What’s next for The Mill’s Design Studio?

Our Design Studio are a global collective of designers, artists and animators who turn measured insights into big ideas. They are experimental in their approach, pushing the boundaries of animation and motion design to tell captivating stories and deliver creative impact. Ian Walker (Global Executive Producer, Design), Head's of Design Henry Foreman (UK), Mike Schaeffer (NYC) and Patrick Coleman (CHI) and Associate Head of Design Fionna Mariani discuss the benefits of clients and brands using Design to communicate their messaging, what is inspiring them and how they see the industry evolving for the remainder of 2022.
Thought July 27, 2022

What are some of the most exciting recent projects to have come out the Design Studio? 

Henry: We’ve recently worked with the great folk at Performance Art and Circle. Apart from just being a well-executed and collaborative piece of work, it’s a great example of a visual language that will live on past the project. It was the first film that was commissioned by Circle for their brand that has stepped into 3D. We’ve crafted an extension of the brand and created new guidelines along the way. We spent a lot of time in R&D as we knew that was going to be the foundation that everything else lived or died on.  

Fionna: Gosh, we’ve had a lot, the Zara project was really exciting, to get the opportunity to work and collaborate with an artist like Ignasi Monreal. It was such a fun project and so refreshing to work on something that was very different from what we tend to see as a studio.

Mike: AICP was huge. It was a splashy debut for our fresh focus on the Mill Design Studio. And seeing it all live was amazing, it was a great party at the MoMA. We jumped at the opportunity to collaborate with the AICP, since we could brand the entire visual language of the event, and AICP was a dream to work with as they gave us an open brief, but had clear intent in terms of what the visual branding system needed to do. We all agreed on the theme of humanistic celebration. Internally, all in Design were invited to pitch their ideas, so we had ideas coming from anywhere within the team. It was a huge project creatively, but also had a huge amount of deliverables, that all needed to work together. James Isaaks and Amy Staropoli never lost focus and were so impressive on this project.

What’s in store for the Mill Design Studio? 

Ian: We have got a responsibility to strive to be the best in class at what we do. And that means working with the best artists, no matter where they are across our studios and making sure we’re working with the best artists that are outside of The Mill as well. It must be artists over location for us. We’ve spent a lot of time building our talent pool and it’s been incredibly rewarding for us all to work with people outside of our immediate team. Between our external and in-house talent, we’ve got a strong community of artists with diverse styles, voices and views which is reflected in the diversity of our clients. It means we can respond to briefs in an empathetic way. Building on this isn’t just something for 2022 though, it’s ongoing and we are fortunate to have the flexibility grow and morph the shape and style of our team as needed. 

Fionna: There’s no restrictions for us, we have access to artists all over the place. And in some cases, the different time zones benefit a little bit because it almost becomes like a 24-hour work cycle. 

What are the benefits of clients and brands using design to communicate their messaging? 

Mike: We are often approached to help solve creative problems at the very early stages of a client/brand brief. From there we try and understand what their challenges are, question and challenge them to really understand where they’re coming from and what their problems are and then offer a suggestion that works within their timeline and is sensitive to how much resource can be placed onto the project. I think that’s the strength of design. We can scale based on creative, schedule and available people. We like those challenges where it’s like “okay, we have two weeks to get this thing done and it must get done. It’s a 30s spot. What can we make?”. And that’s exciting because we are set up to respond in a flexible and efficient way. 

Patrick: Yeah, I mean I think design, by definition, is really about communication inherently, and so I think we are best poised to communicate any kind of messaging that our clients might have, anything from, you know, the traditional typography-based design work, that’s visually communicating something to something that’s more CG focused. We have a lot of flexibility in versatility in our group, where we can be fairly efficient. 

Ian: Our clients come to us with seeds of ideas and we can kind of help shape it into a story that communicates their concept. 

We haven’t got a house style. So, we are not trying to shoehorn clients’ ideas into a particular direction just because that’s how we want to do it. We are looking for the best way of telling that story and because we have such breadth of styles, we can always respond in a way that is the right fit. It’s a huge benefit for agencies and brands to be able to have this sort of service on tap.

What trends do you foresee for the remainder of 2022? 

Henry: I think that there’s always going to be a hottest trend that gets leveraged, and then copied relentlessly for the sake of it being current. What we always endeavor to do at The Mill is respond to the brief in a way that’s right – for that brief, not just what’s hot right now. That’s why the diversity of talent in our studios is so important. We thrive on having such a wide range of skills, which makes sure we have the right tools at our disposal for any creative brief.  

IanWe’ve also got a responsibility to make sure we’re all aware of what is trending in the design world and also make sure we’re not just sort of falling into a trap of repeating something that’s been done before. Everything that we do has a purpose and a rationale to it and we do want to make beautiful things, but we’re not just setting out to make eye candy. We’re in a business of design communication and we have to communicate our ideas effectively and that’s the most important thing. It’s good to sometimes follow the zeitgeist, but I think it’s not always appropriate, we’re always going to be looking at what’s right. In terms of immediate trends… Every representation of the Metaverse I have seen so far looks the same, it’s like there’s been an unofficial brand guideline made. I’d really love to see someone push the boundaries and do something different with it. 

Fionna: I feel like there’s been a lull in trends because things got very noisy. Everybody has been sharing something, there have been so many different styles. We still see a lot of typography. We still see a lot of illustrative style, character, CG, lighting tests, abstract, it’s like a huge, myriad of different styles right now. And I think part of it was probably because of COVID, people just had time to play and just make cool stuff. Personally I want to see someone find some way to make things dirty again, like the nineties are coming back. It’d be kind of fun. Kind of like what David Carson used to be. It would be nice to start leaning towards custom again, whether that be hand illustration or more crafted works of art, maybe even more practical. , iIt’d be nice to start somewhere other than with computers. 

Mike: The Metaverse and AI, we can’t escape those two in terms of trends in what we do. I agree with what you are saying about the Metaverse, Ian.I feel like it was the same thing with the internet. Like, if you think about the internet now, it’s in our pocket, but in the nineties we weren’t really thinking that way. It was like, “This is cool. I could have my own page, my own website that somebody can find. Then it became the internet of things. I feel like the Metaverse is the same thing. Everybody’s focused on creating an immersive experience at the highest resolution, individual eye sensors, tracking and everything else. Reality is that for many, the Metaverse is more like collaborating in real time with people using things like Milanote or Miro and how that looks is not necessarily how we imagine it’s going to look. Yes, there will be a gaming component. There will be a flashy real time element that is pushing GPUs as far as possible but I do feel like it’ll be simplified. If we think about the Metaverse in the workplace, I feel like we do that with our tools that we’ve adapted. We bought a bunch more users for Milantote recently for a huge project we have in the studio. The Design team, our CG artists and the producers all needed access and it’s like, we’re all working around one machine. We have our own screens and we can talk and we can see each other. It equals and is sometimes better than being in the same room.

Just to touch on AI, clients are already coming to us and the team is setup for a bad joke – a lawyer, a painter and a Houdini artist walk into a bar! The lawyer became part of our creative team, to try to push some of ideas forward because of all the image usages rights that are associated with using AI as a tool. Agencies are just foaming at the mouth with AI because it allows them to get multiple concepts out quickly and in front of their clients and iterations of ideas is equally quick. And I think it becomes our position as curators,  arbiters of motion, and creative work, seeing all the wild ideas and then focusing them down into the one that works for that moment as a piece of communication. It’s a faster way to concept, but it’ll be a faster way to automate on the technical side too. Things like rotoscoping and all these really painstaking tasks will all be revolutionised. 

Get in touch with our Design Studio to discuss your upcoming projects here. If you are interested in pursuing a role in our Design Studio check out our open roles.