Denmark’s most exciting young studio tells Amy Hughes why a steady approach is anything but dumb in today’s design world
A few weeks ago a bunch of T-shirts landed on Computer Arts' desks. 'We're with Stupid', their slogans read in an example of tongue-in-cheek self-promo from the Danish studio that is fast becoming known for its friendly approach, striking design - across motion graphics, branding, print and online - and 'why didn't I think of that?!' ideas.
Stupid Studio is headed up by founder and creative director Daniel Gjøde, who founded the studio four years ago in Odense, Denmark's third largest city and the birthplace of Denmark's most legendary storyteller, Hans Christian Andersen. Now himself working to shape and regale the tales that his clients want to tell their audiences, Gjøde's route to the digital creative industry was far from prescribed. "That's a weird story," he says, "but I think it is for many creatives. My education is in electronic engineering, so I have a very technical background, but at the same time I've always been very interested in designing and drawing stuff. I'd been DJing and began to do my own parties, so I started by doing my own flyers. That's how I got really into design - and found out that engineering was so fucking boring!"
The engineering job didn't last long, and, after a year-long stint working on visuals at Danish TV station TV2, Stupid Studio was born. "Right now we're at nine or 10 people," Gjøde continues. "I've seen agencies grow to 50 in the time we've been going, but I think it's important that the growth is organic, that we don't owe any money, that we have our heart in what we do and that we do what we believe in. We are very privileged because we can say no to assignments - we don't have to do stuff to make money."
One of the studio's main players is Matthias Hansen, head of Stupid's Copenhagen branch, which blossomed in January. Hansen, whom Gjøde met through a friend, bought increasing business to the studio, having studied at business school and founded an innovative online student network in Denmark.
"Our creative knowledge is learned from the ground up," says Gjøde "We didn't go to [design] school. Sometimes I get nervous about that, but it's a very personal approach to things: we like to do this, and we like to do it this way."
The Stupid Studio ranks are swelled by those who enable the studio to offer its clients creative solutions from a broad menu of platforms.
"We're all-rounders," says Hansen of himself and Gjøde "so the core is pre-aligned as far as the skills and our views, then we hire in specialists for the jobs."
"Our part is making it look good!" continues Gjøde "We hire specialists to do specialist work - such as 3D work, compositing, visual effects, programming and stuff like that - things that we're not usually hired to do but which is still within the perimeters of what people ask us to do. Also, by using freelancers we can focus on what we're good at rather than trying to do everything, which makes us stronger."
'Strong' is a word that can be carried across an assessment of Stupid Studio. Its gentle rate of growth and use of freelancers means that the business remains robust due to its flexibility; its relationships with its clients have friendship as their backbone; and then, of course, there's the undoubtable quality of the studio's output. In short, Stupid Studio is proof of the power of creative slow-cooking.
"I think that it's important to understand that everything is process," says Daniel of the Stupid Studio work ethic, "that you cannot land the big assignment right away; you cannot land the spaceship on the first day; you have to understand that we start little by little and it gets better and better and better. I think a lot of designers want to do the masterpiece straight away, in the first round. That just gets frustrating for the designer. I love the process, actually. When I go home, I can think, 'What's the next step? Where can we take the client now?'"
But surely, with its name becoming louder on the international design stage, Stupid Studio has ambitions to work with bigger brands that have fatter budgets and grander creative ambitions? It's not necessarily so, Hansen points out:
"The clients that you would expect wouldn't want to go in crazy directions; we've often managed to get them to do that. It's sometimes really surprising. You might imagine that a TV station would be really open, but it's actually pretty conservative; then maybe a more boring client, like a brewery, will want to wander off in to the fresh snow."
"From a portfolio perspective I think it would be fun to work with Nike or Sony," Gjøde picks up, "but I think that some of the clients we have, where we've made friends, where we meet with them, have a drink, come up with new ideas, realise them - that's a dream client to me. And it doesn't matter what their name is."
Slow and steady, then, is the future of Stupid Studio. If there's any studio that we could predict will still be keeping its clients happy in 20 years, it's this one. "I'd like to maybe open up somewhere else in the world in two or three years," says Hansen of his ambitions for the studio. "But then again if it's fun in Copenhagen I wouldn't mind staying there. That's where we want to be in five years: it's still fun, we enjoy our jobs, we meet up with interesting people, and laugh every day. That's the most important thing."
"I agree totally," says Gjøde "In some ways it seems arrogant to say that we just want to have fun, but I think that's a privilege - I think we can have fun doing this, and that's why I decided to quit my job in engineering - because it wasn't fun. Sometimes you have to close one door to open a new one."