Rick Barrack, the chief creative officer at the branding firm CBX and the man responsible for Duane Reade's successful redesign, believes that a life lived entirely through a screen is one that's probably short on genuine creative output. Which is why at CBX, it's all about the tactile. The objects around his team, Barrack says, help them dream up new directions and identities for their clients' products. CBX's office, he says, is "built around the spirit of theatrics" that has gone as far as filling a room full of sand to re-create the feel of a beach. Here, he shares his creative case for stuff.
This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
"One of the areas that we find really important, particularly in this day and age of the computer and social media and such, we find it necessary and critical to get back to our roots. What I mean by that is, as a branding agency, our consumers and the audience that we speak to are picking up product and living with brands that are tangible and are not necessarily always viewed through a monitor. We find it really important when being briefed and initiated into a given project to immerse ourselves in what we call "stuff"—stuff that inspires us, stuff that motivates us, stuff that provokes thought and interest, and helps us live the brands that we're so lucky to initiate with."
"I think living the brand is really important and you can live the brand in many ways. What we really ask people here to do is to immerse themselves in analysis and thought through physical and tangible tools. We've even set the culture up in a manner that manifests that, such as having areas within the company that are more communal, that allow for the collection of material products, analogs, and other things that you would find out in the marketplace off the shelf.
"It doesn't stop there. It goes as far as having examples and representative materials that would speak to what a given consumer would be experiencing in their lives that would be associated with or adjacent to the product or brand initiative that we're engaged in. If we're being asked to create a new brand for a liquor product, for example, we would immerse ourselves in products that would be associated with those liquor products, or products that people would experience adjacent to those liquor products. So that's things such as glasswear or tobacco products, or things that would be found at a typical bar.
"We are pushing out on this idea much further than we ever have before. We are creating not only war rooms but conference rooms that are experiential in everything not just from the work, but the products that are adjacent."
"Our office is built around the spirit of theatrics. Much of the work that we do needs to create or provoke an experience. In our office, we want people to feel from the moment they walk in that they are stepping into an experience. And that experience is one that is comfortable to them, is familiar to them. We have living room space throughout the office—little living rooms that are set up not only for communal ideation but also to provoke free thought. Our furniture themes are very warm and living-room like. Our space is very communal.
"We do not have necessarily specific breakout rooms, where ideation needs to happen. Ideation can happen anywhere. I have my own office; I work around a circular dining room table versus a traditional desk. It helps foster the same spirit that the rest of the office provokes: communal conversation, ease and approachability, and the ability to have free thought.
"It's really important for people, in order to inspire creativity, to have comfort and familiarity. If people are familiar and comfortable in their environment it actually allows for free thought and it allows for people to take a breath and relax and think through things. My office is my comfort zone."
"I encourage my teams to live the brands that they are working with every day, to use the products that we're actually working on, and to shop at the stores where the products are sold that we're working on. While I don't have a specific recommendation on how to get inspired, I do know what has worked for us: Think freely about how one immerses in problem solving and think about the tools differently.
"The analogs can provide greater insight than the actual product. Another good example, for a beverage project that we did here at the office: as opposed to building a conference room and pinning up designs on the wall, we actually created an entire experience within that conference room. We brought in paraphernalia and accessories and tools. We even changed the color of the conference room, painted the conference room, laid sand in the conference room. The product was having fun in the sun, so we brought in things that were about what people have fun with in the sun and what people’s perceptions were. Instead of having an area rug in the conference room, we brought in 10 pounds of sand. It was a nightmare to clean up at the end, but during the process it got people into the mindset immediately.
"Find the tools that allow you to get into the mindset of what that brand is about. That’s what my idea of living the brand is: transforming experience."