Ten Questions for: Jason Hartley

Jason Hartley has joined The Partners as chief strategy officer following 15 years in Amsterdam, where he co-founded Razorfish’s Dutch office. He gives us a strategist’s take on design – and tells us why designers shouldn’t listen to strategists…

Jason Hartley

When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?

Actually I still haven’t realised that. I am a creative thinker does that count? Probably not.

What was your first job?

A very bad computer programmer developing “play by mail” games somewhere near Blackpool. I really had very little direction when I was younger! 

How would you describe what you currently do?

I head up strategy for The Partners with a brief to re-invent the branding industry, which is nice.

What has been the biggest change in design since you started?

I only started a month ago so not too much! Seriously though, the principles of what makes a great idea or a great piece of design are timeless. What changes are the mediums in which we execute that idea and how people consume and engage with that idea. But a great idea is a great idea (and a crap one a crap one).

What is your favourite project, that you’ve worked on?

Me personally it would be my five-year cheffing adventure culminating in creating an award-winning restaurant. In my brand and ad career it would be both a pitch back in 2008 creating the first large-scale model for a social media agency that won Adidas’s global digital brief, because of the people I worked with. As well as creating a new organic soda brand and packaging from scratch with Design Bridge in Amsterdam, again because the design director and myself had a great chemistry and shared passion for the work.

What is your favourite project, that you haven’t worked on?

My favourites are the ones yet to come; although, if we were talking existing brands a special mention to Red Bull, who live by my mantra of behave it, don’t just tell it. I’d love to work with Sir Richard Branson to create the vision for a Virgin without him. I’d like to work with the European PGA to reposition golf, and create golf’s answer to crickets T20. It would be amazing to work with Elon Musk and support bringing his vision to life. Driving HSBC to be an increasingly successfully brand AND a force for global good would be lovely, and finally I’d like to identify the next great British entrepreneurs and support them taking their visions to the world.

What was your biggest mistake?

Jesus is there a word limit? I’ve made so many, but I’ve learned from them all… nearly all. When you travel your own path – this new role at The Partners is the first full-time role I’ve had in 14 years – you are exposed and live somewhat on the edge so you do what you have to to survive and succeed. That means having a lot of opinions, and making a lot of decisions. By the nature of that you will make mistakes, but then you make more decisions to move past them. If someone tells me in their 40s they’ve made no or very few mistakes it means they’ve sat in their comfort zone and haven’t tried hard enough!

What is your greatest ambition?

To make long-lasting change to the brand and communications industry. While digital and social has fluttered around adding to the model the basic rules of the game haven’t changed for 50 years, to which I am incredulous. It’s a big ask but without ambition why get up in a morning? Oh, I would still like to earn a Michelin Star or create a new high street food brand.

Who is the most inspirational person you have worked with?

I worked with Colleen Decourcy on the Adidas pitch I mentioned above. She is now Global ECD at W+K and definitely the most amazing, impressive person I’ve ever worked with in the brand and comms world. In food and beverage, I love anyone who is living and breathing their passion.

What piece of advice would you give to people starting out in design?

Don’t listen to a strategist! I think you have to remain true to your creative principles while always being open to learning and understanding from others. Make sure you design things for yourself and not just your clients. Any creative career is a vocation and you need to find your voice and medium – whether that’s brand design or pottery. The important thing is what you achieve in life, not just what you achieve each week at work.

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