Brand of brothers: Eight Partnership’s Chris and Bjorn Fjelddahl are embracing a new design era
Scandinavian brothers Chris and Bjorn Fjelddahl generally have their hands full running Eight Partnership, a branding and design firm with a lengthening list of prestigious international clients.
But that hasn’t stopped them setting their sights on an even bolder ambition: helping to make Hong Kong a true hub for creative industries – including the graphic arts, advertising, brand consulting and visual design – and exploring the power of social media.
“The message now for big companies and brands is that we have entered the era of the ‘design-led’ economy,” says Chris, the younger by two years, the firm’s founder, and a close observer of such developments during his 20-plus years in Hong Kong.
“Taking the example of Apple, executives at a very senior level are realising that everything revolves around design – not just the packaging or the showroom, but the whole business. We experience that in the type of inquiries coming in and the scale is only going to increase.”
Hong Kong Inc is ideally placed to capitalise, but must move fast to pivot business models, remould thinking and accept that, in the battle for profits and corporate supremacy, a new set of rules now applies. For example, when it comes to advertising the latest product or service, or planning ways to enhance a brand, the process is no longer top-down and one-way, with the overall impact depending to a large extent on the size of budget.
Initially coming to Hong Kong in the 1990s to intern at a couple of logistics and marketing firms, Chris saw the city as the obvious place to start a business. Since childhood, he’d had the urge to create and build and, beginning on the living room table, he wanted to give branding and consulting work a shot “until the money ran out”. A first small contract with Shell got the ball rolling, after which he never looked back.
Bjorn came on board 14 years ago after working for sports-related company Neil Pryde, which included stints in France, Hawaii and Hong Kong. Since joining Eight, he has been instrumental in moving the firm beyond a purely local clientele with the addition of prestigious projects in mainland China, Singapore and progressively further afield.
There is no division of responsibilities per se, with both ready to take on client-facing duties and supervise the creative output. “Not that we agree on everything, but it has generally gone very well,” Bjorn says. “We did have open and frank discussions before I joined and agreed if it didn’t work out, I would get out quickly, so as not to affect our family relationship.”
The pair grew up in France, after their father was transferred to manage a Swedish factory in the paper industry, and both went on to university in Paris. Bjorn read law and Chris opted for an undergraduate degree in finance and economics.
Nowadays, they find regular travel is the best way of keeping a finger on the pulse, with visits to Milan, New York and London now an annual fixture.
“You have to know what the big names are doing and be aware how trends develop,” Bjorn says. “In every city, I will look at the retail shops, restaurants, galleries and museums to see how they deliver an experience or communicate a concept. You want to understand how the ‘magic’ comes together from the way they curate, present or sell a product.”
“It is not a formula, but there are hot spots where all this congregates,” Chris adds. “Places where you get the vibe of a city and the sense of emotive impact. You have to visit these places to stay on the leading edge.”
Success, the brothers say, now requires new kinds of creativity. With the explosion of social media and mobile devices, the consumer now communicates in different ways. By having the “power to talk”, he or she can influence friends, followers and the wider world either for or against something like never before.
There are also, the brothers note, multiple touch points where the consumer can interact with a brand. Therefore, an inventive campaign must now look beyond such brand-building staples as prominent logos, TV spots and celebrity endorsements. It must stretch to the perhaps much greater possibilities of viral videos or positive word-of-mouth – and forwarded photos – generated by an eye-catching store façade.
The key is to sense what will work best for each client and then bring it about. That involves an extensive range of skills to understand the zeitgeist, the mind of target consumers, and the graphics and visuals best able to create desirability and appeal to the emotions.
“Coming up with concepts is always a collaborative effort,” Bjorn says. “We spend a lot of time together with clients to find the nuggets and the ideas that can make a brand or a campaign something great. We’re not the people to hire if companies don’t want to discuss things openly or aren’t ready to [break new ground].”
In many cases, though, the temptation to take the hi-tech route or dazzle with pixels is firmly resisted.
“We’ve got a very specific philosophy and believe in ‘invisible technology’,” Chris says. “Our team won’t obsess about using something hi-tech just for the sake of it. We prefer to push that to the bottom of the list, refocusing clients instead on the importance of the ‘human touch’ and advocating the value of good ideas.
“We also point out that the whole combination of materials, lighting, sounds and smells can be used to articulate a message, but everything has to be harmonious to really support the brand.”
The Fjelddahls’ five finest tips for getting into the creative field.
Go by ‘the book’ “For jobseekers, a great deal depends on their book of work, which these days can include digital items. Employers want to see how students conceive and convey their ideas and, in particular, that their book is well cared for. What candidates select and how they present it says a lot about the individual. Unfortunately, the overall quality still varies widely.”
Widen your horizons “Be prepared to put yourself out there by taking every opportunity to travel and pick up different kinds of work experience.”
Be afraid of nothing “We like people with a fearless attitude. They are the sort who want challenges and, to use an analogy, are more likely to get speeding tickets than parking tickets.”
Keep moving ahead “In each team, we hope to see people constantly questioning themselves and with the spirit to drive things forward and push the envelope.”
Live in the moment “In creative businesses, everything comes down to what you are doing now. A good academic background can help, but someone atypical may be what’s needed.”
This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Brand of Brothers.