what remains. And it’s users who decide the digital future: we are the digital agency that focuses on user-centered design and usability.
interactive tools in New York – more brand experience with design agency AHOY
interactive tools gains a leading edge by design from the Big Apple: We are building a strategic partnership with New York-based design agency AHOY. An internationally reknown agency, AHOY boasts a record of outstanding branding and design projects ‘across all communication channels’.
In an insightful discussion about their partnership, AHOY founder Connie Koch and interactive tools CEO Klaus Cloppenburg shed light on how it came about and how it benefits clients.
AHOY – a New York success story
What are AHOY Studios and what is your expertise?
Connie: AHOY is an international design agency with a head office in New York City and branches in Zurich and Berlin. In 20 years of AHOY we developed a broad portfolio, but our core competencies lie within the fields of branding, corporate design and identity, which we realize with a versatile scope of application.
Who are the clients you work with?
Connie: For several years now, we’ve been working closely with the United Nations. For them we just recently finished the first corporate design for 165 of the ‘UN Country Teams’. It was a very challenging and exciting project.
Other than that, we design a lot for events, art and design fairs and public government. Big NGOs. Overall, it’s always about projects with a purpose that interests us personally.
How did the partnership with interactive tools come about?
Connie:I studied in Berlin. At what is now the “Universität der Künste” (University of Arts). Klaus and I met on the first day of the program and have been friends ever since. We quickly started working together on projects for the UN, the German National Tourist Board and the Jewish Museum Berlin.
Transatlantic partnership – How we combine our expertise in user and brand experience
Why is interactive tools expanding its branding expertise through this partnership?
Klaus: We create user experiences – that’s where our roots lie. However, in our experience, a website relaunch can lead to customers questioning their whole brand identity, which is something that can take considerable time to answer. What we see is that in the middle of a running project, customers realize: “Oh, we’ve got all these different logos and across markets we use colors inconsistently.” And then they turn around and say: “Well, if we are set on a relaunch already, we might as well define all these things and integrate them with the new design manual.” With half of the projects we experience that it would be extremely clever to start off with questions regarding branding and define things pragmatically. To us this partnership is an opportunity to support our customers more comprehensively and more internationally in this area.
Connie: Answering these branding questions is a benefit to any brand. But not without prior analysis: Where did you come from? What do you need? What makes sense for you? One should take effective action, possibly by a modular approach. What should a process of “rethinking” encompass and where and how might limitations be set appropriately? In some cases, all boxes seem ticked: great logo, great overall appearance. But that’s when you notice your graphic material is inappropriate or not sufficiently unique. And with any organization that wants to narrate a story of individuality one must take these things into consideration.
Klaus: This pragmatic approach suits us and our clients well. In the heads of many, the whole topic of branding is thought in terms of something problematic and with a fear of doing things wrong. Customers believe, once you let the genie out of the bottle you’ve lost chance of putting the lid back on. Often, we need a smart yet simple approach that fits our agile methods. No great deal of hot air, just pragmatic and international; putting sanity and reason to work instead of inexpedient meta level solutions.
And how does interactive tools complement AHOY?
Connie: We are designers first. We create brand experiences. What we don’t have is a team of developers and the sort of experience with digital transformation our partners at interactive tools have gathered. However, our customers increasingly ask for digital solutions. We want to be able to deliver the same sort of excellence our customers are used to in this field as well. Interactive tools can provide that. And we enjoy working with you, naturally. There should be fun in it too.
Branding 2019 – What is crucial to brand development in a globalized world?
Why do brand and brand design carry such importance?
Connie: It’s an area where you often encounter a great deal of confusion and frustration. We witness this at presentations with our customers. They say: “These are our values. We know who we are. What we don’t know is what we look like.”
In these meetings and workshops, we start to experiment. We put all different sorts of possibilities on the table and suddenly things start to become tangible to customers. There is great potential for enthusiasm. And then we see how relieved our customers are. It’s as if it’s Christmas, when everyone is gathered around the richly set table, and they say: “Fantastic! This truly resonates!” Design just has the most palpable effects.
In your experience, what poses the greatest challenge to brand management at an international scale?
Connie: There is this neat word: blanding. It stands for bland branding, that’s when organizations commit their resources to an expressionless, meaningless brand. In the way we experience brands today, through Instagram for example, we see increasing standardization. You see this often in Silicon Valley: Turquois. A dash of purple. And a sans serif font. Add an illustration to the mix and to many people that’s a brand.
Brands grow ever more replaceable. There are few who do it right. Who model themselves as a unique experience. Plenty try to mimic others, to create that pleasant trendy Airbnb look. But there should be more caution, because a sophisticated solution cannot be to invest time and money just to land at something that’s surrounded by a host of lookalikes.
„It’s about the emotional bond that you form which matters anywhere – even in B2B, because ultimately, we are all human.“Connie Koch – AHOY
Klaus: Many of our customers are global market leaders. Naturally, their scope for success goes beyond the saturated markets in Germany. People are crucial here. Human resources, recruiting, key accounts and so on. All these people need to know what a brand is all about. So clearly, the brand must perform internationally as well.
Connie: Another issue is speed. Nowadays your window of opportunity is limited to about two seconds of attention. Design can be your edge. Before any rational decision takes place, the emotional one is already made. You’ve got loading times which are important here, but also the first impression. And then there is authenticity. Surprise works as well. It’s about the emotional bond that you form which matters anywhere – even in B2B, because ultimately, we are all human.
Klaus: When testing our customers’ websites in our UX lab, the first question raised by our researchers often is: “How do you feel about this? How does the first impression play out for you?” That’s when we hear: That’s modern, that’s sleek. Or not. When half of our subjects report an old-fashioned impression during a test, that’s something that must cause some critical thinking. What we emphasize is: Design helps to understand things more easily. Attractive. Unique. Functional and devoid of any obstructions.
Connie: Rather, it generates structure.
Klaus: And it must be future-proof. Any corporate design must move with the times. Today rigid and fixed is outdated. Especially digital media requires adjustments which strengthen the brand and keep it up-to-date.
Cooperation – benefits and approach
What do clients get out of our joint forces?
Connie: The essential thing is that both agencies are joint by communication and work. Often areas are demarcated: They do digital, we do design. Potentially that’s competitive fuss. That’s not the case with us, as we purely seek to complement each other. We’ve known each other for a long time and gathered a collaborative record that’s been successful and fun. What we won’t say at the end of a project is: “Good luck! Now you can continue with that alone.” Instead we strive for continuous exchange. Our common aim is to deliver only the best possible results to our customers.
Klaus: The ability to take the broader view is vital too. With offices in New York and Berlin we are located at the pulse of America and Europe. Initiating a change of perspective is always something we bring up – and the perspective from Broadway intrigues many of our customers.
Can you paint a picture of your cooperation? How do joint projects come about?
Connie: It could start with a design audit.
Klaus: Yes, reviewing a brand or corporate identity.
Connie: Upon initiating a project we first conduct an analysis. We look at everything. Five years of brand history down the road are best. And then the positives and negatives become apparent quite quickly. Then we can decide what our clients truly need. This could be a brand update or a brand refresh. That’s where we assess: Is the typography outdated? Do you see colors a hundred times over? What’s the quality of graphic materials?
We take the visual approach. That’s our strong suit.
Klaus: And why not carry out a ‘Design Thinking Workshop’ or take what we call the ‘shop floor perspective’: Clients give us three to five days and we join them in a workshop. We show them how we operate and what sort of results we achieve. First rounds of rapidly achieved, tangible results, that’s something that delivers benefit to clients.
What are your wishes for the collaboration and the future?
Connie: I hope for further joint projects in addition to the UN project. There are numerous existing clients to whom we can offer improved support through our partnership.
Klaus: And it’s not just existing clients to whom we can offer additional value – for new clients the combination of our fields of expertise makes sense as well. I hope that we continue to collaborate as well as we have and that the exchange between Berlin and New York affects our teams as a true enrichment.
Selected AHOY projects
What can we do for you?
You want to fully tap into the potential of digitalisation at your company? We work with you to develop a solution that is tailored to your business. To this end, we draw upon many years of project experience with commercial clients from various sectors – whether B2B and B2C, medium-sized hidden champions or corporations with global operations.