In 2019, it’s clear that the creative industries are not the only career option for creative people. Instead, an increasing number of potential adland recruits are using their creative skills to take on wider problems.
Here, Campaign has brought together a selection of some of the most creative people in Britain working outside adland.
While the creative industries still generate some of Britain’s greatest exports, the following 12 profiles demonstrate creative thinking used well beyond the traditional remit of the arts, media and advertising. These people are using it to meet market demands, encourage sustainable-clothing consumption, cut down NHS waiting times and inspire a generation of schoolchildren to fall in love with science.
It is a snapshot of those finding creative solutions to the problems facing modern Britain. Whether they make upcycled wooden furniture or robots, 3D-printed orthotics or 2D stop-motion animations, all are driven by a desire to innovate and create change.
A warmer tone of art
Ece tankal and Carmen Aguilar y Wedge, Hyphen-Labs
Campaign took a stroll down Leek Street in Waterloo with Hyphen-Labs co-founders Tankal and Aguilar y Wedge.
Yes it stank, of human excrement and freshly applied graffiti spray paint, but they loved it; the multicultural creative vibe, talking about London, their art collective HyphenLabs and their fêted, international team of women of colour, working "at the intersection of technology, art, science and the future".
An all-female collective, steeped in Afrocentric history, Hyphen-Labs’ overtly politicised work takes on social issues, often focusing on the role played by women and people of colour within Western societies.
According to Aguilar y Wedge: "HyphenLabs designs and builds robust, transmedia experiences by combining new and old ideas, crafts and digital and physical media, ranging in scale from small products and prototypes to large architectural pavilions and installations."
The small team encompasses backgrounds in engineering, biology and architecture, an eclectic mix that manifests itself in a multidisciplinary approach to work.
Aguilar y Wedge says: "We are the architects of our own environments and, as the directors, producers and developers, we can reflect on our own experiences and build the alternative narratives we want to see."
For example, a VR installation it created last year tests tech’s capacity to combat prejudice. Technological, future-focused art and design can leave the observer cold, but Hyphen-Labs’ work is infused with emotion, character and interactivity.
"We explore, experiment and understand the ethical implications of emerging technologies while scaling a business. Our core mission is to use entrepreneurship, technology and design as a catalyst for change," Aguilar y Wedge says.
Ed Barton, Curiscope
A couple of years ago you might have bumped into Barton if you were a creative on a production company junket in Cannes. He was that fellow driving you around between late-night gigs, picking up the broken bumpers after you’d staggered off down the Croisette.
Nowadays, he’s the founder and chief executive of Curiscope, an agency based in Brighton that implements AR and VR in education experiences. Working with co-founder Ben Kidd, Barton has applied a background in film to provide new gateways to learning across STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects.
Curiscope’s first product, the Virtualitee Augmented Reality T-shirt, pairs with a mobile device and allows for exploration of the body’s internal anatomy. This – as well as the agency’s VR headset experiences – begins to unlock the technology’s full potential.
"We’re not far off technology that allows you to touch digital objects," Barton says. "Suddenly it will be possible to reproduce a dangerous experiment safely or explore an object that might exist on the other side of the world."
Barton foresees further use in wider training and learning environments, particularly in enterprise and healthcare. "For complex actions, you can deliver highly contextual information that vastly improves understanding," he says.
Curiscope’s ambition is to inspire a generation to become involved in STEM. And, as the technology is harnessed more successfully, expect to witness a generation that demands immersive experiences beyond brand activations.
Laughing with robots
Silas Adekunle, Reach Robotics
Nigerian-born technology entrepreneur Adekunle founded Reach Robotics while completing his degree at the University of West England.
The company’s first gaming robot – the futuristic MekaMon – is already stocked by the Apple Store.
The challenge is to turn robots into mainstream consumer technology. "Products need to have more than the novelty factor to maintain consumer attention," Adekunle says. "We’re firm believers that a robot needs a purpose. If a consumer robot isn’t delivering something useful, or offering an experience that can sustain ongoing engagement, then it will struggle to become a permanent feature of consumer technology."
Adekunle encourages early-adopters to think of the MekaMon more like a console than an individual game. Reach intends to frequently upgrade MekaMon’s software, giving users a product to return to again and again.
He feels enthusiastic about the product’s educational potential and optimistic that it will inspire a wider generation of robotics enthusiasts:
"MekaMon was born when I saw how effective gaming concepts were in engaging students in the intricacies of technology and engineering. I realised that AR, gaming and robotics can be applied to entertain, in the first instance, and then lead students forward into deeper understanding," Adekunle says.
"Creative elements are then crucial to encourage them to push at the boundaries of the technology, encouraging them to ask questions and giving them the tools to experiment."
Watching electric paint dry
Isabel Lizardi, Becky Pilditch, Bibi Nelson and Matt Johnson, Bare Conductive
Co-founders Lizardi, Pilditch, Nelson and Johnson began developing electrically conductive paint while studying industrial design engineering at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London.
The group made a prototype for a project with a brief to humanise electronics. Having attracted attention after the paint was used in a Calvin Harris music video, they set up Bare Conductive.
The paint contains carbon particles, which, once dry, can conduct an electric current. It can be applied to walls, paper or fabric for wearables and can be used to draw a working light switch on a wall, for example, or for interactive posters. The product has proved popular with designers who want to make quick prototypes without the need for wires.
Bare Conductive now plans to expand the concept to other surfaces.
Nelson says part of the group’s creative success has been keeping an open mind. "We’ve always tried to value and maintain the importance of cross-disciplinary skills and not separate people into silos," she says.
"Everyone has interesting perspectives from their area of expertise and we are constantly improving and working on those communication channels. That’s particularly important as we are trying to cross different industries," she says.
Roberta Lucca, Bossa Studios
Lucca is a bundle of raw energy, the Bafta-award winning video-game producer with an Aladdin Sane lightning-bolt earring and a clutch of MBAs (in marketing and management).
She knows what she likes and likes what she knows. Lucca’s start-up, game developer Bossa Studios, raised $11.4m in 2017, she’s sold 3D-printed jewellery, invented an AI coaching app and has been named by Forbes magazine as one of its "Top 50 European Women in Tech".
How do you come up with your ideas; do you have a creative process?
I find it hard to create alone. My creative process always involves brainstorming with people who I know will challenge my ideas and help me build something new from scratch. I’m also a massive note-taker. I take notes non-stop about thoughts I have, or things that I see or read that are super-interesting. My notes are a very important starting point of my creative process.
What inspires you creatively?
Smart people with the ability to bring a new angle about life or work during a meaningful conversation.
The beautiful things I see, hear, touch, smell, taste and feel. For me, inspiration comes from everywhere: from a serendipitous moment in a queue when you find yourself sharing a funny or weird story with a stranger. Or when I find myself attentively watching a video that someone I care about shared with me, or even a new move that I master when I’m practising contemporary dance or yoga.
I am also hugely inspired by David Bowie because of his fearless originality and ability to reinvent himself.
How important is creativity to what you do?
Creativity is the fuel to my life. When I’m in creative mode, I’m in my happy place. I think that’s why I became a serial entrepreneur. Being an entrepreneur gives me the freedom to venture into the unknown; the freedom to come up with ideas and turn them into action. Whether that be starting and growing a games/ tech businesses like Bossa Studios, releasing a game, creating a campaign or, most recently, launching my Beta Lucca YouTube channel.
'Imagine if chairs could talk'
London-based designer Ilori upcycles furniture. His brightly coloured, wooden chairs are made from salvaged materials, and blend Nigerian traditions with sustainable production; his work is underpinned by a disdain for waste.
Ilori, who has been heralded by the British Design Council, Creative Britain and the London Design Festival, studied product design at London Metropolitan University. He then interned for designer Lee Broom, and received funding, business support and mentoring from The Prince’s Trust, which allowed him to develop his first collection.
When Ilori started out, he picked up abandoned chairs he found on the street, taking them back to his home or studio to work on them. Now, he frequents charity shops, looks on Gumtree or takes furniture donations from friends.
"I always work with found objects because I love the narrative these objects produce. I love unravelling the intricate details of the object and working out how to sew another story onto it," he says.
Although Ilori has now expanded his canvas – he recently won a competition to redesign an underpass in Battersea – chairs are his first love. "Chairs are simply constructed, but they are integral to our lives. As individuals we don’t trust people with our thoughts, but we sit on a chair for eight hours a day. Chairs hold feelings. We cry, argue and think on them. Imagine if they could talk," he says.
Indeed, he is most proud of his 2015 "If Chairs Could Talk" collection of five chairs, which was shown at The Shop at Bluebird. It was inspired by an African parable – "Despite how long the neck of a giraffe is, it can’t see the future."
Ilori says: "Before that collection I designed to a certain status quo because I wanted to be accepted into the design industry. At university, we were very much taught about designers from the Western perspective but not the African perspective. When I produced this collection, it was raw and honest. The chairs looked like characters from my upbringing. The press loved it and it was a gateway to other work."
Of his Nigerian heritage, Ilori says: "I was inspired by how hard my parents have worked over the past 40 years in Britain. They have always been proud of their culture and are loud and expressive people," he says. "I celebrate the Nigerian culture by using the colours my parents wear in my furniture. In a sense, the chairs are reflective of my identity and the people I grew up with."
Mistakes are important in Ilori’s creative process: "At university, we were taught to do research, sketch your idea, then create the object. I hated that way of working, so in my studio, I made my own rules. Sketching is forbidden when I work – I don’t like to feel trapped, like I have to deliver what I’ve sketched. I like to make mistakes – those are the beautiful things."
Upcycling escape maps
Christopher Raeburn, Raeburn
Last September Raeburn took part in his tenth London Fashion Week. Over the past decade, the Kent-born fashion designer has emerged as a leading advocate of sustainable and responsibly sourced clothing.
According to The Guardian, 300,000 tonnes of fashion waste goes straight into landfill each year.
"It’s all about shifting mindsets and consuming less as individuals," Raeburn says.
"As consumers, we need to make more considered choices; buying less but better. I’d suggest [to people] that they begin with something that is achievable within their lifestyle, whether that be changing their consumption habits relating to clothing or food, and then to set attainable goals to progress in the future."
The combination of highly desirable products and consistent environmental messaging underpins Raeburn’s success. The label’s Remade line upcycles discarded products: for a recent collection, 1950s RAF silk escape maps were used to create a line of dresses and light outerwear.
"Remade is about the reworking of surplus fabrics and existing materials to give them a new lease of life and create a unique and functional product," Raeburn explains.
"Ultimately, the idea behind Remade is to balance innovation and high concept with integrity, purpose and wearability."
Keen to learn from his approach, the label frequently collaborates with bigger, more established clothing brands.
For Raeburn, these opportunities are a win-win: "Over the years, we have been fortunate enough to work with Rapha, Moncler, Eastpak and, more recently, Palladium, Finisterre and Timberland.
"For us, it’s a great opportunity to bring what we have learned to much bigger companies and, ultimately, a chance for us to really make a difference on a global scale in reaching a larger, mainstream market."
Turning data into stories
Robin Houston and Duncan Clark, Flourish
From a traditional medium to a thoroughly modern narrative, Flourish uses data to tell stories.
Launched by Houston and Clark, who won the Global Editors Network’s Startups for News competition, Flourish creates templates or bespoke designs for companies to present data. Its client list includes The Guardian, the Bank of England and Google.
Flourish’s services mean that visualisations can be made quickly and without the need for a team of coders, creating stories from information entered into spreadsheets.
Clark says: "We launched Flourish based on the experience of creating bespoke, data-driven visualisations and stories for customers. We found that while making everything bespoke gave us unlimited flexibilty, there were serious limitations around the scaleability, cost for the customer and the time frames involved. Flourish is our attempt to allow anyone with data to do high-end digital storytelling without the cost and time delays of having everything handmade."
There are three things you need to know about Ashman. First, she’s a modern animator who likes to play with old-school, analogue glass-frames. Second, she’s the lead singer in punk band Secret Power and has just released her first EP. Third, she’s a stop-motion Bafta award-winner.
Raised in Birmingham, Ashman was the only black woman on her Hull university course. She worked in Wales and Scotland, relocating to London almost a decade ago. Ashman juggles commercial work as a for-hire animator with personal, more abstract installations.
"I work in a traditional medium but I wouldn’t be anything without all of the creative suites on my computer, and camera technology," she says. "As technology progresses, it’s going to make things even more exciting. Within CG and workhouses there’s a backlash on things being too shiny and perfect, almost trying to replicate traditional styles.
"I used to feel that there were styles that were considered trendy, and you would have to find your place within that fixed style. Right now, there’s a lot more acceptance of style of animation and moving image. Maybe it’s just the age of the internet, where something unique and interesting feels really important because it has to stand out. Within your own work there’s a pressure for you to be your unique self, which is quite exciting."
She adds: "Race is something to keep talking about until balance is addressed and it doesn’t become a thing to talk about, when we see a reflection of society in the creative world and ad world. Until then, we have to perpetually talk about it."
Hassle-free nights out
Louise Doherty, PlanSnap
It took Doherty eight years to quit her job to start PlanSnap, an organisational app that lets groups of friends arrange to see one another without the need for long, convoluted WhatsApp chains.
Starting a business might feel like going it alone, but Doherty applied to, and had the support of, TechStars – an accelerator programme designed to hone budding founders’ skills. Here’s what she’s learned from launching a small business.
"Accelerators are great at rounding off the skillset of a founding team, no matter what your background, by teaching everything you need to run a high-growth tech company. They also surround you with like-minded people, which is really inspiring, and those relationships continue long after the three-month programme [has ended]. The main benefits for PlanSnap have actually been after the programme, as we are connected to a powerful support network to help us grow the business globally."
On calendar marketing
"Experiential marketing has exploded in recent years, with the leisure industry booming as people increasingly value ‘experiences, not stuff’. And so it follows that consumers want exciting brand experiences not hyper-targeted ads (see the growth of ad-blocker software). Brands will respond by using all communications to show their brand matches their customers’ lifestyles. That means the rise of calendar marketing: getting dates in consumers’ diaries for social plans will be the new KPI. Brands will do this via more event sponsorship, and there will be a race to find innovative tech that connect brands and consumers in the real world – like PlanSnap."
On the brand/start-up relationship
"Brands and start-ups need each other more than ever, but getting the relationship right for mutual success is hard. The best foundation for a brand start-up relationship is to take the time to understand what’s important to each other and be honest about what you can and can’t do.
"Also, I’m amazed at how few people (investors included) know that only 3% of venture-funding goes to women, and only 7% of VCs are women. If you thought adland had a problem with inequality, wait until you get into tech."
Smart casts that help kids
Naveed and Samiya Parvez, Andiamo
Husband and wife Naveed and Samiya Parvez run Andiamo, a world leader in children’s orthotic services. The company takes its name from the couple’s son Diamo, who was born with cerebral palsy and died at the age of nine in 2012. The pair’s work is inspired by the treatment he received as a patient and their experiences as parents.
Orthoses are braces, splints and other supportive devices designed to assist movement, and orthotics is a historically small and slow industry. Measurement sessions (castings) for the orthoses are often traumatic, and the products can take months to deliver, by which time a young patient will often have outgrown them, resulting in further discomfort.
Andiamo has embarked on the task of overhauling the orthotics industry. It uses 3D scanning sessions, reducing the casting time to seconds, while accurate, 3D printers are then used to create lightweight orthoses, which can be delivered in just a couple of weeks.
Working with a team of clinicians and designers, the Parvezs are keen to reduce the turnaround time yet further, to a few days, thus improving the quality of life for patients and alleviating pain.
Short-term brand lets
Ross Bailey, Appear Here
Bailey’s Appear Here is a disruptor in the traditional short-term letting industry. It’s a listings platform that allows landlords to post spaces that can be rented for events or retail. Appear Here has been used for launches and activations by the BBC, Net-a-Porter, Nike, Supreme, Spotify and Netflix, among others.
"The stores and businesses that are still thriving, in spite of the negativity surrounding the high street, are those that offer authentic and relevant experiences," Bailey says. "Online brands are starting to wake up to this fact and realise that physical retail still has an important function in a digital era and that people still place huge value on experience and intimacy."
Appear Here has been used by brands primarily to test markets. "Whether it’s to test a new product or new location, a short-term store is a great way to quickly gather feedback," Bailey explains.
"We see a lot of new brands starting with a pop-up, to see whether they can quickly gain traction. But we also see a lot of big, global brands testing new locations through Appear Here. Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop recently launched its first international store in Notting Hill using Appear Here to see whether London would be a good fit for the brand."
He adds: "I think that this trend back toward physical retail space is going to continue as more online brands place real experiences back at the centre of their agendas."