Founded in 1965 by Wally Olins and Michael Wolff, the company has remained ahead of the creative curve ever since. And its ground-breaking and boundary-pushing designs are rarely out of the headlines; most notably its branding of the 2012 London Olympics, which attracted a level of controversy that reverberates throughout the profession today.
We chatted to global CEO Sairah Ashman and chief design officer Chris Moody about the advantages of scale, how they find the best talent, and the power of being weird.
What’s the story behind Wolff Olins?
Sairah Ashman: We were born in London in 1965, a time when it felt like anything was possible; when you could change the world and a lot of people felt motivated to do so. This underlying drum beat is a huge part of how we’ve grown up, and intrinsic to who we are today. It’s also no coincidence that we think effortlessly in a very left- as well as right-brain way; strategically and creatively. Our original founders, Wally Olins and Michael Wolff, each came out of strategy and design. So this notion of fusing the two together is a natural and specific part of our DNA.
How does the company operate today?
SA: Right now, we have studios in London, New York and San Francisco. Our US studios cover North and South America, while London serves Europe and beyond. There are around 140 of us full-time. Our scale means we can assemble teams from around our studios and bring in specialist partners to amplify our impact. We’re big enough and experienced enough to take on the most ambitious, global and complicated of assignments, while being small and agile enough to find the smartest way to operate.
Chris Moody: Our teams are built on a troika of creatives, strategists and programme managers; we have our focus but we encourage blurring of the lines. We’ve had designers that have become strategists and vice versa. That’s especially great for clients because they buy a team of broad talent, not a seductive, but limited, couple of egos.
What’s it like working with some of the biggest companies in the world?
CM: One of the reasons I love working here is that our direct clients tend to be very senior and influential. This means we have to be on our game, but it also means what we do together can have genuine impact, quickly.
SA: We want to create significant change in the world, but we recognise that at our scale we won’t individually change the world. However, our clients certainly have the ability to.
CM: Our rich heritage and background knowledge gives us the strength to be almost naive in the early stages of a project. Being bold enough to ask the dumb questions everyone is thinking, but usually too scared to ask at the start of a project makes for smarter work at the end. This probably helps us create transformative work.
So what have you been working on recently?
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