Mutabor – »I am going to change«: the creative forge in Hamburg has grown a lot over the years, but has still remained true to itself continuing its bold and courageous external communication. We spoke to co-founder Heinrich Paravicini about the company’s positioning.
Have you always had the same name?
Yes we have. Even during our first meetings for the magazine back in 1992 I found the name fascinating and it didn’t take long for us to adopt it. Being able to adapt to constant change is essential for modern designers; it’s paramount. Successfully mastering change begins by consciously stating, “I will not remain how I am and my opinions will change.” Everything is in flux. And the name has retained its relevancy to this day—and we, for one, really have changed.
Mutabor’s story revolves around a couple of highfliers. You and Johannes Plass started off in 1993 as a graphics magazine at the Muthesius University in Kiel, before founding a design agency in Hamburg in 1998. Today, the agency employs over 90 staff members. The numerous awards and first-class international clients are no coincidence. How much of your success would you attribute to your clear positioning?
When we started, we immediately positioned ourselves as a brand and put our names on the backburner. Our shared goal was always to create a strong label for design excellence. After defining that everything has gone hand in hand: every article, every award, every project completed, every contribution to the community is a conscious step in this direction.
How much importance is placed on self-promotion at Mutabor? Which communication measures did you initially use, and which do you use today?
Unsurprisingly, publishing has played a major role from the very beginning, since we started as a magazine. Self-promotion is essential for us because we do not acquire clients by approaching them. Instead, we prefer that clients recommend us, or that they find out about us through articles and are then convinced by out holistic philosophy. Today, there are three pillars that we use. 1) Public relations, e.g. articles and online social media posts, 2) publications and projects, like our books, our lingua365 blog, exhibitions and collaborations, and 3) the Mutabor Brand Report, which Peter Wippermann called the “most innovative brand study in Germany.” The Brand Report is the brainchild of our strategy department and it was released for the second time this year—this time it’s also available online as a blog.
How have you adapted your communication strategies over the years? Does growth hinder communication?
I wouldn’t say that. It’s just that as we have progressed on our journey, other things began to fascinate us than earlier in our career. Initially, we only published humorous design; today we make publications like the Brand Report. But we have not forgotten our roots—if we had we’d hardly have been able to do something like lingua365. That’s something that characterizes us: professionalism and creativity.
Do you think the industry communicates too much or too little in general?
I would say that the big players all communicate professionally, and some do that extremely well. However, the majority of the industry suffers from communicative autism—they are only preoccupied with themselves and get excited about comments on design blogs. The design industry has plenty of room to communicate more confidently.
How hard is it for individual companies to find a new image? Is it best to ask a friend and colleague for feedback?
It’s one of the most difficult things there is. Designers especially are rarely satisfied—and now you are asking them to get excited about your own work? It’s no easy task. Asking a trusted colleague is always a good idea. Just don’t be afraid of hearing something you don’t want to hear. It all helps. For our brand video, we sent our logo to several colleagues and then implemented their feedback. It was an eye-opening experience.
In spite of your size, Mutabor continues to be accessible. To what extent can you influence external image perception and at which point does it take on a life of its own?
With 90 creatives in our ranks, we are nowhere close to being a corporation. If we are perceived as accessible, then that’s great, because that’s how we see ourselves. We place a great deal of importance on teamwork and want to give everyone that works for Mutabor the chance to change and grow. If they then pass these values along, then we’ve been successful. We’d love to see that image take on a life of its own.
In ten years, Mutabor will…
…have changed again. And it will be because of the people in our team, who will be equipped with a new array of skills and tools—all of which will be put to use in our new creative HQ in January 2016 here in Hamburg. One thing’s certain—it’s going to be a blast.