Inside The Studio: Robot Food

by Diane Lindquist on 08/20/2013 | 15 Minute Read

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"Spurred by big agency experiences, we’re here to make a difference. We build and fine-tune brands from the inside out, and we do it in the belief that ‘consumers’ aren’t a faceless, nameless mass, but unique human beings with minds of their own." - Simon Forster, Creative Director, Robot Food

You will find the folks of

Robot Food

in Holbeck Urban Village, Leeds (city center), in the Grade II listed Tower Works building. I interviewed Simon Forster, Creative Director; Mike Shaw, Client Director; and Martin Widdowfield, Design Director (the super creative team that makes up Robot Food) for an exclusive

Inside The Studio

of the growing global agency.

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Left: Simon Forster, Creative Director; Middle: Mike Shaw, Client Director; and Right: Martin Widdowfield, Design Director

Diane Lindquist: Why '

Robot Food

'? Who came up with the name? What's the meaning behind it?

Mike Shaw:

That's a good question, as '

meaning

' is the core of what we do. Before we set up, Simon and I sat down to discuss a name and decided that '

Forster & Shaw

' wasn't for us. We wanted to create something totally new, by starting with ambiguity and applying meaning through our actions. Robot Food was born and (here we are) almost 5 years later.

Robot Food means strategically driven creative, built upon a mesh of insight, which delivers results. In short, Robot Food means innovation.

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Diane Lindquist:  What is Robot Food's story? How did you get started? Did you know each other before? 

Mike Shaw:

Serendipity. Simon and I met at art college almost 20 years ago. He had a green mowhawk and rings through the middle bit of his nose, so was pretty scary looking. I introduced myself and fumbled, dropping my easel and paint all down my front. He laughed at me and we've been friends since.

We have totally different strengths, working really well as a team and our roles have evolved a lot since the beginning. I had a big agency background as a designer and studio manager, having previously worked for an innovative agency, helping it grow from 5 to 35 people, while I was there. That was great experience, as we did a lot of global branding work for the likes of

Unilever

,

Kraft

and

Diageo

. Simon is a creative entrepreneur with a marketing background, huge vision and a real understanding of all things brand related. 

We started out at Simon's dining table and soon moved on to a little studio, where we were joined by Martin (our Design Director). Martin's former 

Nestlé

 and 

Anthem

, so also has a solid background, bringing with him a really fresh, confident style which suited what we had started. He had read about us in design press and thankfully our work has always received attention, attracting the best creatives and strategists, who have all added to our offering. All the team are hands-on, client facing and a big part of the business and its output.

We're now based in an impressive Grade II listed factory conversion in central Leeds. We moved in early last year and were soon followed by a host of other agencies, which is great for the area we're in. We love Leeds and it's the creative hot spot outside of London. 

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Diane Lindquist: Tell me more about your "

Artist Network

." Which artists are you urgently working with and why? How does someone become part of the network? 

Simon Forster: 

One of our first projects was creation of a wine brand, that we named

Nice Nose

. We collaborated with an old friend of mine, who's a brilliant artist, called

Schoph

 and we have a lot of his art hanging in the studio. I knew some other great artists that had been commissioned by lifestyle fashion and sports brands, such as

Stussy

,

Nike

and

Burton Snowboards

, but had never worked in fast-moving consumer goods (

FMCG)

. We felt their edgy style would add depth to brands on certain projects, so decided to start the

Artist Network

. It's our pool of unique talent for clients to browse and us to draw from.

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We have new artists contact us all the time and love to work with illustrators, so if they're good, they're in. It just depends on the brief of course and what opportunities come along.

Joe Snow

is a really exciting young artist, with a distinctive style, so we're keen to involve him in the right project soon.

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Diane Lindquist: Tell me about your creative process.

Simon Forster:

 We have always understood that success looks different to every branded business. Whether it's maintaining our client's market share, disrupting the aisle a product sits in, or changing perception and breaking new markets, we wanted to make the success repeatable. Our trademarked

RAD™

 strategy and innovation engine combines science with art, removing the intangible part of creativity, while enhancing the instinctive, confident element. 

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It appeared to us that business in general seemed to be inflicted with polarised thinking, when trying to understand consuming culture. In short, we believe that business and consumers have relationship issues that need to be addressed.

Brands must be believable in order to engage and those not willing to invest in effective creative, founded on solid insight will be left on the shelf.

RAD™ changes commonly used language. It moves us from 'consumers' to 'people', removing the distance between business and us created by disordered polarised thinking.

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Diane Lindquist: Tell me about Robot Food's packaging projects. 

Martin Widdowfield:

We see packaging as the link between business and people. It's the start of a relationship and a brand's opening conversation. We don't want awkward silences.

 We consider substrate, structure, graphic content, imagery and narrative as one. When they all come from the same intent, they can be understood and deliver the success our clients are looking. Our projects demonstrate that.

Innovation isn't just something you do, but is who we are as a business. We have a team who are hands-on and we work with incredible attention to detail. The strategy of a project runs through the entire process.

Diane Lindquist : What are your favorite projects and why?

Mike Shaw:  We love a project when the client has full trust in us, and allows us to question their hypothesis to develop the brief and fully understand their business. Stoats is the perfect example of a great client, enjoyable project and huge success. It's a plucky young, company with a pioneering, entrepreneurial spirit. Based in Edinburgh, they have a passion for all things porridge, a great back story and focus on product innovation. This story, determination and vibrancy wasn't however displayed in their identity and packaging.

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Partnering with Stoats seemed obvious to both parties and together we have produced a truly engaging range of products. We started by getting to understand the business, people and story behind Stoats. We studied the category and its leading brands. We identified the people who would love to buy the product, if it was more readily available. We soon understood that safe, worthy and uninspiring wasn't what they wanted, so we set about producing a real market challenger. A breakthrough brand that would create demand with consumers and retailers alike, disrupting the equilibrium set by the traditional leading brands.

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The people behind Stoats had the confidence to disrupt their category through innovative design and are now stealing valuable market share from their FMCG counterparts.

Diane Lindquist: The Dieline has featured several other packaging projects by Robot Food. Below are my selected favorites:

Beanies The Flavour Co.

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Before & After: Bulk Powders

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Frank Honest Snacking

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Abe Froman's Sausages

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Before & After: Shepherd Purse

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Before & After: H. Padfield & Sons

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Sous Chef

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Diane Lindquist: How do you keep your creative team inspired? What makes Robot Food tick?

Martin Widdowfield:  A great variety of creative work brings constant challenges and huge rewards through successes we help to create. The emphasis is on objective driven creative, rather than volume of workload.

My first brief was to design a shop interior and we were to project manage the build. I had always wanted to do interior design and was excited by the opportunity. The creative process is similar for any challenge and design is the route to success.

As a team we're genuinely passionate about what we do and everyone brings their individual strengths to learn from. We're all equals when stood around a table, generating ideas and because of that, our work is always result of a collective input.

Simon Forster:  We keep the team inspired by not overloading them. Everyone is accomplished and work quick efficiently, so we try to stick to office hours. This allows time for reflection, hobbies and interests outside of work. It's times when you are relaxed that the best ideas crop up and the work/life balance has to be just that.

We also do a lot as a team and enjoy hanging out and blowing off steam together. Martin and I went to an art show a while back and he suggested us doing our own show to promote the Artist Network. We hosted the first annual 'Summer Blowout' last week and it was a huge success - as a one day festival, with artists live painting, local ales, street food and 5 bands playing to our studio neighbours, colleagues and clients.

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Diane Lindquist: You have recently redesigned Robot Food's own branding. What was the motive?

Martin Widdowfield: As every company we work with, our brand has evolved over time. One word that sums us up is 'confidence' and we wanted a recognizable mark which reflected this.

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Diane Lindquist: Any exciting new projects in the pipeline you can share with us?

Mike Shaw: We've currently working on a variety of exciting big new product development (NPD) projects, which are prominant opportunities of growth for the well-known drinks brands we're working with. As they're top secret, you'll have to wait until they're finished and see them first on The Dieline.

Diane Lindquist: Thank you for letting our readers into your amazing studio.

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About Diane Lindquist

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Diane Lindquist is the Project and Marketing Manager of The Dieline. 

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