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(published by courtesy of Package & Design - one of the most influential professional design magazines in China)
Among the communication design entries in this year’s iF DESIGN AWARD competition, a project with much “red” won a gold. The jury described it as “Stunning – a corporate identity built around a drop of blood.” The designers behind this award-winning project, the MLL Munich Leukemia Lab, run one of the largest owner-operated branding agencies in Germany – KMS TEAM.
KMS TEAM was founded in 1984 and has over 36 years of consulting experience and international expertise. It works for clients from a broad range of industries, such as automotive, banking, technology, and cultural institutions. 75 experts work in
interdisciplinary teams: Strategy, Digital, Branding, Communication, and Implementation work together to find smart solutions.
Their professional background ranges from economics and communications to design and digital. In addition to creative design,
KMS has many years of experience in the fields of advertising, journalism, literary studies, and linguistics.
Believing in the power of collaboration, KMS TEAM rises by lifting others.
Over the years, KMS TEAM has created more than 300
successful branding projects for their clients, including Audi, BMW Motorrad, Bentley, Canyon Bicycles, Porsche Motorsport, Volkswagen, ŠKODA, Vitra, Diakonie, MAN Energy Solutions, JINS, OSRAM Contiental, Zürcher Kantonalbank, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, and University of Heidelberg, to name just a few. For all the projects, KMS TEAM collaborates with the clients to transform
brands into effective strategic management tools that define clear goals, simplify operational decisions, and ensure the viability of
organizations and companies over the long term. The excellent works of KMS TEAM have also won numerous design awards. For this issue, Package & Design conducted an exclusive interview with Patrick Märki, Managing Partner of KMS TEAM, and selected some exceptional design works of KMS TEAM.
About the ŠKODA (image above and slider gallery below): ŠKODA wanted to change its customers rational purchasing decisions into emotional connections by strengthening the design at all of the brand’s touchpoints. KMS TEAM developed a new corporate design based on the brand essence, “Driven by Inventiveness”, and the brand’s rich heritage. Based on the design vocabulary of Czech cubism and the facets of Bohemian glass KMS TEAM develop the DNA crystal. Its design is a symbol for the spirit and core of the ŠKODA brand. The design grid for all corporate design elements is derived from it, from the layout system to typography.
Q: Package & Design | A: Patrick Märki, Managing Partner of KMS TEAM
Q: First of all, congratulations to KMS TEAM for its 5 projects that won the iF DESIGN AWARD this year. One of them, the “Blood Samples. MLL Munich Leukemia Lab” project, won an iF gold award. Could you please talk about the creative concept and highlights behind this gold award-winning work?
A: The MLL Munich Leukemia Laboratory works tirelessly to create the best diagnostics possible to tackle a cancer that afflicts so many people. The aim of the new corporate design is to leverage MLL’s claim “See behind. Go beyond” by illustrating their diagnostic and therapeutic approach and make them easily understandable. The central idea is the visualisation of reading information from blood. As the main symbol of MLL’s work, blood cells become the key visual. On top, they constitute a complete visual language in every capillary of their visual appearance and convey the Laboratory’s innovative spirit.
Q: KMS TEAM works in small, independent teams of experts on strategy, digital, branding, communication, and implementation. Could you please talk about this working mode?
A: Our process is not: strategy first and at some point down the line the designers take over and superimpose a design system. But: From the start of a project the team thinks and works holistically. And by working alongside each other from the start, everyone has a deep understanding of the WHY, WHAT and HOW of the project. This is the key for successful branding processes – as no two are ever the same.
Q: You’ve said, “Good creation is the result of a thorough
understanding of the content.” Could you please talk about KMS TEAM’s typical working process after taking over a new project, especially the “thorough understanding of the content” process?
A: The work of a branding agency is only relevant if it can consult a client on a task/question/challenge, meaning if it is able to think strategically. We always get to the core of a business before we start to design. Good design is not a means to an end but translates strategy into a visual language which people can relate to.
About "KMS Calendar: #sticktogether" (see image above): KMS TEAM’s 2016 Christmas gift produced the sticker book #sticktogether. The medium reminds everyone to take a moment and slow down: ESC. The stickers create new, unexpected and LOL moments as they playfully connect analogue media with digital speed ASAP. #Sticktogether represents KMS TEAM’s approach to creating UNIQUE solutions together with their clients. HELL YEAH!
Q: One of the five important principles of KMS TEAM is “No buzzwords.” Why is that?
A: We have a deep belief that buzzwords and empty phrases are not the way to work with clients. We want to understand them and we want them to understand us.
Q: You’ve said, “I believe if we as designers lack the ability to make decisions, we cannot change and grow over the long term.” Could you please explain that?
A: Courage is the key word here. It takes courage to make decisions and to challenge the status quo, to dare to think differently. This includes challenging the client and to take them on a branding journey where you get to the core of the matter, discuss possibilities and in the end reach the best result – together. It is a key skill in a world which is rapidly changing.
About "Canyon" (see image above): Canyon Bicycles develops high-quality sport bicycles and sells them exclusively through the internet. The ultimate cycling experience is the visual and atmospheric focus of the entire brand world, expressed in the overarching theme and tagline »Pure Cycling«. Since 2006, the company benefits from a brand identity and strategy that accelerates decision-making as well as product and service innovations. It has become Europe’s fastest growing bicycle brand and has revolutionized an entire industry.
About "University of Heidelberg" (see image above): KMS TEAM developed the brand architecture for the departments at Ruprecht-Karls University of Heidelberg. The new system guarantees a logical and transparent visual identity for the university that combines tradition and future viability. The design and concept of University of Heidelberg’s semiannual research magazine, »Ruperto Carola«, was updated as part of the institution’s corporate design relaunch. The university tagline, »The future since 1386«, inspires the opposites chosen to shape the content and design of the publication. Each issue is dedicated to a different subject relevant to society today.
Q: KMS TEAM believes in the power of collaboration, and
KMS TEAM rises by lifting others. So how exactly do you
do that in your collaboration with clients?
A: Rise by lifting others is our core belief: it always takes two to reach a great goal together. We do not start projects by making the client believe we know everything. In fact, no one knows everything in a world as complex as the one we live in. We learn constantly and we challenge ourselves constantly. We want to grow and we want to help others grow.
In addition to creative design, KMS TEAM has many years of experience
in the fields of advertising, journalism, literary studies, and
linguistics. Why does KMS TEAM pay so much attention to accumulating
experience in these areas?
A: Language is part of a brand. How does a brand speak to me? We live in a world of voice interfaces – so language becomes a central factor in how I experience a brand. If we activate a brand, we have to think of its voice. It is one of many means of brand expression. Just like the design is its visual expression.
About "BMW Motorrad" (see image above): KMS TEAM worked closely with BMW Motorrad to craft the new positioning: The brand now stands for self-determination and aesthetic clarity. Like the experience of riding a BMW machine, the new brand identity moves in the space between the emotional and rational. This provides opportunities for people to identify with the brand. The new corporate design is full of pure joy and inspiration. The theme resonates through even the smallest details. The strong logo and distinctive typeface give the brand a self-confident look.
Q: Over the years, KMS TEAM has won numerous awards, including 80 iF Design Awards. What do you think is the significance for a design agency to participate
and win an award? KMS TEAM is a prolific team; do you
have a certain “standard” in deciding that a product “should be given a shot at the design awards”? Which project are you most proud of over the past years?
A: Yes, we have a standard: We only submit highlight projects which communicate a clear and strong idea. And we want to offer our designers the opportunity to win awards. Yet, awards have become a business in itself and you can spend a lot of time and money on them. We rather spend the time with clients and the money on enhancing the skills of our team. But yes, we are proud of our work: Canyon Bicycles stands out especially, as it has revolutionized a whole industry in terms of business model and design standards.
Q: Since you joined KMS TEAM in 2000, what stages have
you experienced in your professional development from newcomer to Managing Partner? What are the biggest changes in going from Creative Director to Managing Partner? We know that you studied music before entering
the design industry, so what effect does your experience
in the music world have on your design creation?
A: It has been a fantastic journey for me with the team: from designer to Design Director, from Creative Director to Managing Partner. As managing partner, I have grown the most as I oversee all creative projects of the agency and actively shape our approach to design. My music studies have always been a great help to me: Music is the key to the emotions of a brand for me. It is like another dimension – on top of the visual design. I understand the concepts of rhythm, improvisation, harmony. And while music only lasts a fleeting instant, communication design has a lasting effect. That is what triggered me to change from music to design.
Q: You have created sustainable design systems for Audi, Bentley Motors, Canyon Bicycles, JINS, Porsche Motorsport, University of Heidelberg, VW, and Zürcher Kantonalbank, among others. So how should we understand “sustainable design systems”?
A: Sustainable design systems help companies grow. They are no hard and fast set of rules but rather tools or principles that help companies and institutions to adapt their products and services to changing markets, customer habits and touchpoints.
About "Diakonie: Corporate Design" (see image above): Diakonie Deutschland – as point of contact for 10 million people and over 500,000 employees – is a charitable organisation with an influential social voice. The task was to rework Diakonie’s image and to develop a new visual language. It was to be direct yet dignified, concrete yet playful and emotional. KMS TEAM’s idea: illustrations and an eye-catching style that allows difficult issues to be visualised with a sense of hope.
Q: In your experience, do clients always figure out what their brand needs? What do you think is the key to the longevity of companies and brands? What role does design play in this process?
A: No, very often the client gives us a briefing and as we discuss it with them, they realize that in fact their challenge is very different to what they thought it was. Today, companies have to anticipate change. That is why it is essential they understand that their brand is part of a whole ecosystem – which takes everything around it into account. Then, in reverse, the brand is a management tool which facilitates change. Design is the visual expression of that mindset.
Q: What is the secret of KMS TEAM’s longevity in the design field? In these times of digital transformation, how
do the demands of clients compare to those of the past,
and how does KMS TEAM respond to these challenges?
A: Our secret – which is no secret – is that the team comes first. We have a very unique KMS TEAM company culture. Projects today have become more complex – in line with the increased complexity of our world. That’s why the best solutions are reached by a team rather than a single person. Rise by lifting others!
(Source: Package & Design, 2020, May Issue, p. 64-75)
More from the series of the Package & Design Magazine, May Issue 2020: