News, Technology

It’s Good to be a Design Rebel

Amie Haven

Amie Haven, Journalist

Rob Brown from BBVA tells design students “it’s ok to break rules” in traditional organisations

After his design ideas were rejected by the top dogs at finance company BBVA, Rob Brown realised that you have to get creative to change rigid workplace cultures. Brown was passing on his experience to eager students at an online masterclass hosted by the IE School of Architecture and Design on 3 February, 2020.

As Global CMO and Global Head of Marketing, Design, and Responsible Business at BBVA, Brown has spent the last two years on his biggest ever project: turning BBVA into a global brand. Although Brown is not from an art and design background, he told design students, “Follow your passions and success will come”. This was a piece of advice given to Brown by his mentor Jim Stewart, Co-Founder of Juniper Bank.

Initially, BBVA’s top dogs rebuffed Brown’s idea to design a global brand for the company’s then disparate parts. The finance world has been slower to integrate design teams into their companies. Unlike the tech world, where companies such as Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple have large teams that influence both the business and the products. Design teams like Google’s Creative Lab encourage creatives from around the world to get experimental with new and current technology. 

But Brown discovered that to get his finance bosses onboard, he was going to have to get creative. Since a verbal pitch didn’t cut it, Brown said he worked with his in-house design team to create a video which showed their passion for creating a global brand. The visual element worked, and Brown was then able to lead a team of 4,000 colleagues to design and implement the global branding.

“Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo,” was Brown’s advice to design students. The finance world faces competition from big tech companies as they move into the world of banking. As far as Brown is concerned, having great design teams can make finance companies stand out in a competitive market. He cites the design of BBVA’s mobile banking app as a success story, after the Forrester global review awarded the app first place in 2019.

Brown advices students to listen to customers, not board members and to have a sense of humour when it comes to critical feedback. In response to negative feedback following BBVA’s global rebrand, Brown’s design team created tongue-in-cheek social media videos to explain their design thinking. 

It can be hard for creative types to work in environments where their design ideas are quashed. But Brown’s experience can hopefully give young designers the confidence to put themselves out there and find creative ways of making themselves heard.

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