Bryan Boul
Senior Creative Director

Authenticity in Design

An excerpt from Bring the Real, IDL's biweekly podcast

Perk up your ears; IDL is excited to introduce our new podcast Bring the Real: a discussion on how brands connect in the modern marketplace, hosted by IDL’s own Bryan Laing. Part of the “IDL Spotlight” series, Bryan sat down with Pittsburgh Senior Creative Director Bryan Boul. The following is an excerpt of their conversation. For the full episode, and many more, tune in wherever you get your podcasts! 

Listen to the full episode!

Bryan Laing: The best brands in the world, to me, are super authentic. The way they hire people and the folks that are on their team, whether they’re designers or marketers, live the brand.

From a design-thinking standpoint, when it comes to designing and creating authentic consumer experiences, how does a creative make something that comes off as real and not phony? How do you capture that authenticity? Maybe it’s a brand that’s not your natural passion, so how do you get into that and create for them? 

Bryan Boul: We get asked that a lot, even by our clients. How do we go about consumer experience and what puts us in the right position to do that?

It starts with hiring the right staff: creative individuals, not just individuals with the right degree or the right stuff on their resume. We really want to know the people that we work with and understand their backgrounds: where they come from, what moves and inspires them. These are people that have rich lives, full of experiences and full of creativity. At our studio here in Pittsburgh, and I know Portland mirrors this quite a bit, we are full of artists, musicians, game developers, sign painters – people that outside the work walls are creating with passion. To me, that’s what makes them who they are. It’s what makes them authentic people driving towards a greater good. That’s where their passion and their desire for excellence comes from. Then we take that and we marry it with tons of research. 

“Sometimes ignorance can be our best ally."

How do we provide authentic consumer experience in avenues or arenas that we are maybe less familiar with? Sometimes that ignorance can be our best ally. That can put us in a position to be the most open minded, to look at the research and take things very matter-of-fact for what they are. We see things in a much purer way. We don’t have any bias toward them. That’s what we try to do: wipe away any initial bias we have going into something, and open our minds in receiving for what it truly is. That’s what I think as artists we’ve always done. 

BL: From an agency standpoint, I love what you’re saying, because my question for you is if you’re trying to hire a diverse team or if it’s process based. What’s fascinating to me is just the idea of empathy versus ignorance and that there’s a process to it: approaching the research methodically to come to an authentic solution.

BB: I’m very fortunate that with the background I have as an artist but also as a Marine. I can approach things and help to cultivate a team with a lot of structure and discipline so that we’re doing the job right, that we’re doing what’s expected of us, and that we’re doing it with excellence. But we’re also artists. Authenticity is the fact that you can change your future but you can’t change your past. That goes for brands and individuals. Having discipline and creativity helps us look to the future and shape what the future is, but the authenticity is remembering where we came from, and ultimately being the person or brand that we are created to be. 

“Authenticity is the fact that you can change your future but you can’t change your past.”

BL: Take cosmetics for example. Maybe it’s not something that you’re normally into, but let’s say you get that brief. How do you tackle that? Do you prevent or allow biases and preferences to color your perspective of the brand or solution? 

BB: I definitely have biases in certain areas, and cosmetics is one that I probably have less bias. Certainly, as a consumer I don’t have that experience, but sometimes that ignorance can be a real benefit to the situation. 

When we approach something like cosmetics, it opens our eyes a lot more and we can put some of those things aside. We don’t have some preconceived notion into it, and we can go in and look at the landscape open-eyed. We can look at what consumer research tells us and where that leads us, but yes, those biases still show up. 

Once I get into it, I’m going to formulate an opinion. It’s human and I think it’s the empathy that I’ve trained myself and the way I teach and cultivate this team of creatives. To really experience, you must open your mind and go through that process to think about the journey that the consumer is going on. Although I don’t think about the process of makeup and what I like in the product, I know what moves people to buy and the information they’re looking for. We still have our basics of attract, engage, and inform, and how I can make somebody feel comfortable, confident and informed about what they’re about to buy. When we open ourselves up to what that experience is and learn as much as we can about a product segment or category, we’re still going to form bias and opinion, and that’s where we can act as a true partner, even in a category that we maybe didn’t have familiarity with when we entered it. 

BL: Looking at the landscape of where we are today with millennials, social media, and the way people interact, how do you think that’s changed the game of authenticity? If you look back at when you first started your career, how have you seen authenticity change over that time? Through the storytelling tools that we have, is it more important now? Or less important? 

BB: It’s not a matter of what I think, it IS more important today. Authenticity itself hasn’t changed. The definition hasn’t changed. It’s our perception, consumers’ perceptions, and how we choose to receive things that change. Through social media and the world that we’re in today, authenticity is more important than ever. Twenty years ago, authenticity could be a little on the surface. You almost didn’t have to be truly authentic to be represented as authentic. To use a skater term, you could have been a “poser”. 

BL: You almost couldn’t have been as exposed. The sharing tools weren’t there. 

BB: Today, you must be authentic. You’re going to get called out on it immediately. You won’t be accepted. It’s being authentic to your past, being true to what you are, and owning it. Brands need to be able to own who they are. I think that’s what people really look for, and they really appreciate that open, honest communication. It’s obvious that excelling brands are the ones that are having a direct, honest, and open conversation with their customers. 

BL: What’s big for you in 2018? 

BB: I think what’s going to be big at IDL, and certainly for me personally through my career here, is reaching out and getting more closely connected to our customers where they are. I think as we continue to grow, we recognize that just like the market we play in, it’s not a one-size-fits-all, mass convenience. It’s about special, authentic moments. I think that’s true for the market and for the business we conduct every day. I think we’re going to continue to get a lot closer to our customers, both physically and emotionally, and continue to hone in on what their true needs are. We’re going to be better partners by staying connected and being able to lead them into this next year and into the future. 

(This interview has been edited for print.) 

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