Late last month, Adelaide design agency StudioBand was awarded a highly elusive Graphite Pencil by global design and advertising powerhouse D&AD.
StudioBand's work for Kin Seafood was part of a cohort of only 47 design projects from across the world that achieved Graphite Pencil status in 2023.
AADC spoke to StudioBand Managing and Creative Director Chris Cooper about the win, the project, and making world-class work in a small city.
AADC: The first thing to say is congratulations.
Chris: Thank you. It’s a really big surprise, to be honest. The D&AD awards, they're the most elusive design awards… they're really bloody hard to get. So, even to get to the short list, we were like, ‘that's amazing’.
And then to win a Graphite Pencil, it kind of knocked me off my chair a little bit, to be honest.
You enter these things and sometimes you feel like it's a bit of a roll of the dice… and we don't tend to focus too much energy and attention on awards.
But I think, as a business, we shifted that mindset a little bit… It's something that's important to us internally as a cultural element. It's a sense of pride that we can instil and it certainly helps with recruitment because young talented designers want to work with award-winning agencies. And it can just help build confidence, I think, within teams.
On the flip side though, what we've also realised is that it can be really damaging. Awards can really erode confidence if you're not winning them… and it even has an impact on mental health. So, we've really tried to focus on that and try to understand their potential negative implications as much as the positive. So, you've got to balance it. I think we only enter things when we are really confident that we are going to see some results.
AADC: What was it about Kin as a project that made you think, 'this is a good one to put forward'?
Chris: For one, it was a great project from a client perspective. We've got a quite comprehensive process – we really try to engage the stakeholders, at all levels and all stakeholders, and go through a really rigorous strategic process in order to develop outcomes that are highly informed.
So, I think this project was a really good example of that process. The clients were really receptive to that… and I guess that's reflected in the outcome.
And I think what we're trying to achieve with the project – given that the preconception around tuna for most people is that it just comes in a can… what we're really trying to do with Kin was to adjust that perception, which is a big challenge.
But I think we have managed to do that to some degree… and there was a great deal of thought and craft that went into that.
AADC: What were the tools that you brought to bear to put Kin into that different market position that you identified it needed to occupy?
Chris: We always focus on distinctiveness as opposed to differentiation.
Certainly, from a business strategy perspective, differentiation can be good, but from a branding perspective, distinctiveness is a far better characteristic to focus on because distinctiveness can endure and we can stand out in the marketplace for a longer period of time as opposed to differentiation, which tends to have a shelf life.
So, we look at the competitive landscape and understand how we can be distinct. And the reality was that there was really no premium tuna brands in the marketplace. I guess there's brands that sell kind of more expensive tuna, but still in a can, and tuna can certainly be bought at a fishmonger, but there wasn't much in the way of a very sustainably caught product that was somewhat more aligned with products such as wagyu beef.
So, we started to look at premium, luxury brands like Gucci and well-known brands that aren't foods… and applied a similar approach. There’s embellishments and a less is more [ethos] and strong craft. Even the design of the logo, we based that on the golden mean so there's a perfection about it.
What was the breadth of the work created for Kin and what were the unifying features across the different executions and different channels that tied it all together?
The breadth of the work is quite comprehensive. We worked across pretty much every touch point – whether it be digital, there was a lot of print work, we worked on a store with Sans-Arc Studio… at Burnside Village, there’s uniforms. Anything with a brand attached to it, we pretty much did it.
And photography was a really big part as well. We worked pretty closely with a couple of chefs to develop some key recipes…that really featured the tuna… so photography was a massive part, and that gives it the real visual drama.
Consistency always plays a big part. In this project, it's probably a couple of things – the level of detail that's applied across all of those touch points, just trying to elevate it as much as possible, whilst being consistent and really kind of utilising all of the distinctive assets. There's the gradient, there's the gold foiling, obviously the logo device is quite distinct.
It's something that we put a lot of focus and energy into – having a really strong foundation of assets that we can apply consistently across all those touch points. And then the strategy is that if you do that over time and well enough to be as visible in the market as possible, then ultimately, you're going to grow that brand.
This work won a major international accolade, but there's sometimes a perception that as a smaller studio and being in a smaller city, there is less opportunity to create really excellent work like this.
You're right. I mean, I think we're pretty lucky. I guess the business has been operating for 12 years now and I think the industry and the clients that we work with know what to expect from us.
And we treat every project with the same level of focus, attention, detail – whether it's a big government branding project… something fairly high-profile and big budget, we would apply the same level of detail and rigour to that project as we would for a small bootstrap start-up.
And thinking that every project should be given that much attention and detail and focus, if that means that the small guys can win an award from their work, then fantastic. I guess it's just more the approach and the discipline that we apply to how we do things, it gives us a greater chance to achieve some great results.