) I still think of designers and creative people that their intellectual work is massively undervalued.”

A global brand transformation engagement for Hewlett Packard included a new logo for the corporation

The next big question is what sort of changes should we expect to see in the next two decades for design, branding and agency work. Among mentions of Blockchain and AR/VR, Mat simply hopes any tech will cement the storytelling and identity forming which Moving Brands pioneered — and which has been co-opted by so many over the years.

“We’re helping executive teams, CEOs and owners of companies really work through what they’re here in the world to do and then bring that to life for whatever their organisation is,” he says. “Whether its 50,000 people or less, we get them all on the same journey without them having to be rigidly commanded and being given every single instruction. 

“You don’t want to do that, and that brings in flexibility, and it allows companies to evolve, but with a soul and with purpose. That relates to the types of branding we do, which we often call ‘living identity.’ 

“We were the people who basically invented that approach,” Mat reminds us. “It’s all about interactive branding, generative design and procedural design. They’re kind of sexy from a technology point of view, but the real reason why we’ve done all that is because those brands live; they actually respond to people, or to natural occurrences like the weather. They reaffirm the idea that the brand is not just a static thing  - a company is a living organism. 

“Everyone’s moving towards that idea of not just having this static business card idea of what a brand is. And that’s great, because they’re basically building up a category for us and reminding everyone that we’ve invented these things, and that’s what we love to do.”

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