The Source of Great Ideas

A short interview with TJ's Head of Design and 'ideas man' Stew Austin. This is a 5 minute read.

Why is it important to nurture ideas?

It’s important for everyone to believe in what we’re doing, otherwise it’s a pointless task. Taking an idea from start to finish is a simple story of collaboration. So within TJ’s integrated structure I sit with the planners, creatives, designers and developers that imagine the ideas and make them a reality. I always fight for logic and I need to adapt to fit application. 

I think about how we can develop executions that do the idea justice and give the creative and our clients as much leverage as possible, while trying to kill the competition. If the thread of the idea is strong enough, it leaves design the simple task of making the idea irresistible. If the idea isn’t strong enough, we bin it and go again.

How do you control a brain that doesn’t switch off?

Lists and notes. If my thoughts are on paper (or Evernote), they don’t need to take up so much brain space. My notes and crap doodles are a bit like Dumbledore’s thought bowl where “One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one’s mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one’s leisure. It becomes easier to spot patterns and links, when they are in this form.”

Being organised also allows my brain to switch seamlessly into Dad-mode when I leave work.

Where do your ideas come from?

A mix of a childish, curious mind that can do the grown up thinking too. Being good at Google and Pinterest is a must – that’s important as a leader of a team because I need to articulate and execute intricate strategic briefs and brilliantly creative concepts.

My favourite book as a student was Paul Smith’s You Can Find Inspiration in Everything  *And If You Can’t, Look Again. Even if it wasn’t full of ideas, it was at least full of imaginative boyish anecdotes that show a different view of the world. The limited edition poster (noting a list of all of his treasured possessions) also whetted my typographic obsession.

What are the challenges of being an ‘ideas’ person?

Being curious, open-minded, ruthlessly efficient and ensuring you remain relevant to the big wide world.

What work are you most proud of?

Strangely, some of the pitches we haven’t won where the ideas and output was insane. The blood, sweat and tears that glue us together as a creative team is a wonderful sight to behold. The elation and challenge to continue those efforts for the ones we do win is pretty special too.

There’s obviously loads of other highlights – like our rebrand work on Marshall Amps; the 200-page digital guidelines we produced for John Lewis; the blank page we had to fill for one of the world’s biggest technology brands; collecting big fashion and retail brands and delivering year-on-year; and our latest footwear label win – which is a huge huge huge love-brand for me.

So I guess I’m super proud of what TJ is doing right now.

It’s a new era and everyone is stepping up.