On the cutting edge with Stupid studio
With a background in television production and motion graphics, Stupid have evolved their skills to become masters of engagement with every digital asset they create
who Studio | what The agency offers their clients a unique design perspective that is realised via film and multiplatform digital content
where Carl Jacobsens Vej 16-20, opgang 6, 2. sal 2500 Valby Danmark | web www.stupid-studio.com
Odense International Film Festival, Royal Beer, Greenpeace, TV 2, Danish Broadcasting Association (DR)
Stupid Studio is founded on the belief that great design can also be very fun. While the agency is still relatively young, it has actually become a leading creative powerhouse in Denmark.
Founded by Lars Neckelmann and Daniel Gjøde, they came from different backgrounds, but both knew that they wanted to move into a more creative working environment, as Daniel explained:
“Back in 2006 I had been working at TV 2 (Denmark’s largest commercial TV Station) for about a year or so, where I was involved in a lot of national integrated campaigns. I had formal education in software engineering, but also did some DJing on the side and designed motion graphics. At TV 2 my focus at the time was on concepts and motion graphics. I became great friends with one of the promo producers, Lars Neckelmann, as we shared a lot of the same ideas about the potential in video combined with motion graphics.
“The management in our department of TV 2 wasn’t what you would call working that well at the time, and conversations that I had with Lars showed that we both wanted to move on and try something new. It seemed obvious to us that starting our own agency would provide us with the new challenges we were after and allow us more creative freedom. We didn’t have a mission statement or anything like that, but we knew that having our own agency would ensure we could have fun on a daily basis, learn new stuff, stay as independent as possible, and allow us to develop a better work/life balance.”
Every new agency needs a name, and this one’s origins are rooted in fun. “I saw this t-shirt on South Park, I think on Cartman, saying “I’m with Stupid” and an arrow pointing at the guy next to him,” Daniel continued. “It made me laugh, and I thought that would do for a company name. Then I called my wife and told her, I had to repeat the joke seven times before she could make sense of what I said, so I knew that wouldn’t work. So Lars and I decided to shorten it to just Stupid.
“It has turned out to be a decent name. It makes people smile, wonder, and at the same time, you cannot call your company Stupid if you’re not proving it wrong in every single venture you take on. In that sense, the name has become somewhat of an inverted calling card for us.”
Since then Lars left as partner, but still works closely with the studio. Shortly after, Bjarne joined as partner, bringing a strong digital knowledge with him.
Developing Stupid as one of Denmark’s premier design agencies hasn’t meant Stupid has had to hard sell its services though. In fact as Bjarne explains, their website offers a point of contact but Stupid don’t see this as a high-profile marketing technique: “We have no account managers, no contact people, no representation – this is largely because we believe that a job well done will give you the next one. Partly by word of mouth, but also to a great extent by showcasing how we do our work.
“So our website and social media presence is a high priority for us, and we spend a significant amount of time with our case studies. Social media also plays an important role in our day-to-day communication and client work, and right now we are on the lookout for a designer and strong communicator that can help us take our cases even further and at the same time strengthen our presence on all the relevant platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Behance, Vimeo and so on.”
And what about pitching for new work? Daniel said: “No we never pitch. There are so many reasons not to. When you pitch, you are focused on one thing and that’s winning over the client. You forget the real audience – relevance disappears, and the work is, at its best, only satisfying for the client. How can we diagnose and prescribe for free one minute, and later ask for hundreds or thousands of dollars for similar thinking? High-quality clients understand that real strategic and design thinking only works in a committed relationship where we can ask questions and collaborate with the client. The consequence? Better sleep, more integrity and a closer relationship with our clients.”
Bjarne also commented: “We’ve been picky on one point since the very beginning: It should feel right. Of course we’ve ignored our gut feeling every now and again, but almost instantly we are punished. A project we’re not really into, or a client focused on the wrong things all resulted from us ignoring our gut feeling about an account.
“We’ve seen the value that we can bring to the table, and this has given us confidence in what we do. Obviously this helps us to charge the kind of fees that we ought to. With our ambition to really understand our clients and their needs, and bring about real value, we’ve come to some sort of rule of thumb that projects smaller than 250 hours don’t really make much sense for us to engage in – unless the work is just as a consultant. But we believe the entire process – from insight to strategy, wireframing, design, implementation and testing – can’t really be done any faster in any meaningful way.”
It seems that many design studios develop their own particular style and way of doing things – and this is one way of attracting a client. Daniel explained how the ethos at Stupid is defined: “Our work for the Odense International Film Festival that started more than five years ago, turned out to be a pivotal piece of work for us. In a good way it forced us into a new way of thinking. We discovered that we needed to redefine our client’s problem.
“They thought they wanted a new logo, but what really happened was that they needed a very close partnership with someone who understood people and behaviour in the context of branding and communication. Of course that also included an identity program, but that was only a small portion of the collaboration – which is ongoing. So, even though it isn’t a web project, it was founded on a lot of our strategic thinking and focus on relevance, and this also laid the groundwork for our philosophy about living identities.”
How Stupid approach each project varies with Stupid completing some accounts in record time. “One month to complete a piece of work is ridiculous, but it happens,” said Daniel. “But three months is more common. The Myboat campaign we did for Greenpeace was pulled off in just 40 days, from the signing of the contract, to launch in 10 countries. I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t tough.
“Also there’s a difference between campaigns and more permanent sites. Usually campaign sites are part of a larger time-limited initiative, and thus have a very fixed deadline, whereas more permanent sites can be designed and implemented in a more agile way, with incremental releases and improvements. Luckily many of our clients are long-time collaborators, and a great deal of our projects are planned with us as advisors, making timeframes more realistic from the start.”
It’s clear that Stupid go out of their way to show that the designs they produce are all unique – but which tools are Stupid using to create these all of these groundbreaking pieces of design? Daniel continued: “We use a shitload of different systems, because of our quite broad spectrum of people: Developers use Pivotaltracker for agile project management, Beanstalk for code management and deployments and so on.
“Designers use everything from Photoshop to Illustrator and the occasional gabbling around in InDesign. Animators and motion designers use After Effects, Cinema4D and a plethora of other more specialised tools. Adobe Edge Animate also shows some potential, in the integration between animation and interactive. To keep track of everything we rely heavily on Google Apps and Timelog (which is a time tracking, invoicing and reporting tool). But yes, we are very Adobe centric, and CC opened up collaboration possibilities up for us even more.”
One thing is certain when the digital creative landscape is considered: Nothing stands still. For Stupid, being open to new techniques and embracing the latest tools is absolutely essential. Daniel explained their approach: “We are huge fans of the latest standards, as they give us a creative freedom we’ve never had before. We do what we can to push our clients forwards, by setting the bar as high as possible. This means sacrificing old versions of Internet Explorer to gain the latest advantages. We consider Internet Explorer 8 to be truly dead. We believe such sacrifices are necessary, as the web otherwise will never move forwards. That most browsers now auto-update in the background, enables us to use brand-new standards, which we’d previously had to wait many years before we could use. This ultimately heightens the user experience – something we will only unwillingly compromise”
“With Twitter Bootstrap we believe a better way has been discovered: Bootstrap and other more serious frameworks are setting a strict and consistent standard for doing markup and plug-ins – a way which doesn’t limit creative freedom, but simply defines a common structure. Now you can actually find Bootstrap plug-ins that use the same CSS classes and style of API as the rest of your project, so they simply fit right in. So yes, we hope for many more projects to switch to Bootstrap.
“We do all our websites in WordPress, but the main disadvantage is that its one-way. PHP is simply not suited for two-way communications. We are experimenting with combining PHP and NodeJS, which enables us to do stuff like pushing and receiving information live to our users, even to sites with thousands of simultaneous visitors. Furthermore we’ve been experimenting with Ember and WordPress integration, to make an even smoother experience. It’s a framework we’re expecting a lot from.
“In the more visual department, projects like three.js and the HTML5 Canvas, have caught our attention. These two enable us to truly do whatever we want visually, even in 3D space; it feels like the last visual frontier is broken. Having ditched old Internet Explorer, we can now do all that stuff that previously required plug-ins like Flash. Apart from that, we are really into the possibilities with Arduino boards, Raspberry Pi’s and other devices that will help us connect our digital world with the real one.SASS and Bourbon makes CSS easier to work with, it has a simplified overview, easier editing and maintenance, and it also makes it easier to create cross-browser animations in CSS3. There’s Neat, a grid framework for SASS and Bourbon. It gives a cleaner markup and removes redundant classes.” It’s clear that Stupid place importance on keeping up with and making use of the latest digital trends.
With all this discussion about digital design, the focus inevitably turns to the developments taking place on mobile platforms. “Like most companies, we were seduced by the responsive idea, although we’ve changed opinion lately,” Daniel stated. “The thing is, responsive works well for larger screens, but we feel content for mobiles needs to be thought of differently. Many features make little sense on an iPhone, and as such, they should be rethought or disabled. Therefore, we usually choose to do a dedicated mobile version and only use responsive for tablets and devices with larger screens.
“On another note this usually gets the discussion going: Native Apps is the Flash of our time. It’s a bit one-sided I know, but there’s some truth to it I think. Look at it from a client’s perspective; with a web app there’s no need for device-specific development, only CSS adaptions. Updates and modifications to the app are centralised and instantaneous, content can be fed from the very same CMS as the client’s website runs from. And yes, there’s still a good bunch of stuff that web apps can’t do but most of these things are related to technical limitations in a web apps ability to access device-specific OS functionalities. But that’s just a matter of time isn’t it?”
What is clear is that Stupid is made up of a dedicated team of professionals that are experts in their field. So how does Stupid approach the recruitment process? “There’s no doubt that it’s people skills and portfolio that gets them to a job interview,” stated Daniel. “From there it’s almost a given that it’s their personality that gets them their job. In other words: We look for amazing talent, but at the end of the day, they only get the job if they match our culture. Culture beats strategy every time. When it comes to skills, we’re looking for T-shaped people: these are folks with a very high degree of specialisation and focus, yet still have a broad interest and understanding of disciplines related to their line of work.”
And what does the future look like for Stupid? Bjarne concluded: “We’re experiencing a really overwhelming demand right now for our ability to bridge our understanding of people as users and combine our behavioural knowledge with great design and the latest technologies. Finally we have our animation team, and it’s great to see how interactive and animation is converging these days. We expect a lot from that, as clients begin to understand the abilities. It’s time to unbox the video.
“If we can find the right people, and continue to have a life with our families and friends as well, we imagine that we’ll grow to about 25 or 30 people within a year or two. On the client side, we hope to continually attract international clients that understand that pitching is not the way to get good work. On the larger scale of things we believe that it’s the small things that matter. When we design, no matter the medium, it’s about problem solving. The future is better.” And judging by Stupid’s success, it seems they know what they’re talking about.