140 BBDO: The creative agency that’s all about making ‘rad stuff’

Illustrator and graphic designer Emma Strydom works at 140BBDO, the agency behind the colourful zine, I Get Paid for ThisWhat started out as a project to showcase agency culture; the moments, people, conversations and ideas that make the work possible but occur behind-the-scenes, has turned into a well-supported venture coinciding with First Thursdays. 

The proceeds of the zines and affiliated artworks, fashion and accessories go towards 140 BBDO’s SEED Library initiative which builds beautiful libraries for SA’s youth in township schools. We spoke to Emma about how the project came about, the work of 140 BBDO and what it’s like working as an in-house designer.

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140 BBDO. What’s the history behind the name?

If you can’t tweet it, beat it.

As a designer, how do you distinguish yourself from the burgeoning creative scene in Cape Town?

It’s tough because everyone is doing sick things. With 140BBDO, I’ve become almost addicted to social awareness. I love creating and making things, but the cherry on the cake is always if I can help someone or a cause somehow. It’s not compromising on good design but rather showing that others not in tune with it can appreciate it and see the power of change it can bring. Don’t get me wrong; there is always room to make something purely ’cause its cool. There are so many layers to design; you just need to design through it all and see what makes you happiest. For me, everything around me is design, and I want to make everything and anything. I don’t want to limit my creativity at all. I want to do it all and do it well, and that’s the hardest work.

140 BBDO has worked with some notable brands. What are some of the creative challenges that come with well-established brands?

Earning their trust so they can make jumps with you. No one will ever see your idea how you see it in your head. You can never assume they do. You must bring it to life (with enthusiasm) for them and believe in it or they never will.

How do you balance the client’s needs with your creative vision?

You always want to give clients what they want, but it’s what they need that’s important. You need to understand your client – from their worries to what they do as a hobby. Then you can connect on another level. It is part of my job as a visual problem solver to do the absolute best visual execution for them based on their needs. That’s the challenge, and when you are both happy, then it’s a job well done. Again it is trust, you are the professional, and they should trust that you will always do what is best for them. If I can’t come up with a creative solve based on their needs that I’m happy with, then I haven’t done my job all that great.

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The agency recently created a zine, I Get Paid for This that now funds libraries in schools in townships. What inspired this project?

Well, the zine was actually never created to fund libraries. It was a creative outlet for us to showcase agency culture. Our mantra at BBDO is, “The work. The work. The work”. So our agency decided to go, “The workers. The workers. The workers”, and focus on all our direct and indirect collaborators, who are our second family. They make the work possible. They make it worth doing. They are the people with whom we share peculiar ideas that don’t always make their way to our brands. The zine represents the chance to document these people, these moments, these conversations and what we do, in the hopes that they’ll live forever. 

Why is the zine called I Get Paid For This?  

When we joined First Thursdays and got all the agency folk to make rad stuff, we thought let’s make rad stuff for good. It’s one thing to do something cool for yourself but it’s sooo much more fulfilling when it can benefit someone else. That’s why we called it I Get Paid For This (so whatever you create and put out there you get paid for it). And as a bonus, you get paid for making a change in someone’s life. What more can you ask for?

We have worked on our S.E.E.D. libraries project for years now and have created nine [zines]. We have another five planned for this year. So knowing this and witnessing our recipe work, it was a no-brainer that we should link the I Get Paid For This with the library initiative.

How important are passion projects to develop an agency’s and individual’s design language?

It’s important in the sense that you get to do those things you don’t always get to do. And I think in the sense of acting quick, fighting for the ideas and ultimately doing what is right for them and not you. Every project should look different because their problems are different. I find you get an amount of creative freedom with these projects that allows you to be more experimental and offbeat. From that, you can play with a bag of fun new toys. Somewhere along the line, a big brand project will want some crazy, and then you are ready to run.

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How would you describe 140 BBDO’s style of work; visually and regarding company culture?

I wouldn’t say we have work style. We are all about “the work the work the work”. Each of our brands is different, so we adapt that to the style they need. Culturally, we are honest and welcoming. I’m sure many at 140BBDO would say it genuinely is like home and a cheeky second family. I mean you see these people more than your mother. Bonding is bound to happen.

What’s your view on South African graphic artwork, specifically when it comes to agency work? In what areas do you think we’re successful and what areas do you think we can improve on?

It is all super exciting. It’s like we are thriving and you can see it from international brands tapping into it. Design is the face of brands, and we all know what first impressions can do. We can improve by doing and trying more and not being scared to fail.

What kinds of work would 140 BBDO love to work on moving forward?

Work that wants to collaborate. Work that believes in the power of creativity. Work that believes that creativity can change things. We want brave and ambitious work. 

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