What would you create if your boss designated each Friday recess day? What would you try if your company gave you permission to play, dream about the future, bring your fantasies to life, and not once think about whether a customer would buy your creation?
That's what the higher-ups at British branding firm Attik decided to do last year to shake up even their most creative people and force some new ways of thinking.
From its start in a founder's attic in the northern England city of Huddersfield, Attik has created what it calls its "couture line of design." Like the way-out fantasies that fashion designers create for the catwalk, Attik's couture line, called Noise, is a way to show off what the design firm would create given free reign of money, time, and clients' desires. Indeed, the ideas expressed in Noise were so impressive that San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art put volume three in its permanent collection.
But when it came time to create NoiseFour (see pictures below), Attik realized that the couture line was no longer couture. Clients who saw NoiseThree wanted to use — even overuse — the ideas expressed inside. "The look — highly detailed, color saturated — was everywhere. MTV was using it for its promos. So were CNN and UPN," says William Travis, president of Attik's U.S. division, based in San Francisco. "It was frustrating."
So Attik executives searched for a way to breed creativity and conjure a design line that looked nothing like past experiments. By giving everyone (not just the zealots who worked on their own time to create NoiseOne, NoiseTwo, and NoiseThree) a chance to contribute, Attik hoped to foster a richer level of creativity and teamwork. "We wanted everyone to spend 20% of their time on experimentation," Travis says.
The result was an ivory-white, hardbound book that represents a significant departure from other Noises, which resembled heavy-metal record jackets designed by fanciful pubescent boys.
NoiseFour is almost austere. One section simply features a series of color washes including purples and light golds. The idea: "We wondered what rooms of the future would look like. The walls would be light sensitive and the colors would change, so you could feel as if you were on the beach or at a nightclub," Travis says.
The most out-there idea in NoiseFour, the "Nave," explores how spaces change depending on individual perspective. The book chronicles a series of Attik-sponsored events that tinkered with three-dimensional Naves. One such event had Attik attaching big mirrors to the side of a community center so that passersby could gaze upon the reflected sky rather than an ugly gray building.
In the end, the ideas generated by NoiseFour will make their way into client pitches and ad campaigns, Travis admits. "But for a while, these ideas will remain unpolluted by any client's desires. They are just about our own experimentation."
Fara Warner (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior writer for Fast Company. Learn more about Attik on the Web.