JEFF KINDLEYSIDES & CLAIRE CALLAWAY, FOUNDER & MD, CHECKLAND KINDLEYSIDES
“If you’ve seen something a million times, try, just for a moment, to see it as you’ve never seen it before.” says Jeff Kindleysides the artist, designer and co-founder of global design agency Checkland Kindleysides (CK), a business with a reputation for delivering visionary design and branding.
An authority on designing brand experience for both global brands and start-ups alike, Jeff encourages his agency to embrace this sentiment whilst they work for brands as diverse as adidas Originals, Beats, American Eagle, FaceGym, Howdens and Byron.
In the early 80s when the business was in its infancy as a start-up, and Jeff was a twenty-something artist, designer and entrepreneur, he took a call from the MD of Levi’s UK, one the hottest brands of the decade. The jeans’ boss had spotted a brochure that Jeff’s fledgling creative agency had put together – and loved it. Would Jeff like to come in to discuss the possibility of working on a small project?
So, how did he convince America’s biggest jeans brand that CK should be their go-to design agency, designing their first ever brand flagship store on Regent Street and later on San Francisco’s Union Square? And how did it then become a partnership that’s lasted decades?”
“Simple,” he says, “we were naïve.”
This statement doesn’t so much ask for further explanation as plead for one. “Naïve” is usually used in a derogatory way. How can it be an advantage?
Jeff expands on the story: “When Levi’s first got in touch in the mid-1980s, they were actually doing badly in the UK. But in 1985, that famous laundrette advert starring Nick Kamen hit our TV screens. The ad transformed Levi’s fortunes in Britain, which meant my agency got involved with them at just the right time.
With sales rocketing, the jeans-maker decided to open its first UK stores. Jeff recalls: “Levi’s asked me how I felt about designing a store. I was like, yeah, of course I’ll do it, it’ll be great. So, we designed one – a small store – and it was successful. Next, they asked me to create their brand flagship store on Regent Street.”
The Regent Street project turned out to be one of the most transformative moments in Checkland Kindleysides’ extraordinary 40-year history.
Through pioneering design, CK created a space that broke every rule of shop and product placement instead, showing off the items from Levi’s archive in a curated way, creating an in-store art gallery and building a unique fitting room. In doing so, the experience provided privileged insights and knowledge about the Levi’s brand that the consumer couldn’t find anywhere else, “Our naïve approach meant we forged a place where people could meet the brand and fall in love with it,” says Jeff. “The project was a success beyond anything we could have imagined. Our equity went through the roof.”
Fast forward to today and the same mindset applies
In a world where technology has changed shopping behaviour, and in which many are predicting a retail apocalypse, CK continues to drive market share for dynamic brands who ‘get’ the new rules of how to connect with audiences.
For American Eagle, CK are winning the love and loyalty of the young Generation Z shopper by specifically centring the brand around their values and behaviour, whilst working closely with adidas Originals means they are attracting the next generation of sneakerheads to the brand within the basement of the newly launched London store. For Byron and Howdens, it’s more about how a new graphical language and brand identity can be used to bring the brand to life across every customer touchpoint.
Forcing yourself to see things naively
It’s a technique that some artists use. But Jeff argues that everyone – from entrepreneurs to accountants – can benefit from it because it bears fruit from original ideas and it opens unexpected paths.
Naivety is a key ingredient when creatives tackle new kinds of challenges – like visualising something which hasn’t existed previously. Most recently this was for Face Gym, a fast- expanding global chain that’s created the first ever gym workout – for your face.
Never has the mantra to “view it through the eyes of someone who’s seeing the wonder of something new” been more applicable. In any project, there are moments when you see things without the baggage of what comes next. Hang onto those moments. Use them. After a few weeks, you’ll be weighed down by familiarity and practicality, but those first moments are always what unlock the alchemy.”
The CK story also shows that you can apply the naïve approach in a broader, more entrepreneurial sense. CK MD Claire Callaway uses a similar strategy but in a managerial, business-focused way to continually drive the agency forward. “We see ourselves as a 40-year-old start-up,” she says. “We try to see the world as a new business would, maintaining our start-up hunger so we’re constantly pushing forward. We’ve been successful for 40 years because we’ve always done that, never standing still, always looking for the next thing. We try to live in that naive mindset as a team and a company. Doing that brings a pioneering spirit. That spirit means we stay in tune with our clients and, more importantly, our clients’ customers.”
The story of Jeff and CK is both inspiring and thought-provoking. Of course, the CK team have all manner of skills and talents besides their naivety philosophy, and they have plenty more stories to tell and be told. However, the overarching insight from our interview with Checkland Kindleysides is as simple as it is powerful: Think like a start-up. Park your experience. Be courageously naïve. CK’s story shows just how potent doing those things can be…