Friday, 13 May 2011

Find and Follow the Butterflies - D&AD President's Lecture by North Kingdom

Rob and Marcus discuss the 'FUCK rule' - getting your priorities right when building digital campaigns.
Functionality first, then Usability, Cosmetics and finally, Love.

"You must be able to get your idea onto one side of A4" - 'Teamgeist' summarised.

Last night I was at the D&AD President's lecture by North Kingdom. D&AD lectures are always a joy - not least because I always leave feeling buzzed and inspired but also because whenever the lectures are hosted at the Logan Hall, I can nip round to The Queen’s Larder up the road, which makes the trip all the more worth while. Two post-talk but pre-train pints in quick succession fuelled the following (somewhat gushing) review:

I've been following North Kingdom's work since someone sent me a link to 'Get The Glass' a few years ago. I remember being in absolute awe at the beauty of the thing. Tonight, in an talk that seemed overwhelmingly humble (to someone so long enthralled by the magic of the work that they produce), NK co-founder Robert Lindström and senior producer Marcus Ivarsson explained how the whole project took just a few weeks tom complete.

I don't really want to wax lyrical about North Kingdom's work - that has been surely been done before and by more verbose admirers than me - but much of the talk focused on the way that North Kingdom is run and how the team work to produce digital campaigns that make creatives like myself ache with jealousy for the people who are privileged enough to work on them.

One of the first quotes on Rob and Marcus’ Keynote presentation was "North Kingdom should be a platform for individual development". Seemingly, law in Sweden makes it near impossible to fire someone, so North Kingdom has based it's entire process on making sure that all their staff feel a "lust" for what they do, and therefore get the best work from them. Giving creatives ownership on projects seems like such an obvious way to inscentivise your workforce, but at North Kingdom they have turned it into an art form. All staff meet for a 15 minute update once every day.

Rob and Marcus went into some depth describing the process behind their ‘Teamgeist’ project for Adidas, for which the brief was (almost unbelievably) as simple as “sell more Adidas shirts”. You really have to see this to believe how fantastic it really is (further gushing admiration). The key idea, “loss of identity” apparently came directly from an intern who had been invited to sit in on a development session. NK work with a very “flat, socialist” team structure, apparently common in Sweden. This seems directly at odds with the strict hierarchy of many creative agencies here, which seems to lead often to frustration and lack of engagement with more junior members of staff.

Watching Rob and Marcus present Teamgeist, you could sense the enthusiasm and love that they have for their work - at the heart of which is the need to "find and follow butterflies" - the stomach-inhabiting, adrenaline fueled butterflies which alert North Kingdom to an idea which is going to work. Another quote from Rob which stuck in my mind was "If you are going to work on a project for three months, you want to know it is going to be exciting - otherwise you'll want to kill yourself." If they don't get the butterflies, they don't take the project.

It’s really refreshing to hear an agency talk like this – to openly discuss taking the long view on projects and the importance of keeping their staff happy and engaged from the outset. This led to a question from an audience member who asked if all NK’s work was as exciting as the projects that were presented, or if there was a wealth of ‘bread and butter’ work that we weren’t getting to see. The answer, of course, was that yes, there are lesser projects, and there are what  NK term ‘PR’ projects (both Get the Glass and Teamgeist fall into this category), but by focusing on creating quality outcomes, NK ensure that even teams working on smaller projects have the opportunity to create work that they can be proud of.

Then there is the importance of a creative atmosphere to the process - the studio in Skellefte√•  is typically atypical. I have been lauding the importance of storytelling in brand communication for ages, but after a particularly productive NK team building exercise an imitation log fire was built in their offices so that the whole team could sit around and tell stories.

I could go on, but I won't. Suffice to say you shouldn't be missing these lectures. The next is by Wayne Hemingway on June 1st - info here.

Now, if you haven’t played Get The Glass – do it now at

More info on North Kingdom and their work at

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