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July 27, 2023

The work that made me

Creative Director, Steve Conchie, shares the work that has influenced his career

Steve Conchie

Creative Director

Creative Director, Steve, shares the work that sparked his interest in design and the one project he wished he’d worked on. Well, maybe...

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The ad from my childhood that stays with me…

Here’s where I show my age!! I was born in the early ’70s, so no flashy CGI techniques, just creativity in its rawest form. The one that springs to mind is Hamlet - ‘Photo Booth’. It’s a laugh-out-loud master-class in dialogue-free communication. 60 seconds. One shot and immaculate physical comedy that leaves you guessing to the very end. This ad will be hitting 40 soon, but it’s timeless.

Campaign named it as one of the top 10 funniest commercials of all time. And who would argue with that? Certainly not me.

The design that made me want to get into the industry…

I’m going to be honest here. I’d be lying if I said I’d had an epiphany after viewing a beautiful piece of design.

I was brought up on a council estate in 1970s Liverpool, so I didn’t even know the industry existed until I was well into secondary school.

Looking back and thinking about my early years, I must have been drawn to design without knowing it. Music has seemingly been my back door into design. Album cover art had a big pull for me. I still remember when I saw the iconic Pink Floyd ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ album. It just stood out in a space where there was a lot of noise and clutter. So, I suppose the seed was planted there.

The moment things started to align was mainly borne out of two art teachers who encouraged the hell out of me, giving me side projects, opening my eyes with books on modern art and design, showing me what profession I could have (without forcing it). One even used to give up his time after school to take me to galleries with his wife. So I guess you could say it was those two people and their energy that opened my eyes to it all and kickstarted my love for design. I’m still yet to thank them.

The ad that I keep revisiting…

It’s strange how I’m picking ads here and not design. I’m letting the side down! I’m just a sucker for big ideas though.

There’s so many things I revisit for inspiration for aesthetic, from art, to film, animation and the biggy, simply looking up and around me. Something people just don’t seem to do anymore (which frustrates the hell out of me). However, two ads for me epitomise how creativity makes random connections to create something that gets a visceral reaction.

‘Mr W’ blew me away. No pun intended. You watch and you think “what the hell is going on here?!” Then within the last few seconds, you get the rug pull moment. It all makes sense and you’re in awe.

Guinness - ‘Surfer’ is maybe an obvious one, but when it was released I was still a junior at The Chase and CGI was in its infancy, ads wise. The sheer epicness of it was just incredible. The visual was expertly paired with the soundtrack by Leftfield that builds in unison. Wow! Just bloody wow! For me, this ad shifted the way the brand presented itself for good.

Finally. The ‘Designed by Apple’ animation. It’s a timeless masterpiece I’ll never tire of.

The piece of work that made me so angry that I vowed to never make anything like *that*…

In terms of other people’s work I’ve learned that you shouldn’t judge until you have an idea of the journey they’ve been on and what’s to come when the rollout beds in. I hate it when new work comes out and people jump on the bandwagon to destroy it. It’s not helpful. Look at the 2012 Olympics then versus now for example.

Personally, for my own work, this is by no means a cop out here, but I think getting angry about a given outcome as opposed to learning from it is a waste of energy. Is there work I’ve done that I would like to have been different? 100%. Learn from it, understand that there are things that are out of your control, trust in the process and use it for the next one and the next one.

The piece of work that still makes me jealous…

There’s loads! I’d like to frame it as appreciation though. It has a more positive edge. I love spotting ‘shit that’s so good’ work.

The Superunion (now Design Bridge) BBC2 idents were just stunning for me. Not just the look, but the sheer simplicity of the idea. Additionally, their work for LSO was a work of art. Design craft meets digital art. Gorgeous. Even better when you up the volume!

In terms of ads. I wanted to go past the classics like Cadbury’s ‘Gorilla’ and go for two that just made me laugh out load. Moneysupermarket’s ‘Epic Strut’ pulled the rug from under me. The casting was brilliant.             

The creative project that changed my career…

I was at The Chase Creative Consultants for close to 18 years, so my career didn’t change for a while. Call me a slow burner! However, if we take ‘career changing’ from a learning/progression perspective it would have to be the launch of M&S Bank. Leading a small design team, liaising with interior specialists, bridging 2D with 3D, creating brand films etc. Looking back, I’m sure I was out of my depth, but I learned a lot.

The work that I’m proudest of…

Tough one. I have two. First is rebranding and repositioning Horlicks. It was a bold move made possible by some great strategy and a brave client. The second was before I even started in the industry (bear with me).

I’m going way back to when I was agonising over my student D&AD submission. The brief? To create a piece of direct mail for Thrislington toilet cubicles. The ‘combat range’ of all things. Designed for heavy duty use in large venues such as concert venues and football stadia. I had total brain fog and had a cliche-filled sketchbook. To make things worse, everyone else seemed in control and had their ideas nailed. Anyway, to cut a potentially long story short here, I did two things. I stepped away, binned the lot and then reframed the problem from nicely telling people how good the brand was to confidently challenging people to prove otherwise.

Thrislington toilet cubicles were tough enough to take on a stadium's worth of people, including a full capacity Old Trafford. The DM I created was a chant to the terraces. A challenge. A metre long box (containing a Thrislington branded scarf) with the words ‘come-an-ava-go-if-ye-think-yerard-enough’ emblazoned upon it. The classic footy chant that challenged marauding away fans to do their worst.

The lightbulb moment idea and the D&AD Gold I picked up did many things for me. I got that first hit (that we all chase as creatives) where you know you've nailed it. It also validated me and relieved my crippling self doubt. Finally, it taught me to get a bit more comfortable with the discomfort of playing with a problem for longer, rather than giving in to the urge to jump in and try and solve it all straight away.

I was involved in this and it makes me cringe…

Out of respect for past colleagues I’ll plead the fifth on this one.

The recent project I was involved in that excited me the most…

Funnily enough. It wasn’t a live project. Here at Continuous we’re always looking to keep things fresh. So, we set time aside to keep the creative muscles flexed through what we call ‘training projects’. We take a brand we’d love to work with, create a little hit squad of varied skill sets and experience and off we go. The energy is palpable. Ideas fly. The senior learns, the junior learns. It’s great to see and highly recommended.

This article was originally published in full for LBB – The work that made me: Steve Conchie

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