The most striking thing about James Balmond is his business card; a parallelogram. It shows the essence of what James Balmond spoke about, that universal creatives think differently when he addressed a packed room of Academy of Design students and designers earlier this month. The topic was “The death of discipline. The rise of the [...]


Universal creative; it’s a whole new world of designing


James Balmond addressing AOD students. Pic by Sameera Weerasekera

The most striking thing about James Balmond is his business card; a parallelogram. It shows the essence of what James Balmond spoke about, that universal creatives think differently when he addressed a packed room of Academy of Design students and designers earlier this month.

The topic was “The death of discipline. The rise of the universal creative” and Balmond had been invited by AOD as part of their “Design Katha” series of talks by speakers of local and international backgrounds.

James Balmond believes that creativity is inherent in all of us, that it transcends age or vocation. He believes that for too long people have seen creativity as a manifestation of something tangible from nothing. He believes in applying a broader and more fluid definition of creativity where you would apply creativity across different disciplines. Universal creativity can be defined as the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns and relationships and create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations. Rearranging the sock drawer, for example, can be considered a creative act because you do something differently that was done in conventional way.

Creative Director at Balmond Studios, he has an advertising background. He started as a copy writer, then moved on to art direction for a while and eventually ended up as creative director working in various agencies before going to work for his father, the celebrated architect Cecil Balmond. As creative director, he is in charge of brand structure, strategic development in design, head of the interior design department and maintaining intellectual property across all areas of the company. He has worked with such international brands as Nike, Disney, Louis Vuitton, Nissan, Puma and Nando’s, Starbucks and Toyota applying creative principles to all the projects.

James Balmond spoke about an example in his own life on how the universal creative principle was used. He worked with Disney, Pixar and Sky TV to create an advertisement for the Toy Story of Terror. With many entities working on this project with their own brand ideals to keep up with, they were facing difficulties in communicating with each other to decide on an advertisement. Balmond came up with the idea of creating an online digital platform, so that communication could be easier between them and they would not have to send emails back and forth. In these sites you could attach brand guidelines, chat and get potential time up on things. When sending emails there was no time to react or to change things. According to Balmond coming up with solutions to problems is a creative act.

When Louis Vuitton was taking part in a fashion expo in Tokyo, they wanted to have a conventional stand showcasing their products. Balmond had the idea to not show any product. Not surprisingly, they were extremely confused. The idea was to create a statement, and thus they created a sculpture based on a manufacturing technique. Incorporated into it was an intelligent lighting system that would change, highlighting the sculpture and creating a cultural statement. This created a lot of attention and positive publicity. It also generated an emotional response which created a massive amount of attention for Louis Vuitton, he noted with some satisfaction.

When the sportswear brand Puma needed to create an advertisement for their products for a European football match, Balmond came up with the idea to go to the players and talk to them and let them set the agenda. What they found was that the players had never had the chance to tell their stories, their dreams, and how they got into football before. The idea was to use stories as promotion. They tied up with the winner of ‘Ukraine’s Got Talent’, who told the football players’ stories using sand art. The real creative thought here was to go the players and to listen to their ideas instead of settling for the normal notion of parading the players in Puma gear.

Scales and dimensions are discipline oriented, in the sense that the scaling system is different in architecture versus in interior design. James Balmond believes that theoretical scales are not discipline orientated. For example emergent form born out of mathematical equations, can be scaled down from its usual architectural size to a smaller scale than can be used in interior design. Once you start looking at a methodology that is a not discipline oriented you can take it and apply it to any discipline, he says.

A Freedom structure was made in Los Angeles, USA based on the Cyrus cylinder. An artist took the script and converted it into a numerical one and made the sculpture out of that script. Mr.Balmond had the idea to scale it down and create jewellery from the same source.

To create a culture of universal creatives in a working environment, he explains how there needs to be an internal awareness of different departments that function in an office. The more people know about what others are doing the more they can contribute. He believes in creating an atmosphere of inclusivity, where everyone is invited to create, and express their ideas.

A fluidity of job roles actively encourages people to change, modify and expand their job role, essentially having no limits to what they can do. Creating a creative platform showcasing ideas, innovation, thoughts and content would help create a culture of universal creatives. An environment of creativity increases productivity in his book. An information overload, and exposure to many within your organization, would also foster this culture, which he has created in Balmond Studios.

The benefits of being a universal creative, are that you are more valued. It allows creatives from different disciplines to add new perspectives, and builds feelings of responsibility and ownership within the team which leads to stronger delivery and performance, he told the AOD students, leaving them with a whole bag of ideas to ponder on and use to good advantage.

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