Office of Overview on why tearing up the agency rule book lets them set a new, meaningful direction

Poppy Thaxter
0 min read

Office of Overview on why tearing up the agency rule book lets them set a new, meaningful direction

Whilst studios and agencies strive to stand out within a highly competitive field, Office of Overview remind us that sometimes, you just have to say ‘fuck it.’ Setting the tone for years to come, the London-based crew’s new brand and accompanying website challenge the traditional approach to self-branding with a beanie, boiler suit and brilliantly humour-driven film. Keen to learn more, we had a chat with Founder & Creative Director James Sedgwick-Taylor, in which we discussed their new approach, being brave, and jumping in the Thames.

PT Where do we even begin with your new website? It looks amazing! Can you tell us what the a-ha moment was behind the boiler suits and beanies?

JST Thanks a bunch! I wouldn’t say there was really an ‘aha’ moment, more of a ‘fuck it, let’s do it’ moment. We are a really new studio and wanted to set the right tone for the next few years. A new website was part of that, as was a new brand. 

But rebranding a branding studio is no easy feat. As I'm sure any agency owner will tell you. We really wanted to hone in on what makes us different. And create a brand built to last. Truth was, there wasn’t really a distinction between us and a lot of other design agencies. At least not one we could see.

The task then was a lot trickier than we originally thought. We need to not only develop how we looked and felt, but define something deeper. More meaningful. And more directive. 

After a lot of internal and external digging, we decided that the issue was in our approach. We had a very similar process to branding as a lot of other studios. Sure, the work might have been different, but the boundaries were the same. The process of branding hasn’t really changed in the last 20 years. And if every agency is using the same rule book, no wonder everything starts to feel the same. 

We thought then, if we challenge the branding process itself, and find something new, this would both create a distinction between us and other agencies. And help us create the kind of work we wanted to do.

Office of Overview on why tearing up the agency rule book lets them set a new, meaningful direction

PT In which ways have you challenged the traditional branding process?

JST Our new approach is designed to help brands find more comfort in bravely sticking their neck out for something they believe in, and something their customers do too. To skirt the norms within their industry and create real distinction between them and their competition.

Based on the belief that brands are part of an ever-evolving cultural landscape, whether they like it or not. Our process gives every brand we work with a platform for leading that change, not just retracing the footsteps of other, braver brands.

We work really hard to get under the skin of the people our clients serve. We spend time with them. We get out of our little glass boxes and we get our hands dirty. We find out what’s changing, and what’s driving that change. And we build brands that authentically share a desire to move things forward, to a better place.

Because if you understand what matters most to those you serve, it's a lot easier to be braver and more expressive with how you talk to them. You can open a conversation between you and your audience. A shared belief. That in time, opens the door for your brand to become part of the identity of your customers. 

The magic of branding lies in the grey, the bit in between. That intangible quality comes from an honest, empathic and a shared belief in something bigger. With an understanding of what ‘that thing’ is, the opportunities to lead an industry somewhere new and exciting are endless.

PT Why was it the right time for a new site?

JST As we grow, we want to make sure the objective of why we are in this business is clear. We are here to make exciting new brands that play a part in cultural change. Brands that don’t conform to silly conservative rules and actually hold meaning for people. It’s very easy to stray from that path when people present you with big cheques. But boring, safe and run-of-the-mill work comes at a different cost. So I suppose, with our new site, there is no running away from the kind of brand we’ve built, and that’s the idea. To set a direction we have to follow.

Office of Overview on why tearing up the agency rule book lets them set a new, meaningful direction

Our industry has got its priorities upside down. Money often gets in the way of creativity.

PT How long did the production process of the site and film take? Were there any hiccups along the way? Any outtakes or highlights you’d like to share? 

JST We spent two days in my mother-in-law’s Volvo, scooting around London with our production crew. Making the film was probably more hilarious than the film itself, as I'm sure you might be able to tell, we’re not really actors. So there were a fair few takes. 

Also, I almost didn’t jump in the Thames. I rode that hydrobike around in circles for about half an hour, plucking up the courage to do it. It was about 10 degrees outside. But as my friend Big Theo says, “you never regret a swim.” Clever guy.

PT I have to ask… was the water cold? 

JST Haha, it wasn’t that bad. The anticipation is always worse. 

PT Your new brand flips the existentialist spiral of rebranding on its head in a fun, playful way. Do you think design could do with a bit more of that joy right now?

JST There will always be a place for joy in any creative work. But I think increasingly so, our industry has got its priorities upside down. Money often gets in the way of creativity. The easy answer to a client’s problem is likely the most profitable, but that kind of thinking makes me sad. Of course, money keeps the doors open. But agencies that run clients through a very rigid, structured process that’s designed to get to the end product as fast as possible, aren’t going to break any boundaries. Cash might be the goal for some, but if we were after just the cheddar, we would have been drug dealers.

Office of Overview on why tearing up the agency rule book lets them set a new, meaningful direction

PT What has the reception been like? Either from other studios or clients?

JST It’s been really positive! Other studios have shown us a lot of love, which is really nice. We’ve won some new work with some bigger clients in the beer industry. We’re still finding our feet with new business so time will tell, but I think it’s a nice surprise for people when they do land on the site they get us, in all our velour tracksuit glory.

PT Going back to the start, how did the studio start and the team come together?

JST On paper, the studio started in 2019 but we often joke we really started when I hired Christian, our first designer. Evie, our PM, would argue we started when she did. Mitch might too. In any case, the work we do today is a product of all four of us, and our collaborators. So I feel we’re only just getting going, and I’m sure the best is yet to come.

I’ve somehow managed to grow a team that doesn’t hate each other. We still all really enjoy coming into work, and I think it’s really important to hire for a strong internal culture. Skills can be taught and nurtured, but you’ve got to spend a lot of time with your colleagues so you’ve got to make damn sure you get along.

PT How has the studio evolved since you started out? Both in terms of the work you’re doing, and how you operate.

JST A lot has changed. We are still working with a lot of the same people. But we’ve developed how we work with them. We work really hard to help our clients be more fearless. As creatives, we all want to push the boundaries and create new and interesting work. And most clients do too, but often, that can be a bit scary. All clients want something brave, they just want to make sure it’s also safe. Those two things don’t quite go hand in hand, and to make anything truly different, you’ve got to stick your neck out. So a lot of our process is about helping those clients feel comfortable in that risk. This usually comes from good insight, empathy and a lot of honest conversations.

We don’t really know what the ‘rules’ are so we’re just doing what feels right.

PT What do you think your strengths are as a team?

JST We’ve never had an issue in going against what everyone else does. Mainly because we don’t have tons of experience in other agencies. There is something to be said for that naivety. We don’t really know what the ‘rules’ are so we’re just doing what feels right and making it up as we go along.

PT …and what would you like to be better at? 

JST I think our team could be better at ping pong. 

PT Having studied in Bristol, do you think the city influenced your life and work? If so, how?

JST I spent a lot of that time painting graffiti, and not studying. Looking back, I think graffiti gives you a strange sense that you can do anything you want. It’s such a unique form of creative expression. The whole culture is about taking risks and breaking the rules. That might sound very cliché, but I do believe it. Graffiti is obviously very naughty, and in my old age, I'm not sure I totally condone it. But it does build something creatively in you that you can’t get rid of.

Office of Overview on why tearing up the agency rule book lets them set a new, meaningful direction

PT I guess there’s a freedom and sense of community to it, right? There’s no financial incentive and like you said, no rules, just creative expression outside of traditional frameworks. Do you think this approach is something more creatives could benefit from?

JST I don’t want to encourage graffiti too much. The deeper you go the more dangerous that culture gets. And we were definitely more interested in the artistic side of it, rather than the crime. But I totally believe that it exists alone in creative practices. There is only really one rule, don’t get caught. So naturally, that makes the parameters really interesting. Combine the craft of can control, with creative thinking, in the five minutes you’ve got to get in and out, and what you end up with is incredible. If you stop and look at graffiti, and try to really understand how people do it, it’s very impressive.

PT What do you enjoy getting up to in your spare time, both individually and as a team?

JST As a team, we probably drink more than we should. And we do a lot of ‘research’ in restaurants in London. I still paint a little with a couple of friends, which is nice.

PT What insights or lessons from 2022 are you bringing with you into 2023?

JST Generally, I think there is a big shift coming in how brands engage with the world. Honesty, relevance and empathy are all going to play a massive part in that change. There is no hiding anymore. No shadows. The world is a beautifully terrifying place, and brands that gloss over what's really going on are going out of fashion fast.

Those that are brave enough to stick their neck out for something bigger than themselves are going to win, and win big. It’s no secret that brands have to fight harder to gain meaning for their audience. And in an increasingly difficult economic climate, outspending competition is becoming less viable. So the answer to that existential question, how to connect with people is becoming more and more nuanced. Distinction, not just difference, is going to be vital. And that comes from both sides of the branding table. Client and agency. Everyone has to think smarter, and push further. Culturally engaged branding is just one answer and there are of course many more.

Graphic Design

Office Of Overview