Simon Daubermann knows why good design is so important for startups
The Mannheim Creative Agency DAUBERMANN is synonymous with “Good Design“ when it comes to Corporate Identity, Corporate Design and Visual Communications. In this interview the founder Simon Daubermann explains why good design is so important for startups – and why he was invited to the Lions International Festival of Creativity in Cannes.
Simon, you have just returned from the Lions International Festival of Creativity in Cannes. What impressions did you take home with you?
Just too many for one week! The range of topics is stupendous, not least because there are two overlapping developments. What we can see an increase not only in the diversity and the number of channels but also in the speed at which these channels have to be used and adapted. Cannes gave us a way out of this situation with a one-word answer – but in capital letters: CREATIVITY!
Being part of the Baden-Wurttemberg delegation we discussed these developments and how they impact the local economy in terms of evaluation and application.
“Good Design“ takes center stage in your work. How do you define “Good Design“ ?
“Good“ is a very broad concept, meaning the positive sum total of many different aspects and properties that result in something positive and with “high quality“.
Integral part of any design is the element of function; that it has to perform a specific job. Communication is all about messages, images and information but also about evoking emotions and creating a certain perception. That’s why good design needs a well thought-out and systematic approach with an underlying concept, otherwise communication breaks down and messages do not reach the right people or are poorly understood, maybe even misunderstood. And that, of course, leaves everybody unhappy! It requires time-consuming explanations, is an economic liability and hampers the company’s development.
But we should never forget: Good design also needs the freedom to create. Benchmark thinking does not breed unique thinking; neither do cookie-cutter ideas. You will be understood and recognized only if you find your own voice. Good design is not solely valuable through its aesthetics, it also creates value.
With DAUBERMANN you rely on “identity-based concepts“. What does that mean exactly?
One fundamental difference is where your concepts spring from. An identity-based concept is derived – as you can guess- from the corporate identity of a client. This runs counter to all those concepts that only accommodate current trends and immediate sales aspects or hinge on a specific occasion. The merit of an identity-based concept rests on its sustainable impact that is not only short-lived but is felt for years – inside and outside of the company. Thanks to its solid nature, it provides a foundation on which you can build a house full of every conceivable communications application while at the same being reflective of a company’s philosophy and values.
A second essential feature regards the area of application: A robust corporate identity is not only the basis for any good Corporate Design, it reverberates in all business areas as well, be they classic marketing, internal and external corporate communication, or employer branding and strategic corporate alignment.
Do young companies underestimate the importance of Corporate Identity?
Some do. Many are just not aware of the content and scope of a corporate identity. For them, CI is only a kind of “tonality guideline” or “brand guideline” or is confused with “Corporate Design”. That leaves a lot of potential untapped. By the way, this is a problem besetting not only young companies.
How does the process of developing an identity look like in detail?
It is difficult to come up with any kind of generic blueprint since it goes without saying that creating an identity demands an individual approach. In general, we start our work without any preconceptions, open-minded and with a personal interest in our clients. Identity is not something that you just “foist” upon someone but something you sculpt in a joint effort – and that only works as a process. It is an approach that by yielding different internal and external perspectives and perceptions, by way of questioning, collecting and weighing information helps you piece by piece to put together and condense what then is called an identity. Our CI model offers the necessary structure but also gives you the crucial degrees of freedom.
It begins with an analytical process at first, an in-depth review of the company, its services and products, its history, and the most important actors in the company. Then the individual parameters are arrayed on this basis and an identity starts coalescing until, in its final form, the corporate identity emerges.
What is the added value of good communications – in particular for startups?
Authenticity, consistency, sustainability, flexibility. Four important elements that make identity-based concepts so valuable. In particular start-ups need a sharply focused and professional image. It helps them in the acquisition of investors and customers. Plus it gives them flexibility, a premium benefit in the highly-dynamic environment they operate in. Case in point: You want to integrate new products and services in your communication or extend your company’s presence to new platforms.
Here, it is doesn’t matter whether we are talking about a highly-compressed format – e.g. a Smart Watch – or a more elaborate medium. The basic character of identity-based concepts enables you to communicate consistently across all channels.
You have a lot of startup experience yourself. Over the last few months you have received a slew of national and international awards. How important is it for an agency to enter competitions?
Let me tell you: Every designer is happy about awards – and I’m no exception. It is a very nice feeling and I take it mostly as validation of our identity-based approach and the design quality of our work.
Among agencies, competitions are very popular events to better showcase the quality of their services and also pull a crowd. Design is something not quantifiable, something intangible. Creativity does not have blueprints. Your target groups and the ways in which you can address them, the media and the channels available to you change at increasingly shorter intervals – you have to think on your feet and adapt. These are very good reason to go and compete with concrete projects of your competitors so you can see design in action. And don’t forget that awards and how they enter into agency rankings goes right into the decisions of companies when looking for agencies.
Having said that, you also have to realize the almost inflationary increase in competitions. Young agencies should not take lightly the double load of the often immense costs and the strain it puts on their resources. All that might easily make you think that the playing field is tilted in favor of the big players. But eventually it should be about delivering good work, good design and good communications to your clients.
More and more creative agencies discover Mannheim as their ideal location. Which role does Mannheim play for you?
A very important one! What has been happening here over the last few years is very impressive. The City of Mannheim and in particular Head Mayor Dr. Peter Kurz gave the creative business here a major boost and put into action a viable concept. Talking with many players here, you can feel that they are personally invested in the “creative business”, back the idea and help Mannheim to get ahead. And I believe that makes all the difference – and brings the kind of attention that is not a just fluke but stays on.
The C-HUB, projects such as the UNCOVER Design Festival or the Design Center, which is jockeying for a new position even as we speak, not only point into the right direction but show that in Mannheim they have their own approaches and formats. This room for development makes it interesting and exciting.
What is your personal relationship with Mannheim?
I see Mannheim as an open-minded city with many faces, a good place to live in that offers many different spaces and dimensions to explore. It has versatility and gives you room to breathe – without the cold anonymity of megacities. You know people but you don’t run into them every other day.
I also appreciate the impressions of far-away landscapes, countries and cultures you get here. Cape Town is an energizing mix of culture and creativity and in Japan you will not only meet minimalistic design but also encounter the mindset that spawned it.
How do you think Mannheim will change over the next 10 years – and where do you see yourself in 2026?
Especially here, the digital transformation offers much space and the chance to start from scratch with room enough to get it “right“. To me it means to remember the things that are really relevant and move towards a city and a society that lives sustainably and is positive to the core. Design in the form of “Social Design” can make a major and unique contribution. I would love to be an active part in this for years to come.