Simon Dixon is co-founder of DixonBaxi an international branding agency. As a designer, creative director and strategic thinker, Simon has explored where creativity, design, and technology overlap for well over two and a half decades.
We discuss so many great topics focused on confidence, rejection, and self-control. Simon shares some incredible insights you might not expect someone with over 2 decades of experience to say. His take on accessibility for people not just decision makers at companies is worth the listen alone.
We also discuss:
- Rejecting fear, self-doubt, and imposter syndrome
- The bullshit ways in the industry you "should" work
- The reward of taking risks and falling versus not taking them at all
- Rejecting the idea of settling and not falling into the comfort trap
- The risk of creating bubbles when we don't celebrate differences
- How creativity defines who you are
- Your job is to focus on how you can improve your part of the world with the skills you have
- Finding people to invite to your culture who add richness instead of people who replicate you
Here is the transcript from the conversation.
Please note we use an automated transcription process that is not 100% accurate. If you read something that seems a little off, it may not have been transcribed correctly. We try our best to catch them. If you catch one, shoot us a note so we can update it!
Simon: [00:00:04] The world always is changing. And I think that's the thing to figure out is like, how are you moving with that change? And I think a lot of people get shocked by the fact that the world's changing. They get kind of confused that things are changing and the world isn't a steady state and creativity definitely isn't a steady state, it’s something that you feel with whatever experiences you have and you turn that into the thing you want to make.
Ian: [00:00:28] Welcome to Frequencies, a podcast that shares stories and practical advice from creative leaders around the world. The podcast has been on hiatus the last few months, and I'm happy to be back with a great conversation.
I’m Ian Ernzer and I hope you enjoy my conversation with Simon Dixon of DixonBaxi—hot on the heels of their recent, huge rebrand of Hulu. Simon’s is the co-founder of DixonBaxi, an international branding agency. He's a designer, creative director and strategic thinker who’s explored where creativity, design and technology overlap for well over two and a half decades. Simon Dixon. Welcome to Frequencies. Thanks for joining me today.
Simon: [00:01:11] I'm very happy to be here, so I look forward to it.
Ian: [00:01:15] All right. Well, I like to start these conversations off just by asking you where you're from and what did you think you would be when you grew up?
Simon: [00:01:23] Yeah, I'm from the North of England, a place called York in the UK.
So kind of provincial tourist city about 125-150,000 people. And when I grew up, I was home educated. My parents were quite Bohemian and I grew up in the seventies and early eighties. It was a good time in the UK. It's very intense and very dark, and it was going through a lot of downturn really.
And my parents kind of reacted to that and took me out of school and tried to teach me the ways of life. And from a very early age, I knew art was something that I was interested in. And what happened was I ended up doing further education. My training and my education started very early. So I was 15—and I did different art courses. So I did a foundation in art. I did print-making, I did illustration. I was doing photography and I was trying lots of different things. And then I suddenly realized that if you overlap these things together, and I was quite influenced by Robert Rauschenberg at the time, and I thought you could probably amalgamate this into something like graphic design.
And then maybe I could do something with that, ‘cause I didn't think I was talented enough to be a raw artist and I'm quite a pragmatic guy and quite functional. I like working to a delivery of something. So I went into graphic design and I did a provincial design course; tried to get into a fancy London college, got rejected.
So I stayed in the North of England. And then I started my first design agency at 19, whilst I was on that design course as a reaction to being rejected. And that got me in the game.
Ian: [00:02:58] Amazing. Wow. Yeah. So it's incredible what rejection does for ego and self-esteem and also for driving you forward.
I was rejected from grad school at UC Berkeley. I wanted to be a teacher, and I applied for my master's in education. Didn't get in. And ultimately that's what led me into pursuing design. I'm a self-taught designer and it was always there, but that was the motivating factor.
Simon: [00:03:27] Yeah. I'm a big fan of self-motivation and that sense of taking what could be a negative and turning that fuel into something positive, I think. So it's a good driver for a creative person, because life is never perfect. You can only control what you can control and you can control your reaction to things that happen to you.
And I think if you can fuel yourself with those things and do something with that, I think it's really cool.
Ian: [00:03:46] Yeah, you can’t be afraid, right? That's what so many folks are, they're afraid of rejection. They're afraid of putting themselves out there and you know, in our industry that isn't going to get you very far.
I know you're a big fan of bravery and the idea of being brave. I mean, that's so much around DixonBaxi, around what drives your...I'd say it's kind of your ethos, right? I mean, can you share more with me about, you know, just your thoughts around bravery and what that does for creatives or just people in general?
Simon: [00:04:28] Yeah, I mean, it's relative to, you know, the creative process. You know, obviously we're not brave in the true sense of the word, but it's about rejecting fear and rejecting the idea of self-doubt and imposter syndrome and the things that can catch up with you as a creative person. There's a lot of bullshit in the industry about how you should work, the way you should work, what types of things you should do.
And we've always been very kind of reactive to that, which is it's much better to be self-determined and do the type of work you'd like to do. And I'd much rather take a risk and fall down and get back up again, than have that feeling of never quite trying something. And I think as you develop your career, there's a danger that you can settle or atrophy if you don't keep changing and adapting.
I'm 30 years into my career and I'm just as excited today as I was the day I started my first company. And I think part of it is because I reject the idea that I have to settle. I reject the idea that I can't change today and tomorrow. So, being brave is something that myself and my business partner, Aporva, try to instill in ourselves when we started our studio, that it's okay to fuck up.
It's okay to fall down. And it doesn't matter what people think about us because if we're proud of our work and we do the things meaningful to us and design things for as many people as possible around the world and try and use creativity to improve the world, then I think we'll have a good career and we'll be happy.
And that has kind of proved the point.
Ian: [00:05:59] Yeah. So what has changed from when you started your first agency at 19 to where you are today?
Simon: [00:06:06] Well, we've got the internet. We have computers.
Ian: [00:06:08] [Laughs] Oh, that little thing?
Simon: [00:06:13] I was lucky when I started, I trained in hot metal type. I trained in birtle typography, and I was trained in Swiss typography as well by one of my tutors.
So I got a grounding in the very late eighties in the traditional craft of design and true kerning, you know, em dashes en dashes and the vernacular of design in the purest sense. It was manufactured. You made things, you couldn't paste and put it together. But at the same time, it translated into the first Apple Macs arriving in UK in ‘86, ‘87.
So I kind of smushed those two things together and you know, not much has changed in terms of how I create, but the fact that the world can see everything instantly and everybody knows what everybody's doing just wasn't the case when I started out.
So you've got to discover your visual language,you had to research to understand who was doing interesting work. You had to travel to see things. When I first started out, I used to go to London every month. And I used to go to design agencies that I liked and said, “Can I come and see you?” And they always thought I wanted the job. And I said, “Oh no, no, I've got an agency up north. I just want to look inside your studio and figure out how you work.”
And I met loads of people like Von Oliver and Neville Brody, and Why Not Associates and the people I thought were cool at the time. And they took time to meet me. And I try and replicate that now with my practice. If someone contacts me, I'll try and give them time to kind of give a little bit back.
But the problem, going back to what I was saying with seeing everything instantly, is you can get overwhelmed with similar and homogenized design and creativity. So the one thing I do now that I didn't used to do is I have to do self-discovery to find new ways of working, new ways of looking at creative output so we don't get stale and we don't fall into a trap.
It's very much about how you edit your cultural references now, I think, which is different ‘cause we had to discover our cultural references when I was younger.
Ian: [00:08:15] Wow. Yeah. So much there. I think now, cultural references are found online, right? They're digital references and it's a representation of what's happening out in life.
And especially now, there's so many references that they're ideas, they represent the thing. And there's that saying that “the map is not the territory” So, sometimes the representation of something is never the actual thing.
And today there's just so much noise and so much information, especially in creativity around culture we're exposed to, and this isn't noise, this isn't bad noise, this is positive, but our exposure to people around the world and the way that people do things and that of course overlaps into creativity—into design—and that's the intersection of design and creativity and business for us, right? The way that people do business in India or in Singapore is the same in one capacity as the way people do it in other countries, but it's also different. And so it's sort of that meeting in the middle, right?
When we were talking before you said it's very much a dance, and that's what developing relationships are about as well. It can't follow a process every time and you can't follow a map exactly to get you to the place. Of course, there's going to be detours. There's going to be hiccups along the way. And that's just part of, you know, again, being brave, being willing and open to exploring and going on the journey and the adventure.
Simon: [00:09:52] Yeah, you've got, I think you've got to put yourself in a position to deliberately fail and fuck up and make missteps because that's where the magic is.
There's a couple of things I think that resonate for me. One is it's easy to get to good very quickly now. So everybody knows what the gag is. The technologies and softwares and systems are so easy to get to good quickly. But getting to great is really, really hard and getting to something original is even harder and the devices and the way that Instagram and Behance and things like that show work makes up for its deficit.
Everything appears to be better than it is, but if you really analyze things, there’s the same amount of bad design, mediocre design, brilliant design as there has always been. And when you run that in parallel with, there's a lot of sense that difference isn't celebrated anymore. It’s decried.
There's a lot of bubbles that are created and anybody who's different is pulled down. There's a sense of, there's a cultural smoothing of things. And I think there's a softening culturally. Of course there's lots of political and social things that we're wrestling with as well.
But I think when you think about the actual creative process, there’s a huge roundening and deadening of that process because everybody...there's an anxiousness not to step out of line and be a bit wild and try different things. And certainly at the level we operate, because we do very large global projects. Trying to find a way of creating magic for tens and hundreds of millions of people is quite tricky. But I love that. I love the idea of the democratization of design, that you can do truly beautiful design for millions of people and the things that we share as humans.
There's a lot of common things. But the difference is also good as well. And you should celebrate both of those things, the things we share, but the things that are different.
Ian: [00:11:40] Yeah, I was going to ask you what's the magic, what's the secret formula of going from good to great? But I also think it's so fascinating that there is this softening or rounding out of people's opinions and ideas.
I think it probably stems from, you know, it's different in different parts of the world. I think in Australia, they call it tall poppy syndrome or tall flower syndrome—the tallest flower gets picked, or in Japan I've heard that's why, at least in past decades, people would keep their head very, very low down as they were typing or working because if you're up, then your manager sees that you're up and it means you're not working. And so yeah. Tallest nail gets hammered.
Simon: [00:12:23] Yeah, exactly. I mean, in our industry, what we do is about invention. Our job is to create, to make things. And a large part of that is invention. So if you fall back on the same techniques and the same processes all the time, and you don’t stretch that, I think there's something sad about atrophying creatively.
It's something that I worry about a lot. I mean, I worry about many things. But I don't like the idea of accepting that this way of working has always got to be the same and everyone agreeing that everything has to be a certain way because you have to fight those stereotypes.
I think you've got to wrestle to find something new and sometimes it's attritional, or sometimes it's immediate. Sometimes it's explosive, but you know, creativity defines who you are. It's an emotional state. It validates you. So you have to kind of test something out for yourself sometimes I think, to really get something that is meaningful.
Ian: [00:13:19] Yeah. That's hard. It's hard to push yourself into uncomfortable states. So would you say that is one of the main ingredients of going from good to great? Is it not settling? Is it constantly re-inventing and being self-aware?
Simon: [00:13:38] I think self-aware is actually it. It's just being aware of where you are in your creative journey, where you are in the projects you're doing and how you're working and collaborating with each other as a team, because obviously the type of design and creativity and branding we create is a team game.
So it’s a kind of interpersonal relationship that creates great work at the scale we create. And when I talk about great work, the metric I always use is our pride in the work. I would never assume we’re better or worse than any other agency in the world. So it is relative to my personal opinion of the work that we create.
But I know when we're dodging, I know when we're not feeling it. I know when we’ve become comfortable and I can read those signals. So I think it's just becoming both self-aware individually, but self-aware of the entity of DixonBaxi changing. And we're hiring at the moment. And whenever we hire, there's a chance for the company to grow and the perspective of the company to become more diverse.
And I don't just mean in terms of the people themselves, but the mindset can grow and change. So that's something we keep an eye on is constantly re-blending and blending the team to stretch our worldview .
Ian: [00:14:50] Hear that everybody? They're hiring right now. Send those portfolios over. Awesome. I'm glad you brought that up.
I've been so interested in the idea of designing a job based on somebody's personality and their skillset instead of the traditional way of finding somebody to fit the job and forcing them into that position. And so I think we're at sort of a tipping point now where it's very much about adapting.
Adapting the requirements of the job to the person and the person also adapting to the position because everybody has their core, right? They have their strength and their foundation, whatever craft that you were taught in. But you also have your branches that go out and that's life experience. Those are relationships. Those are the traits that you develop. And it's very interesting. I think we're starting to see sort of a transition from the old to the new.
Simon: [00:15:43] Yeah, it's funny because having been in the industry for a long time, I just feel that's always the case. You know, like I think there's a perception that any particular moment in time is a moment of change.
But I grew up in the seventies and the eighties, which is a big moment of change in the UK. And then the nineties. And I went to America in the nineties when Clinton was in power and opened a studio in New York and San Francisco. And that felt like the world was changing and then 9/11 happened. Then the world felt like it was changing again.
And then the thousands came and we're having Brexit over here and the world always is changing. I think that's the thing to figure out is like, how are you moving with that change? I think a lot of people get shocked by the fact that the world's changing.
They get kind of confused that things are changing and the world isn't a steady state and creativity definitely isn't a steady state. It's something that you fuel with whatever experiences you have and you turn that into the thing you want to make. In our case, we’re commercial artists. We're working to a brief on behalf of millions of people. But we're still fueling that with our life experience.
So what we take is the positives and the things we can't control and turn them into things that make us dynamic as a company. And that's how I see it, really, your job is to focus on how you can improve your part of the world with whatever skillsets you have. And I agree with you. It's reciprocal.
When we hire people, we look to promote their strengths and support their weaknesses because nobody's perfect. You know, so what we're trying to do is create an environment that, blended together, everyone can work well and give people as much flexibility to be the type of person they want to be. It's difficult.
Again, there is a bit of magic to this as well—creating a culture for people to feel like they're invested in something that is a greater entity than themselves, but also they're validated personally in their choices and the things they'd like to do with their career. And our job is to accelerate that for people whilst they're with us and, and help them become the type of creative they want to be.
And hopefully that they’re with us for years and years and years and decades, but eventually we have to hand them on to someone else. And our job is to hand them on to the next person better than when we received them.
Ian: [00:17:58] I love that. You mentioned our job as commercial artists is creating experiences and spinning the positives.
When we think about even in our lives, the memorable experiences, like we don't remember the “okay” to “good” days, right? All those bleed together. And they become sort of a blur. We remember the hard things. We remember those growth moments, the things that we overcame, and it's the same thing in our line of work in working with partners, with clients, with each other.
It's about facing the challenges and being open and excited about it. And not that every day is like, “Yay, I'm going into a disagreement!” But you know, when you have the optimism to find common ground and to maybe change somebody's mind or have your own mind changed, like those are the things that really stand out. Those are the chapters in life or in a project or in a relationship.
So you talked about at DixonBaxi the mindset of helping people become better and it's a long-term investment in people and in the studio. What are some things that you do personally in helping people become better?
Simon: [00:19:11] We have a range of things.
I think the first thing, you know, someone like me, my job is to create the space for people to be creative. So to set the tone. Because I'm facilitating the environment that allows them to feel confident to create the work they want to do. So a lot of the way we think about and talk about the way we work is to give the team permission to be a better version of themselves and push themselves.
And whilst doing so, push us. You know, we have lots of things. We have an intern program, for example, where we pay the London minimum wage, which facilitates people who would maybe from different backgrounds, not get into the industry. And our job is to take people who may be at the very bottom, and far more diverse than you would potentially find at the top of the industry, and find a place for them in the industry that they maybe won’t do.
We've found not everybody understands the whole range of jobs and things you could do in the creative industries. There's a perception that there's designers, and that's it. And maybe one or two other things. Because there's hundreds of ways of being creative in our industry. So we try to create a space for people to find that journey.
We might have somebody who starts in marketing and sales who moves into strategy, or we might have somebody who works with us and they're working on our film. They end up working in design and then go back to be a researcher on movies when they leave us. So we try and kind of find a journey for people both individually and collectively.
And you know, a lot of it's just about permission to be the best version of you creatively. Or we've always believed that we want someone who joins us to add to the richness of how we look at the world creatively rather than replicate how myself and Aporva see the world. So our job is to just kind of navigate that space and find potentially the clients and collaborations and relationships that allow us to do the type of work we do.
And we have a scale of 1 to 10. 1 being evolution, and 10 being revolution. We operate in the 5 to 10 space. We’re extremely explicit with our clients and our collaborators, that if you want us to work on a project, our job is to have greater change and make a bigger difference. And we hardwire those things into the company.
There's many different ways. We have lots of obviously other programs and things that help the strength of that kind of team building. But I think most of it is about, as I say, this permission, to push the envelope and push what it means to do great work for people.
Ian: [00:21:45] That’s amazing. Wow. I think that helps with confidence—that helps with people to be brave, that helps with them to put wild ideas out there and not hold back. I think a lot of people are afraid of being judged. Even far along into a career, it's like, oh, you become complacent. Just like you said, it’s easy.
Simon: [00:22:06] Yeah. I think judging is crazy. It's like...we design for real people.
They're the ones who judge our success. Not other creatives and not the client and not the brand. We design for people. And it's the person using the design on their mobile phone or downloading something we created, or an experience they experience in the real world.
They're the ones we design for. They don't know how it's designed. They don't care how it's designed. They care about how it changes their lives and improves it and facilitates what they want. And the idea that you can judge creativity, I think it's a bit absurd at best. And then, you know, everyone likes winning awards and stuff, but there's enough websites out there that really don't help the quality of our creativity.
Ian: [00:22:50] Yeah. I've won a hundred awards on websites people have never heard of. I haven't, I'm just saying, you know.
Simon: [00:22:57] I mean, I'm sure you've won hundreds of awards [laughs]. I mean, judging by your agency, I would expect you to be winning awards every week.
So I don't mean to be disparaging about awards, but I think there's too much emphasis about what the industry thinks and not enough on what real people think, because we design for real people. I don't design for the industry. I don't care what happens in Brooklyn and Shoreditch. I'm designing for people in Mexico and Japan and South America and all over America and Europe.
That's who we design for. I’m friends with those people in Brooklyn and Shoreditch, and I love their work, but I judge work on the merits of why you're designing and who you're designing for. And the difference you make.
Ian: [00:23:39] Yeah, brand is what they say when you're not in the room, right? And we can do our best to control how a company or a brand or an organization’s products, services...
We can control the appearance and we can do our best to shape perception, but the way that people translate that and process and receive it, we can't control that. And that all comes down to people's experiences and cultural norms and location plays in and language. In North America we read top to bottom. left to right.
You know, in the East, it's the other way around. It's right to left. And so how do you factor that into an international global brand that needs to be transcribed into so many different languages?
Simon: [00:24:26] And you can't cheat it either because the person at the end who is interacting with your design tells you if it works or not. You get feedback.
They download or they don’t download. They click or they don’t click. They listen or they don’t listen, they buy or they don't buy. You get feedback from that. And we've got this phrase, which is “Not believing your own hype.” I think our industry is putting itself in a bubble where it's echoing around and we're all believing we have powers and abilities and a position in the world that we don't.
We're servicing something greater than ourselves. And I think that that's how I see design. And, you know, we try not to fall into the trap of Naval gazing and believing the kind of bullshit of what goes with our industry.
Ian: [00:25:16] Yeah. Great advice for everybody listening I think also is being receptive to feedback and listening because when you're not, you know, when you put the walls up around you and you don't want to hear the feedback or it's in one ear and out the other, you don't become better, right?
Simon: [00:25:06] Yeah. But you need permission for feedback.
There's too much feedback that is not requested. And that is the problem. I'm not interested in a thousand people on a website talking about my work, because I didn't ask for their feedback and they don't use the design I create. So I'm not interested, but the feedback of one of my designers, when we're talking about a project, I care about deeply.
It's really meaningful. If you and I were talking about design, I would really care about what you said, because I trust your opinion. Your opinion is validated by our relationship and the situation. But people just projecting feedback, not interested in that.
Ian: [00:25:43] yeah. That's a crucial nuance, I think for people to understand,
Simon: [00:25:46] because it affects people.
It cripples people's creativity. It cripples people's mindset and it sets them back. It's not additive it's saying, cause I could go on, on anyone's website and say that shit that's terrible design. Or why didn't you design those? Oh, that classic thing where someone redesigned something to say how much better it could be. Design something new and original and go change the world.
So I, I just think there's there's a danger that we're kind of eating ourselves and we try and avoid that.
Ian: [00:26:11] Yeah. I mean, that's why creativity is more important than ever, right? It's the ability to change the world. I mean, I suppose that's always been the root of creativity, right. Is a unique way of solving a problem or invention.
But you know, I think. Looking back. We can always say that creativity has never been more important, but I really do think it's critical right now. I mean, what do you think of creativity today and the future of it? I mean, why is it so important for us?
Simon: [00:26:43] I mean, I've got to say I feel very positive.
I think when there's great difficulty is when creative people and I mean, everybody, the world, not just people who are designers, people who use creativity and critical thinking and strategy and ideation to improve things and make things better is how the world develops. So I think when it's at its hardest, that's when we need them the most creativity and whether that's in life, you know, community, the social side of things, or business, and the kind of infrastructure that connects us all.
The more creativity takes leadership and improves things the better from my perspective and at its best, it's very optimistic and positive and additive. And I think that's what we look for is the kind of additional thing. And, you know, sometimes it's deeply meaningful cause it could be a political stance.
Sometimes it might just be a piece of entertainment that makes you happy or a pair of sneakers that makes you feel okay. But I think wherever it fits in your life, it should be making it better.
Ian: [00:27:41] I'm thinking back to your childhood growing up in a Bohemian household. Did you grow up with a strategic mind or with the parents sort of exposing you to strategic ways of thinking?
I know it's never taught that a parent would never say I'm going to teach you how to be strategic, but were you a problem solver as a young child?
Simon: [00:28:03] it's very hard to gauge, but I was home educated, so I was taken out of school when I was 10. And my sisters were taken out when they were eight and six.
So we were home educated and my father was a frustrated artist, musician photographer. So he used to, he had a day job as an editor of a newspaper and local newspaper. But on a night you played in a rock band. He, he toured with people like rock bands for Enemy, and The Face to take photographs. And he was a writer.
And my mum is a very creative and very artistic person. So I grew up in an artistic environment, but because of the situation basically I was self-taught. So everything I've learned is that you go through experience of reading and there's a kind of feral quality to that, which is really good, but there's a self determined quality that I've, I've always carried with me, which is I'll apply myself to something in the moment. Try it, learn from that. And then. Move on. And I learned that at a very young age, so I don't think that is strategy, but I think that is a perspective of it's like a self-learning engine. And I've never lost that.
Ian: [00:29:11] Very systematic as well. I think myself being an artist first, it was hard for me to couple the concept of being strategic and creating a framework for creativity, you know, whereas in, in art and painting and photography can be very experimental and the freedom can sometimes take you too far away from what you're actually trying to do.
Simon: [00:29:37] I mean, I I've always liked I liked big ideas. So outside of design, I like reading about astronomy, physics science and things, which if I different disciplines, I read a lot of factual books and things. And I've always liked when I find an idea, I like to go back up the path to figure out where the idea came from and how it connects to other things. And then I like to go further back. So when I think about strategy, that kind of problem solving part of strategy is like, I like to find the root of the idea, the source that determines that. And a lot of the design that we created is this an it's an ecosystem. It's an interconnected design system that is applied live and interactively and physically across thousands of components real time. Where if you think about the design systems we create. So whatever drives that should have a system and make sense, but it should be adaptive and fluid enough to react to humans because it's a human experience.
But I like ideas to drive our design and I like big ideas to do that. So I think that's where my love of strategy comes from.
Ian: [00:30:41] So when you’re working with clients is that baked into the process? I mean, do you have your discovery phase and the concepting, is there a process that you follow loosely or rigidly at certain points of the project?
Simon: [00:30:52] It’s both. We have, it’s called the DixonBaxi way, where just two words, it's not a martial law, it’s just our process. And like most agencies, you have to immerse yourself and you have to gather the insights, the information that will fuel, whatever you do. So we have a strategic process, which. We immerse. We listen, we meet, we get to know people.
And then we translate that into a strategic engine and we call those experience principles because we want it to be an engine of change. We don't like fixed strategies, like onions and pyramids and stuff like that. We call them experience principals. So. That's something that creates an engine of creativity, and then you can apply that across anything.
And obviously the design part of it takes initial precedent, but how it sounds, the voice it's attitude is a big part of that. And then we're rampantly into implementation of making things. So we really love to craft of, of what we do. So we animate and we create sound and we make the things we make.
So we do all of the phases, but. We look at people habits and behaviors, rather than demographics and data. It's very easy for strategy to be created, to be quite abstract. Cause everybody's got lots of information about people, but humanizing that it's quite difficult. And we think the translation of strategy into design systems is where most things fall down.
Most companies we work with understand their value to people. And most people can design well, but very few people can translate those strategies in the way that you serve people. And the way that there's paradigm shifts in their habits and behaviors this year is a classic example of that people are constantly changing.
So the brand has to be adaptive and. Change with the world and how it serves people and creating design systems that deliver against that takes quite a bit of work. But we do all of that.
Ian: [00:32:39] It's easy to spin a story. You can create any story you want through data that you can manipulate and bend and morph, but to strike on that cultural or that human nerve, that's where the beauty is, right. And then how do you marry those two things together? You know, data-driven storytelling that also hits human truths.
Simon: [00:33:01] Yeah. And also, you know, at it's best creativity raises the hairs upon the back of your neck. It makes your heart race, you know, beautiful things in design are important. And we always just describe it as creating wonder.
Like this idea that there's all those moments you have with people when you're designing a really precious, but you know, the person at the end and you should delight them as well. You know, there's a kind of, there's a beauty and a craft to what we do that's really important and data and all that stuff you need to know that because you’re changing the company, you need to build on something meaningful. But of course, our job is to inspire people as well and create something wonderful.
Ian: [00:33:36] So when you're, when you're driving a project or a brand forward with the team, of course, there's always the big idea, the engine, the motivation, what do you do when people, or even yourself start drifting away from that?
How do you help pull it back in? I know it's probably case by case, but obviously that happens on projects. I mean, what are some, some tactics that you do that can maybe help people stay focused or remember to you know, come back on track.
Simon: [00:34:05] Yeah. I mean, veering is something that happens on projects and bodies of work. It's very easy for that to happen. That's the reason that we really want to understand the value of what we do to people and where that's rooted, because initial challenges to the creativity often rooted in that uncertainty. And when I was talking about the translation of their first initial design from the strategies, that kind of experience engine that I was talking about.
There's an intuitive part to that creative process, as well as the intellectual strategic part. And you've got to trust that intuition as a creative person to create the magic. Once you've got that, they're the two beats you have to keep rooting back to, which is. We've got lightning in a bottle now, and it's very easy.
As a, as a project goes forward to become very attritional. So what you do is you feed back in the moment. So if you're using Slack or you're using some digital software and you're following the column down and go, I've sent you this render, I've sent you this little thing. What do you think? The comment, if you go back up the scroll, you can see the project changes, you can hear the change in voice, and you can hear the attritional quality. So you stop. Go back to the magic, that lightning in a bottle and look where you are and just realign it.
Ian: [00:35:25] Like tracing her footsteps when you've lost your keys or your phone.
Simon: [00:35:29] Yeah. Exactly. You've got to rooting back. I mean, don't forget you're expanding on that, of course, but it's so easy for the process and the communication and the systems to outrun what the goal is you have to have a really explicit goal. And we, when we do a project, we have a goal for the client, of course cause we're trying to change the company for the better and on behalf of the people they serve. But we also have a creative goal for ourselves. We set ourselves a task to do something to better ourselves.
So we have that as a kind of lightning rod, as well as something that we aim for is like, how do we, on this particular project, how do we do something different to challenge ourselves on behalf of the people we're designing for, to do something different and original? So we have that as a kind of second flag.
Ian: [00:36:14] Is that one of the reasons you do what you do?
Simon: [00:36:16] Yeah. Yeah. That's a really tricky question. I don't know what else to do.
Ian: [00:36:23] You’ve gone too far, mate. No turning back.
Simon: [00:36:27] Yeah I’m institutionalized. No, what it is is I think if you're a creative person, there's something inside you that needs expressing. And there's lots of ways of doing that.
And I use commercial art as my way of expressing it. And I've created an entity that creates something around me that I share with other people, particularly my business partner, Aporva, he and I have worked together for 26 years. So there's a symbiotic relationship. And that relationship with him, the entity that we've created in the work we do defines who I am as a person.
There’s many things outside of that define me, my family and friends and other things interests I have. But on a basic level, the complete me is somebody who runs a creative company. I don't know what else to do. I don't want to do anything else. I really like doing it.
Ian: [00:37:13] Yeah, right, right. Yeah.
I mean, that's the, the parts, you know, the parts creating the whole very gestalt, you know, we have our professional lives, we have our personal lives and they're not, they're separate, but they're the same at the same time.
Simon: [00:37:26] Hmm. Yeah. I mean, if I get self-doubt, it affects me whether I'm having my dinner or whether I'm designing. You know, I have self-doubt, so I've got wrestle with that, or if I'm elated over something, I'll be elated while I'm having my dinner as well as when I’m designing.
Ian: [00:37:43] Sure. Wow. So that's, I think that's really good for people to hear it, you know, as emerging creatives and people just starting out that, even people far along in their career, running successful agencies with a very successful history and track record you're not invincible to self-doubt, not invincible to you know, these moments of, of insecurities. It happens. We're human.
Simon: [00:38:08] But that's it. It's part of being human and it's part of being a creative person. I get imposter syndrome all the time. And any metric I'm very successful in my career and I've achieved many things I'd set out to achieve and many things that I didn’t know I could achieve, but I still sit there some days I go they're going to find out about I don't have any clue what I’m doing here and I don't think you ever lose that. You know? And I have just learned to use that as fuel. I just go, right. What do I do now? I'm very lucky to be in this situation where I am in terms of how things have developed for me, but it doesn't stop me worrying.
Ian: [00:38:43] Yeah. You need to be, as you said, pragmatic, you need to be excited. You just need to know that you're gonna push through. You need to know that you've done this before and you have the tools and the grit to do so. You know, I, I love hearing the story of rock artists.
You know, people getting up on stage. They face imposter syndrome and anxiety before going out on stage. But they just have to trust the principals. They have to trust their experience and know that they've done this hundreds, if not thousands of times before. So you just get out and do it.
Simon: [00:39:22] Yeah. Yeah. Your experience takes over doesn't it. Cause there's, I love those stories of like a really world famous artists being sick before they perform after, after a thousand concerts. Because if you don't feel nervous and you don't butterflies and you don't feel anxious then you're not learning because this is the moment you, you feel I'm on top of this. It means either you're delusional or you've stopped learning. So I like it. I just, I turned it into positivity, but yeah, I love those stories about people who are still nervous after all these years, because that's what we are. We're just people when it comes down to it.
Ian: [00:39:57] Yeah. Yeah, for sure. And I think for, I think for artists, performers, and even us in what we do, it's about making people happy.
It's about making people excited about the things that we've created. Of course, you, you get, you get nervous about that. Like, Oh, are they going to like it? But if you have the confidence to, to know that you did everything in your control to create this, this idea and bring this idea to life, then you shouldn't be anxious or nervous about it.
Simon: [00:40:25] No. I mean, I always said to my guys that if you love it, other people will, they'll feel a love for the work in it because you can't control what people's opinions will be. And creativity at its best is super subjective. So not everyone's going to love everything. But what you've got to do is love it yourself.
If there's a kind of feeling you have, when you create and there's like a flow that you could feel in your stomach and your heart and your head. You can feel when you're in the zone and the longer you're in the zone, the more you know, you're going to deliver what you want to deliver. And if you stay in that zone and not worry about what people want, you'll do more great work.
And then when it's released, it'll be what it's going to be.
Ian: [00:41:02] Yeah. It's like when you're having a great conversation, like right now, I mean, I feel that as we're talking, you know, we're talking about things we love and knowing that we're sharing it with people and for perspective, and it's all about helping people.
You're right. You feel it.
Simon: [00:41:17] Yeah. I think you can be. You just have to be honest, I think because it's very hard to know whether, you know, someone might be listening to this and just think I'm an idiot. The only responsibility I hold is to be honest to you. And like I say, it's like, when I'm talking to you, it's reacting to your perspective and you're reacting to mine.
And I think that's really what creativity is, is listening to somebody and then figuring out what we're doing together. And a conversation is the same as making a brand together.
Ian: [00:41:46] Yeah, you have to listen when you stop listening and just start ramming your opinion down, you know, down people's ears.
It's like, ah, you're, you're missing the point. You're pushing your objective and your goals onto them. And that doesn't pan out well. Alright, Simon. Amazing. What do you think about jumping into a lightning round here? I'm going to fire off some questions to you.
Simon: I'm ready to go.
Ian: Alright. Awesome, man. What is the best advice that you've ever received?
Simon: [00:42:14] This is, I'm going to give a pragmatic answer. Someone when I was very young said to buy property. And the reason I say is that we own the studio we have, and we own the studio we had before this. And that has given us a financial security to do the type of work we want to do.
So it was really good advice in terms of being self-determined in the work we do as a studio.
Ian: [00:42:37] Hmm. What about mental property? We say a Butchershop brand is mental real estate.
Simon: [00:42:44] Yeah. Yeah. I've never heard that before. I‘ve got to say I love Butchershop as a company name, it's such a brilliant name.
Ian: [00:42:50] Oh, thanks man.
Yeah, there's something I wouldn't say old timey about it, but there's something about community. That's there, you know, it harkens back to days of going into the Butchershop, knowing your butcher, your local butcher, your local producer, and this isn't why the name, why we have the name, Butchershop.
But this is one, one idea that I like to think about. It's almost like when you go in and you're looking for, you want to create a dish, right. And you don't know which parts of the animal, you know, like, am I gonna use the leg? Am I going to use the ribs? And you go to the butcher and you say, Hey, I have this idea.
I want to create this dish with my family. What should I use? And your butcher's the one that's going to tell you like, Oh, here's how we're going to cut this up. You know, that's similar to what we do.
Simon: [00:43:37] it's one of it. It makes my mouth water. That's why I, like,
Ian: [00:43:42] I know it's almost dinner time for you/
Simon: [00:43:43] Yeah, maybe it's that, but there's the kind of Pavlovian response to it.
Ian: [00:43:48] Yeah, for sure. Alright. So that's good advice, pragmatic. What is the best advice that you can give for others?
Simon: [00:43:56] I always say the same thing, which is create work you're proud. work the way that suits you and avoid doing anything just for money.
Ian: [00:44:05] Great advice. Very sound. All right. Do you have a daily ritual or practice?
Simon: [00:44:12] in some senses? Yes. In the morning I psych myself up for the day. So I have two Simons. I have life Simon to work Simon and both Simons share similar values, but when I'm at work I, my personality and the way I carry myself is different to life Simon.
So I switch that on in the morning.
Ian: [00:44:33] Through your career. Is there anything or anyone who's significantly influenced you? Any mentors, anybody who's really helped shape your perspective on business and creativity?
Simon: [00:44:45] Well, that's an easy one. That's Aparvo my business partner and he's like my brother, so he and I worked together for 26 years and we worked together before DixonBaxi.
We've had DixonBaxi for almost 20 years together. And as I was saying before, there's a very symbiotic and very overlapped relationship with him. He is as close as anybody could possibly be to me. And that ability for the two of us to, to define our lives and our careers together and our friendship together, that that is by far the most biggest thing outside of my wife, of course.
But in terms of work that's by far the biggest influence.
Ian: [00:45:22] Awesome. So have there been any big obstacles or roadblocks in your career that you've overcome? I mean, any real defining big defining moment or moments?
Simon: [00:45:34] It's a tricky one. Yeah. I just I'm so hardwired to get beyond problems from a very, very young age I've always just not really. I believe in his self fulfilling prophecy, which is, if you look at things optimistically and charge hard and go after things you want, and don't do things that distract you and do it through things which are not right for you, you can never get your way through. And I don't dwell on that negativity of things.
Inevitably, self-doubt is the biggest one, though. It's so easy to kind of doubt yourself. So that's why I have two Simons. So I have a second Simon that has a slightly stronger perspective on things that says it's okay. If we fail, we fail. It doesn't matter.
Ian: [00:46:19] Yeah. That's great. There's some good advice in there too. When and where do you find yourself coming up with your best ideas?
Simon: [00:46:27] That's easy, in the moment. Entirely live. So I, I trained myself years and years ago that, yeah, you might have an idea out walking, in the shower, and you've got a muse. It doesn't work like that for me. You say here's the challenge. I'll give you the idea. You need another idea. I'll give you a second idea. You need another idea. I'll give you third idea. And I do that entirely live all the time.
Ian: [00:46:52] That's great. All right. If you could go back to your 18 to 21 year old self, what would you tell yourself at that age?
Simon: [00:47:02] To just trust my gut, or trust myself, because it will be okay.
Ian: [00:47:05] That's great. I think holds true all the way through life, better to know that at a young age. All right. What are you reading and streaming these days?
Simon: [00:47:12] I’m rereading the better angels of our nature, which is a Steven Pinker book. And it's about, it's a history of humanity through violence. And the fact that violence is descending.
So it goes all over the world and it goes through lots of, kind of really turbulent and violent parts of our history. But it's very positive because it's showing that we're growing as humans and things are less violent and things are getting better. Doesn't mean the world's a perfect place, but he's just got a really great way of writing positively about big ideas.
He's a professor of psychology at Harvard, so I like that type of reading, which kind of stretches me so that I'm just really reading that at the moment.
Ian: [00:47:54] That's great. Yeah. He doubles down in his latest book enlightenment now on that, the decline of disease and poverty of the advancements in medicine
Simon: [00:48:06] Yeah exactly. There’s a few books like that, factfullness, that kind of deal with that. And you know, some of the information's accurate some isn't, there's that website Information is beautiful. I don't even see that, but it's a series of data charts. And, and again, it's just showing that we are making a difference and I think it goes back to what we're saying before.
There's a lot of negativity in the world and there's a lot of looking for problems and not looking for solutions. And, and I'm a massive believer in looking for the solutions to things then pointing to problems is saying it's shit and they're walking away. And then walking back and saying it’s still shit and they're walking away again.
So I like to read things which focus me around how we can positively collectively make the world a better place.
Ian: [00:48:49] Fantastic. That's really great. Well, Simon, I think that's a good spot to end this. Thank you so much for your time and sharing your experience and some wisdom with us. Really appreciate it. Where can people find you and DixonBaxi online?
Simon: [00:49:37] Where I'm at Dixon, Baxi on Instagram and Twitter and things.
And we're at DixonBaxi.com D I X O N B a x.com. Thanks so much Simon. Hey, thanks man. It's been a really, really interesting chat. I appreciate it.
Ian: [00:49:51] Yeah, my pleasure. All right, till next time.
Simon: [00:49:53] All right. Be well,
Ian: [00:49:54] cheers. Thanks for listening to this episode of frequencies. You enjoyed it, share it with a friend and head over to Apple podcast to leave a review and a comment you can find us online at world's greatest internship.co and butcher shop.co.
See you out there.
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