In-house teams: Polaroid on building a “modern analogue brand in a digital world”

As part of our series looking at in-house design teams, we talk to the heads of design about the “labour of love” that is Polaroid.

In 2008, a small group of die-hard fans saved the last remaining Polaroid factory, located in the Netherlands, from shutting down.

Calling themselves the Impossible Project, the small cadre of instant photography fans became the “brand guardians” of the nine-decades-old Polaroid name. The team focused on producing film to begin with, and it wasn’t until 2017 that Polaroid began making cameras again.

“Most people don’t know the current iteration of Polaroid is different from the company they remember from the height of its fame 30 years ago,” says creative director Ignasi Tudela.

Since its relaunch, the Polaroid in-house design team has been growing and is now tasked with all elements of the much-loved brand, from physical products, to packaging, advertising and e-commerce. It is a “labour of love”, according to Polaroid chief design officer Ignacio Germade.

The make-up of the team

With such a wide remit, the design team is necessarily broad in skill, Germade tells Design Week.

“Our team is composed of product designers, UX designers, visual designers, photographers, art and creative directors, writers, digital designers, and more,” he says.

While it remains a relatively small team, creative director Tudela says the winning formula at Polaroid is to “take full advantage of the incredible talent we have in the network”.

“Simply, collaboration is at the heart of almost every project – creating a safe space for sharing ideas is key to being nimble and accomplishing the objectives we settled on,” he says. Overseeing it all is Germade – Tudela’s team, which is responsible for packaging, marketing and content reports directly to him.

What does the design process look like?

Because design is integral to Polaroid’s offering, the team have to engage in “bigger picture discussion”, Germade says. This means “fully understanding the needs and goals of the company”.

To do this, the team has an “open dialogue” which allows everyone to “contribute outside of their swim lanes”, Tudela adds.

“We try to keep the work flows flexible to avoid people getting stuck into silos,” he says. “It’s not an easy task but we understand that collaboration and experimentation is key for fresh creative amongst an in-house team.”

Despite the lengthy history and heritage of the Polaroid name, because of the relaunch, the brand essentially works as a start-up. This approach means briefs are often evolving.

“Building our briefs is a joint effort between the vice president of Brand, marketing leadership team, and senior leaders to bring the collective vision to life,” says Tudela.

Changing team dynamics

The aim of having such an open approach to ideas is to provoke and nurture “as much cross-fertilization as possible” Germade says. While each designer and creative is responsible for a different part of the process, the end result needs to be a user experience that is fluid from “touchpoint to touchpoint”.

“We may have different strengths on the team, but we all share the same voice,” he says.

For Tudela’s team in particular, the focus leans mostly towards graphic design and production. When he feels it necessary, the team also engages external talent.

“In terms of teamwork, we want to have fun while creating industry-leading campaigns,” he says. “We believe ideas can come from everywhere, so we love to keep communication and collaboration fluid as much as possible, building a culture of respect and collaboration.”

And while there is a slight lean towards graphics, he explains the team is constantly evolving. The team recently underwent a restructure in order to “solidify” Polaroid’s voice and creative future.

A new brand positioning

Earlier this year, Polaroid underwent the “final chapter” of its revival effort by rebranding. Since 2017, the brand had been operating under the name Polaroid Originals – in March it dropped the Originals and went back to it’s mononym.

“In the midst of fighting so much uncertainty in 2020, we finalized our new brand positioning —defining our solid foundation for anything we develop,” says Germade of the rebrand. “It is our filter for all of our work.”

Beyond this work, this year has also seen the team work with Lucasfilm on a collection inspired by The Mandalorian. Evolved from the original Polaroid OneStep cameras of the 1970s, it also comes with Star Wars-themed film.

The team also partnered this year with Ridley Scott Creative Group on a film campaign titled “Forever Now”. The movie focused on “human chemistry” alongside the chemistry needed to make Polaroid film appear.

Polaroid and Ridley Scott Creative Group

An emotional attachment

Without doubt, both Tudela and Germade say the biggest highlight of the job is working under the prestigious Polaroid name. It’s a role that comes with great responsibility.

“The best thing about Polaroid is to be able to work on a brand that we love as much as the fans do,” says Germade. “We all have a very strong emotional attachment to the brand, and this shows in everything we do.”

Beyond the weight of the name, the physicality of the Polaroid medium makes for an interesting muse, Tudela says. As the world becomes more automated and digitally focused and audiences crave more authentic experiences away from screens, this provides the team with “a very fertile space to work and have fun in”, he says.

Heritage versus innovation

While it is an honour to work with such a brand, it’s not without its challenges. Germade says a tension exists between wanting to innovate and needing to respect the extensive heritage of the brand. It’s a tightrope, but one the team are committed to walking, he says.

“We are building a forward-facing brand that can continue to grow and be meaningful in today’s creative culture rather than focusing on the nostalgia for the past,” he says. “For us, that means building on our legacy to transform the future.”

Tudela adds to this, saying it’s these challenges which give the team its energy.

“The complexity of our heritage and the current media landscape, media automation, and uncertainty of our current world, it makes things even more complex,” he says. “And of course, there is always the fine balance between sales objectives and a rich brand presence.”

The future

Germade says the goal of Polaroid is to ensure it stays “a part of the creative culture of today”.

“We think that creativity is a great answer to some of the issues we face today in this ‘disposable society’ we all live in,” he says. “We would like to do our part in making society a bit more human and a bit more meaningful.”

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