No, not the pastry. Well, yes, the pastry is from there too, but Daniel Gjøde brought a reminder that the small country has Vikings, a queen, and a really incredible design culture that has generated the likes of Gjøde, and his agency, Stupid Studios.The bold, somewhat silly name doesn’t reflect on the strategic vision of the company at all; Stupid Studios has some very, very smart cookies within its walls. Almost immediately, the 36-year-old notes that the agency encourages people to take time off, and that it puts its people first to keep them doing great work, and doing it for a long time. Stupid Studios knows that working hard means working smart, and not just working a lot; it means encouraging personal projects to get the team working in new directions that might just create some very real projects for the company. As Gjøde puts it, combined with a little project-to-project strategy and research, they “have room for creativity.”
“Stupid Studios has some very, very smart cookies.”
The Stupid Studios name flows from its creative attitude that’s a rather surprising departure from the hyperarticulated nature of design; sometimes, they don’t know what they’re doing, and there’s not an elaborate explanation for something. Sometimes, they just trust their guts, follow their hearts, and challenge the established conventions.
Gjøde isn’t just talk, though; as an exercise in thinking stupid, he gets the audience on their feet and encourages them to gaze up at the ceiling and quack like ducks. At first, the quacking is hesitant, and a little shy. With a little time and a slight push from Gjøde, however, the audience is quacking up a storm. PS, apparently, the sound ducks make in Danish is “rap.” So take a moment to consider that the audience of a type conference was rapping, that this wasn’t necessarily a first, or just sit back and enjoy the idea of some rapping ducks. Thanks, Denmark!
Quacking exercise complete, Gjøde moved into the work happening at Stupid Studios, starting with their work on the employee values for the Town Hall of Odense; as he puts it, can you think of anything more boring? Stupid Studios identified the generic nature of values as one of the central issues facing the company, and so they tried to breathe some life into the values, creating a set of iconic cartoon characters to show what those values look like in practice. It’s phenomenal; out of a values statement, Stupid Studios has characters dancing, jumping over chasms, and building a human pyramid. There’s a motivational button, a blooper reel, and even a cute little pup with a whole lot of character.
“Challenge the Brief”
Stupid Studios isn’t a one-trick pony, though; their work spans industries and styles, playing with graphic design, animated type. The agency focuses on having fun, learning, and building a portfolio that they can be proud of showing. These values were highlighted in their bold work with Bianco footwear – “the shoes nobody wanted to be seen wearing.” They called the company out on its outdated and uncool brand, citing a little bit of user research and sporting big smiles to drive the point home. Their strategy worked (again, Stupid Studios is more about a philosophy – they’re quite smart!), and the marketing crew embarked on a new creative direction that played with the work of new artists each season to play with the ideas behind shoes, fashion, and the Bianco brand. Under Stupid Studio’s creative direction, Bianco’s brand became colorful, playful, and yet beautifully chic.
“Listen to your heart”
Gjøde’s final case study involved a policy campaign with Greenpeace meant to tackle the problem of overfishing in European waters. The brief offered a number of challenges, namely in the multiple audiences; on the one hand, they needed to influence policy makers, yet they also needed the campaign to work with the public. Steering away from the gloom of your standard public awareness campaign, Stupid Studios created a nautical identity, getting people engaged with flashes of color and a tempered optimism that delivered the facts, got people engaged in the campaign, and changed the policy that they were targeting. How’s that for a happy ending?
That’s probably the most exciting thing about the work happening at Stupid Studios. Everything they touch feels relatable, and it works. As Gjøde articulates it, “design can change the world – or at least, it can be a catalyst for change.” He reminds us to do everything with a little heart, and keep your eyes open for the “happy accidents” as they come along. Avoid the tunnel vision that can come when you focus too much, stay curious and passionate about the world around you, and stay stupid.
Founding Partner & Creative Director (Copenhagen, Denmark)
I'm 36. Creative Director, Windsurfer and Father.
I founded Stupid Studio in 2006 – an independent digital creative agency set out to do stuff for good companies, who believe they can change stuff to the better, funnier, or simply more comfortable.
I’ve been working with motion graphics and digital concepts within culture and television for longer than I can reasonably remember, and it has given me a user-centered approach to what I do. It's all about creating something of value, that means something to people.
I've appeared on many conference platforms waving my arms enthusiastically and shouting stuff about the stuff we do, and I'm a proud board member of Design Denmark and the Advisory Board of the Danish School of Media & Journalism, where I ruthlessly decide the future of young students (usually while laughing frantically).
Recently I pulled the plug and went travelling with my family for 5 months. To get away. To focus and find myself again. To find out what matters.
I never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
Text — Ricky Holtz (@AyyRickay)