“I want to build a place people love working in.” Arthur Foliard on launching Koto’s NYC studio
Since Koto first began with their London studio in 2014, the creative agency has expanded both in size and location, with studios reaching the landmark cities of Berlin and Los Angeles. After five years with the London team, Creative Director Arthur Foliard took his expertise across the pond as he embarked on a new and exciting mission. He leads Koto’s second North American chapter: a new studio in none other than the Big Apple, New York City. Following the first three months since the studio’s initial launch, we caught up with Arthur to speak about what went on behind the scenes, and the empathetic vision he’s set out to achieve.
PT Hi Arthur! First and foremost, congratulations on the move. How are you feeling about it now?
AF Hey! I feel great, who wouldn’t?! Ha
It’s funny because before I moved here, I kept wondering how I would react – you never really know – but it just felt right. I think a lot of it was relief, I was just happy to finally be here (it took 18 months to move because of COVID).
PT Can you tell us about the ‘vision’ for the studio, from a short-term and long-term point of view?
AF I want to build a place people love working in. We spend so many hours, days, weeks, years together, the studio has to be a place that inspires you. So I’m trying my best to make a great environment for that. Somewhere colourful, fun and silly. And the most important thing is that we’re building it together, so in the end, the studio becomes a bit of everyone.
For me, the best way to be creative is to be in a good mood. It has to come from a positive space, because creativity comes from within. Ultimately our clients want that, and the first part of ensuring that we can deliver creative answers, is providing a workplace in which people feel like they can thrive in.
And look, we take the work very seriously, because we’re helping businesses that aim to make an impact on the world, whether it’s revolutionising healthcare, reimagining the way we eat, or fixing social injustice. We don’t take ourselves very seriously though. At the end of the day, we’re making logos, not curing cancer. But helping companies that may have a similar end goal, that’s what drives us to work as hard as we can.
We also aim to make the best work possible. We want to inspire the rest of Koto, but also other design studios. But that’s a team effort, it can’t just come from leadership. So my belief has always been to trust my team. I’ll always give them the space to practice, the space to own the work, and the space to dream. It’s the best way to see people grow.
We take the same approach with our clients. Everything is about the connection – being part of the same team, making sure we understand each other. It’s probably one of the greatest things about Koto: we build incredible, long-lasting relationships. And already, we’re experiencing that in New York.
You have to make everything accessible to your team to help them feel empowered.
PT A huge life and career transition like this can be daunting and sometimes overwhelming – how was it for you?
AF Part of it can be daunting, because doubt easily gets in the way. “Am I good enough for this?” “Am I going to succeed?” “Can I create a place people love?” That’s constantly running through my head. I try to be as grateful as possible though, and building this office is teaching me to celebrate the small wins – the first lunch with the team, the first client we won, the first creative presentation, etc. You have to find success and happiness in the small moments, otherwise, you may think that you’re never doing enough.
PT How does living and working in New York compare to your time in London so far? Is there anything that you miss?
AF I miss my friends ha, but the transition has been smooth. New York is just incredible. It’s constantly moving, growing and changing. It’s the best way to stay fresh and relevant because you get more and more curious. It feels a bit like London, but 100x. We have a huge presence in London and Europe in general, and our LA office is doing so well, it just made so much sense to be here, because New York is a different beast. Some of the most talented, mind-blowing studios, people, and clients are here, so naturally, we wanted to jump in. But we’ll do it our way, with our own voice, and that’s why it’ll work.
PT Perhaps a topic that goes under the radar, how have you navigated setting up the studio environment?
AF There are two aspects to this, one is pragmatic (where, what size, for how long) and the second is emotional (why is it this way, what does it convey).
On the pragmatic side, when you start a new studio with a successful company like Koto, you could be tempted to go big right away, but you shouldn’t. My own experience with the London office helped – when I joined there were eight people at the company. You start small because you want to understand growth and celebrate milestones. If you go massive right away, where’s the achievement? Where’s the hustle? In NYC we started in a tiny WeWork; the day we moved into a bigger space down the hall felt like we won the lottery. One day we’ll be in our own studio.
On the emotional side, it goes back to the vision. The studio has to be an inspiring and creative place. So my belief is that you have to make everything accessible to your team to help them feel empowered, not limited. As we’re growing and adding more people to our workbench, it starts with small things – paint, acrylics, brushes, ink, markers – and goes all the way up to the big stuff – iPads, cameras, etc (we’re making our local art supplier and the Apple store very happy). And we love the idea of being surrounded by art in general, so we reached out to some of our favourite artists and creatives and ordered tons of stuff. Stickers, flags, posters, rugs, and welcome mats. It’s a vibe.
PT How did you approach building the foundation of your team?
AF Two things in parallel.
I needed to make sure we were surrounded by strategists, designers, and client services that know how to run branding projects. This is a fundamental pillar that needs to be built quickly, because at the end of the day we need to win and run jobs to have a chance to make our vision a reality.
But we also spend a lot (and I mean a lot) of time giving younger talent a chance. And for me, focusing on them says everything about our culture. It takes time, consistency, and kindness to sit down with every single one of them, anytime, any day to simply chat or answer questions. The current generation entering the workplace now is already so much more visually literate than their predecessors. The best thing I can teach them is the value of being part of a team, to trust each other. I push them to be curious, kind, ambitious, confident and ask a billion questions. It’s how you grow and get better.
Building a great team is as much about having the skills to execute as it is about embracing differences. Therefore, I’m always looking for remarkable, unexpected talent – skills that don’t naturally fit in, people who aren’t necessarily from a branding background. When you add that into the mix, you get something new, weird and fascinating. We tell our clients they should be different. We do our best to follow our own advice.
Good attention to detail is necessary when running a studio.
PT What have you learnt about leading a studio so far, and how does it compare to your previous roles at Koto?
AF I think good attention to detail is necessary when running a studio. Because when you’re part of a team you can take things for granted. Things like snacks, studio cleanliness, stationery, watering the plants, etc. So I try to be aware of that as much as possible.
I try to apply the same attention to detail to people. I feel so responsible for their well-being, therefore I always make time for a chat, to go on walks, and to answer questions. The more you put faith and trust in people the more they give back. I will be there for them the same way they’re here for me, because at the end of the day their development is a priority.
PT What will the next few months be like for you and Koto NYC?
AF Growing and building our team, with the right people and the right clients. We are very ambitious, and we aim to do amazing things, but we know the value of patience. And I want to find the team that wants to build something too. We’re at this size right now where people can leave a mark and it should mean something to them.