ceft and company interview with british airways: global creativity and communication

interview with ucef hanjani, creative director and founder of ceft and company new york

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

Our work is so related to the individual brands that we work with, that the initial spark or inspiration always comes from within the brands history itself. Be it Ferragamo or Nike, Fendi or Krug Champagne, each one puts us at a very different starting point. Then of course, you take that spark and you set fire to it with relevant references that A) pass our standards of what’s great and B) resonate with the brand’s audience. For me, inspirations mostly come from the street and the life one lives but also from architecture and films, especially those made by the handful of directors—like Monty Hellman, Michelangelo Antonioni, Sam Peckinpah, Orson Wells, and Jean-Luc Godard—who saw communication as a language that has to be reinvented in order to be noticed. Art, of course, is always a resource, but personally I think it’s often overrated. You see, what we do is quite different than art, it’s really less about us than the problem we are trying to solve. It’s about the brand and the audience but it’s seen through our filter, and that filter can make a world of difference. I would say our world is closer to architecture than art: We take a problem and have to creatively and technically solve it. And I have to say that I find that much more challenging and interesting.

Do you work on multiple projects at once? If so, how do you keep the ideas for each separate?

We are always working on multiple projects at once and that’s great actually, as it allows us to change gears and freshen up. It’s like being a character actor… you have to be a prince one day, a plumber the next. And no, we rarely mix up the prince and the plumber.

In addition to your work you’ve always got various projects going on, and you’ve got twins, how do you find the time and energy to do everything?

Oh yes the balance of life and work. Well my life has always been about my work, or I should say my work has always been about my life. They are really inseparable as they are quite intertwined. My twins, who I might add are the youngest girls to have been published in Vogue, just turned 4 and their mother is quite an avid traveler, being a photographer. This does get complicated, especially since I travel as well, and often my work hours are fluctuating depending on whether our client is in Japan or New York or somewhere in Europe. Painting exotic fishes and watching Tin Tin episodes with daddy on weekends is something I think we all look forward to.

Are there certain visual or text elements that people are typically drawn to? Explain?

I think there are always the cliché visuals that do draw a certain amount of attention, such as sex, shock, and vulgarity, but I think any decent creative’s aim is to avoid those and search for visuals that are curious or uncommon within the world of the audience they are speaking to. For us this approach toward visuals takes on an additional filter, which is its appropriateness for the brand. Although there are global ideals, I find that a visual that can draw attention and work well in the US may not necessarily work as well in the UK. The aspirational image of a modern girl in Japan is quite different than, say, Italy… so the audience takes on a key role in such decisions. Regarding copy, I always feel less is more. Visuals are by nature more of a universal language than any copy can ever be. My rule is that if there is copy it should only say what is lacking in the visual. This can work quite well with national campaigns, but when dealing with international campaigns copy can also become very tricky as subtle meanings of words can extensively change the idea of the campaign.

You have to communicate both with clients and with the general public, what are the differences in the ways you approach those two audiences?

I think communicating to the public is generally much easier than communicating to clients themselves. It’s the objectivity issue that comes into play. When work is done for someone specific it becomes very personal, and while we try to keep our personal tastes and biases out of our own work, it’s much harder to expect a client to do that. We often have to remind ourselves, and our clients, that the work we are creating is not for either of us, but for the audience we are aiming to reach. That said, we are well aware that our role is similar to an architect, where the house we are building must feel comfortable and functional to the clients who will occupy it as well as those who visit it. It’s a delicate balance and I think you have to address both issues in order for the piece to work and have longevity. You miss one aspect and the work can be good, but never great.

Excerpts from interview with journalist Amy Westervelt. Amy is a contributor to Conde Nast amongst other publications.