Interview: DixonBaxi

Interview: DixonBaxi

DixonBaxi are an exciting multidisciplinary agency based in London, working with brands across the planet. Simply put – they pride themselves on ‘changing things for the better through creativity’. Founders Simon Dixon and Aporva Baxi shared some of their stories and insights with us below.

You started as a two man band, after heading up larger teams around the world. What made you take the leap? And what was the plan?

Well, that seems a long time ago now! Actually 15 years. Before starting DixonBaxi we were lucky to drive the expansion and intense growth of a really wild and exciting design agency. It taught us a lot about working at a large scale international level. In particular how to work in many different media and across all platforms. We were excited by and driven by how creativity can make a huge difference to a brand and how it connects to people.

However after a while we felt we needed something new. Something simpler, less driven by growth and money. Based more on creativity and personal satisfaction. So we started DixonBaxi. We had no preconception of what we would do but we knew we wanted to reboot as creatives. Try new ways of working and take our hard won skills and use them more carefully. The key was only being two people. A simple partnership. Over the years we’d worked out how to achieve a lot together so we just used the same mind set. Small but working at a high level.

It was nerve wracking at first as we gave up a lot and felt like we went back to a blank canvas. Initially we didn’t even show protective client creative work. We didn’t want to them to be influenced by our previous way of working. So we just talked about our approach and how we worked. It seemed to gel with a few people and we quickly picked up work. So from there we let the work speak for itself. We grew a small but very loyal client base and it allowed us to grow steadily and control how the we worked. The plan was to stay small and we did for many years, until we had to turn away too many fantastic projects and said yes a couple of times. Now there are 25 of us.

You are particularly well known for your work in TV. How does creating brands for broadcast differ from other industries?

Well we do a lot of different types of work and always have. What is interesting is ‘broadcast’ as a concept or tag is so much more visible or digestible for people. So our work gets shared or seen more as ‘broadcast’, which of course builds our reputation in that area. But it isn’t really what we do. We don’t do broadcast, we build brands. The truth is we work with media, content, new economy and entertainment brands to help them connect to audiences. So we help define and drive purpose for the company then build a brand world. What is interesting is our work is then used to drive every platform so it is a brand experience across the Strategy, Identity, TV, laptop, mobile, the real world, the voice, the advertising, print etc. The traditional idea of broadcast has long since changed so we operate in a space where the brands we work with connect to people, and engage with them, in a huge number of ways.

Rather pompously we call ourselves an next generation brand agency. Mainly because we’re not sure what else to call ourselves and the existing way of working has passed. We’re interested in how to develop the way brands are built and they communicate with people. It’s a fully engaged and immediate process now, so it poses a powerful challenge for companies to be agile and relevant enough to fit into peoples lives.

Which projects stand out to you as the most fun or rewarding to have worked on?

We’re lucky to work on a lot of very engaging projects. They are large, complex and usually highly creative. The ones that are the most rewarding are where we have made the biggest difference. For example working with Eurosport on their first rebrand in 26 years was a fantastic responsibility and an opportunity to rewrite the rulebook of how they operate as a brand. Working with the client, consultants, technical teams, other agencies and production teams to pull the whole thing together is a genuine buzz. Sometimes crazy, sometimes stressful but always amazing.

What are your thoughts on collaboration?

It’s fundamental to how we work internally, with clients and other creative teams. Our team and their creative drive is everything. So the more we share and overlap the better. We have always had a pretty dynamic but flexible approach and are very ideas led. So we try to be additive. Throw ideas in. Try things. We’re not afraid to roll our sleeves up and get involved. That said we try not to be too precious so we can adapt and develop our thinking based on other peoples ideas. It can be tricky if there are a lot of voices and ideas but we’re comfortable in how we work so we can edit and shape the ideas into something meaningful.

The more we expand as a team, the more vital it becomes to collaborate. To dissect our work and discuss it — to find a common opinion on how to make it better. We also find a blend of creative disciplines helps strengthen a project: a print designer working in TV, or a digital creative looking at the tone of voice for a brand. Getting a blend of ways of thinking. It is also vital that the team feel a project is their baby. So personal ownership of the project helps build distinct voices as we develop a project. As our projects are large, often complicated, and are created over an extended period, making sure that the core idea or purpose drives the work is important. So we’ve created our own strategic process that helps give validity to why we create the work we do for our client’s audiences. This really helps frame our collaborations as we have creative tools and techniques to get the best out of teams.

Having a strategy drive our work really helps stitch a wide range of ideas together and give them momentum. So the more we work with the client, test things, kick them around. The better the final idea. The same with other agencies or creative collaborators. We trust great people to do what they do best but have a keen eye for how to pull things together so it is cohesive, consistent and powerful as a brand or project.

What inspires you out of the studio and has having your own agency allowed you to explore other creative outlets?

We recently shot our first feature film, Tiger Raid, through our sister company, Dixon Baxi Evans. We co-wrote, produced and directed the film. It was a long established dream to create our own stories and content. It’s a very personal example of DixonBaxi supporting a whole other level of creative expression. The film made official selection at the Tribeca Film Festival and the Edinburgh Film Festival and is now available on iTunes, Amazon and Sky so it is hopefully the start of a new phase of work for us.

What would be your advice to creative agency start-ups?

Create work that makes you proud, work the way that suits you and try to avoid doing work just for money. We were lucky when we started DixonBaxi as we had a huge amount of experience so that helped us frame how we work and gave us confidence to be who we wanted to be. I [this is Simon answering] actually had my first agency when I was 20, straight from college. That was a different story all together. We were really naive and inexperienced but our hunger to try new things and the very best designers we could outran our lack of skill. Inherently it is about drive and putting the time in. Hour after hour of pushing yourself to create great work. Of course everyone is different but the truth is there are very few shortcuts to running your own agency. So you better love what you’re doing because it is a way of life not a business.

Once you figure out your creative approach making sure you get paid is the number one priority. Charge a percentage up front. Be wary of free pitches or working for free [unless it’s a passion project for yourself]. Chase that invoice. Do those three things and you’ll be pretty much OK business wise. You can learn the rest from experts.

The final thing would be only work with awesome people. If you do, whatever you do will be better.

What’s next for DixonBaxi?

We’re currently working on a retrospective book which will be a kind of line in the sand. Consolidating where we’ve been and triggering the next phase of our creative development. We’re lucky to have a diverse and talented group of people at DixonBaxi, so together we can try to push the envelope a bit. Try new things. Build on our existing successes.

We’re also working on our next feature film. A psychological thriller set in China. So it is a monster of a project running alongside the DixonBaxi projects.

Cheers guys, we look forward to that! In the meantime check out DixonBaxi on Instagram and Twitter for a regular fix of their unique creativity.

Kristian Labak

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