He created the agency Johnson banks way back in 1992, after learning his trade in brand consultancy, design and art direction, all over the world from London to Tokyo, to Sydney and beyond now,
Michael is also a lecturer in universities across the UK, a regular speaker at the world’s leading design and branding conferences while the independent selected them as one of the 10, most notable British designers.
In this article, Michael Johnson shares his experience on how Johnson banks progressed to offering strategy alongside design, the most effective exercises to perform with clients and how workshop collaboration and branding is a unified approach.
So, if you want to learn from one of the most notable designers in the UK about how to run a successful strategy and creative agency, then stick around for this article
Global Branding With Strategy & Design (w/ Michael Johnson)
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How Global Agency Johnson Banks Began
So you’ve been going all of these years and I really wanted to kind of get a feel from your perspective the kind of journey into starting your agency way back then in 1992.
How you arrive at that moment to create that agency and what those early months and that first year were like?
Well, I think the truth is that I was one of those slightly chippy 20-year-old designers and we all know them and meet them yet. Very, very rarely give them a job because they have trouble writing on their forehead.
But I was one of those and I had a series of jobs in my twenties as a graphic designer, principally,
I started off at more filings as a consultant and then I got to work out how to use my hands and become a designer.
This is a long time ago now, I think at the end of the day, I had a dream that when that dream, that sounds a bit, I think in my head, I thought maybe I could start a company by the time I was 30 as it happened.
Turned out to be slightly unemployable by about the age of 28. And then I was sort of slightly lumped into starting a company I went through that.
At the time I did have a client who had got in well with, and we started this thing, Banks, I was the Johnson, he was the Banks. And we started something that was kind of like doing if you like corporate design.
And that lasted okay for a couple of years. And then we kind of had, what did they say in the music? We will have musical differences.
He left quite soon, only after about three years. but I kept the name because I liked it.
So it made it sound big and to answer your question properly.
We rarely, really spent the 90s just trying to do the best graphic designer could do, I won’t pretend that I was trying to change the world or change the graphic design.
I was just trying to prove that I could run a design company that did decent graphic design and 90s graphic design in Britain was an interesting point.
Trying to come out of that 70s, 80s idea thing, but like slightly tweak if you like the design at the time, reacting to new companies, like why not associates and tomato who were very hip at the time.
And that had quite a seismic effect on the business and that was quite an interesting time to be at graphic design.
Why Brand Strategy Has Become So Important
Have you seen an increased understanding and an appetite for what brand strategy is and how important it is?
Because back then, clients didn’t really have the words to really define what it is that they were looking for.
Now, it seems brand strategy is topical and clients need to understand that more.
Is that what you’ve also found that there’s more of an appetite for strategy?
They understand what it is and they’re coming to you wanting more?
Yes. I think it was, we’d go back to that time 20 years ago.
It was the tumbleweed really in terms of how you spend most of your first meeting, just explaining what you thought a brand was and no one was clear.
Now 20 years later, a lot of the things that might’ve been doing 20 years ago have been quite a lot of those presents that have been taken in-house because organizations understand them so well.
I don’t think I’ve done a SWOT analysis for a decade because that’s so often been done in-house.
Increasing the clients, organizational educational, philanthropic, whatever have done where we are. They’ve done a kind of, a bit of a market and now.
Quite a lot of them have done some values because that’s been taken on board by an HR function.
I don’t think it’s been a while since I’ve used a 10 slide explaining what a brand is.
Whereas I used to have to use this all the time 10, 15 years ago, and now it’s quite rare because I can pretty much get into it and we will say, well,
Here there’s a problem. And this is how we’re going to do it.
Yes in answer to your question. I do think that has changed. I mean, I suppose you have to temper that with the fact that you and I have been doing this awhile and it seems more obvious and we are looking aren’t we looking for evidence.
That brand is everywhere. It does feel, the battle has been won.
One brand is anywhere you could paradoxically say, but that perhaps we’re now at the other end of that, where you’re starting to get these battles about what’s the purpose of the brand and why are all these blue-chip organizations pretending that they’re changing the world where they’re not?