Voices

“If you feel like you are being held back, get out”

Fura Jóhannesdóttir, Chief Design Officer at Huge on taking risks, breaking down the barriers between physical and digital and the power of challenging the status quo.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director

Share


The bigger risk is not to take a risk at all; this is the ethos that sits at the heart of Fura Jóhannesdóttir, Chief Design Officer at Huge’s advice to the next generation of creative talent. By choosing to sit still and not speak up, creative talent risks choosing what she describes as “a slow death”.

In place of trying to please everyone, the straight-talking and clear-sighted Jóhannesdóttir urges creative talent to speak up. “It doesn't matter what level you are, speak up and express your thinking and your ideas,” she says. 

For creative talent who feel they don’t have the room to grow or to be heard, Jóhannesdóttir has a simple piece of advice: leave. She explains: “People need to jump more often, that's how you make your career and your life, by taking a risk.”

Jóhannesdóttir was talking as part of the Game Changers interview series and in an expansive interview with Samantha Brookes, Global Managing Partner of The Blueprint, Jóhannesdóttir shared her design philosophy, as well as her approach to challenging the status quo as a leader. 

How design can shake up the status quo

The intersection of the digital and physical worlds is where Jóhannesdóttir has built her career. She jettisoned a planned career in architecture in favour of a small agency in Iceland before packing up her life to go to the renowned Parsons School of Design in New York to hone her craft. Twelve years at R/GA followed where she worked on industry-defining work for brands including Nike. She then moved to Publicis Sapient where she worked on brands including RBS, Lloyds Bank and Nissan, before she landed at Huge, where she is leading the design team globally.  

The red thread across her career has been a drive to challenge established thinking and push the boundaries of design. “There is a lot of status quo in our industry,” she explains. She points to the fact that one of the things agencies are guilty of is just focusing on pleasing the client. “You have to challenge, you have to push boundaries,” she adds.

This inertia and protection of the status quo is having a knock on impact on the future of design and creativity in business. “I am really worried,” she says. “Why is everyone replicating what the other person is doing? If we dont break out of that, design becomes irrelevant.” As she declares eloquently: “We are designing the world so why would it always look and feel the same?”

She points to the need for brands and agencies alike to embrace holistic thinking and “be a little restless.” This approach extends to being more mindful and understanding of the responsibility that brands have to do better. From equality to sustainability, the question for Jóhannesdóttir is a holistic one: “How are we going to push brands to do better?”

Strive to be one step ahead

For Jóhannesdóttir the breaking down of the walls between physical and digital experiences is a key opportunity for the industry. She explains: “Kids today don't see a difference between digital and physical. There is no wall; it's the world...you realise that the walls are breaking down and it needs to be much more holistic.” It is a moment that provided a creative fuel and while at R/GA, she had the opportunity to work in a very playful way in this space. Recalling an interactive music video the team built for Rhianna, it was the experience of the tech, creative and designers figuring out how to make it happen. 

When she secured a job at R/GA, she didn’t know it would be the defining moment of her career. She recalls: “It was famous for being a sweatshop, I had friends working there and I knew it was going to be hard, but I went in there.”

“Everything was new and when I was at R/GA i felt like we were creating the business and designing the business and really working out how we would use digital and how it would play a role in people’s lives. Innovation was just a demand,” she adds.

Working with clients such as Nike, she constantly had to strive to be one step ahead. Pointing to her experience at R/GA, she explained that opportunities kept happening and you felt like you were constantly evolving and leadership was constantly redefining. It is this experience of growth that she believes is key to building your creative career. “You need to figure out what kind of places will allow that to happen. Find the right environment and thrive,” she says. 

We need to be firestarters for brands and help them see above it, and play the role of pulling brands out of the day to day.

Fura Jóhannesdóttir

Hybrid futures

For Jóhannesdóttir the role of agencies is clear: to give brands a more holistic view of their products and markets. She explains: “we need to be firestarters for brands and help them see above it, and play the role of pulling brands out of the day to day.” 

In the wake of the rise of more hybrid and in-house models for creative execution and production, she also believes that agencies need to be more comfortable with delivering the idea and then it being executed in house. 

Designing a more hybrid, challenging future for brands and agencies alike, demands being more comfortable with challenging the status quo. Of being unafraid of the changes that lie ahead and the need to jump, whether into a new role, a new way of working, or a completely fresh brand proposition. For the straight-talking Jóhannesdóttir embracing this change is so integral to her creative approach it is almost instinctive. A clarity of thinking which is invaluable for an industry in the midst of a fundamental shift. 

 

In a highly competitive industry, it is not always easy to take the time and space to think critically about leadership capabilities. Or to give critical thought to the leadership structures and mindsets that give a business the best conditions to thrive.

With this in mind, The Blueprint has teamed up with Creativebrief to launch the Game Changers interview series. Each month we will be delivering insights from the industry’s leading game-changers who think and act differently and are unafraid to challenge the status quo.

Related Tags

Design Game Changers