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Carla Conte, creative director of Dubai-based Brand Creative, sits down with CID and discusses how to get inside a power shopper’s mind.
Though in its infancy, Brand Creative has already racked up quite an impressive oeuvre. Led by married duo Carla Conte and Mohammed El Hijazi, it’s an inspiring company that manages to create brand after brand without losing any steam.
“We do everything from fresh, like brand strategy, graphic design, logo design, menus, packaging, staff uniforms—all of that. We have two specialists in house, graphic designers, and then there’s myself. I studied interior architecture in Canada. So there’s a big group of us who are interior designers,” Carla starts off.
For a retail design agency, Brand Creative usually works with larger companies from the industry, who are interested in starting a new venture. And according to Conte, Brand Creative focuses on the all the small details.
Carla explains: “They come in and say ‘Got a product in mind. Don’t even know what to name it. Can you come up with something?’ Sometimes people come to us and they have an idea and no strategy. So we’ll do the entire branding and naming, and all the graphics that go with it; though, most of the time, it’s a full package.
“We get a lot of people who come with cool ideas—local, home grown concepts—and that’s the thing that pushes our buttons in a good way. We sit with business people who are like us, and they feel that connection. They come to us and they know they’ve got someone with 14 years of experience with big agencies. They’re not paying the same price, but they’re getting the same kind of cool, funky work.”
When it comes to working with Brand Creative, Carla is adamant about this fact. Being proud of her team is not something she hides well, nor does she intend to. She’s the epitome of a team player, and makes it known how much she values the work and support of others. And team work seems to provide a sort of confidence for the stabilising designer, which calmly emanates throughout conversation.
Carla’s confidence may sound modest at first, but it can be quickly backed up with an archive of creative, soulful projects that truly speak to younger, more hip generations.
“We attract somebody who is obviously the kind of person who wants something fresh, who wants to feel like they’ve got that personal touch with me. I’m on every project; there is no junior designer to pass work onto. We don’t even have junior designers. In the office, we’re really focused on people who have experience. That’s why we’re a small-ish team,” she explains, before adding: “We’re not so small though.”
Born and bred in Canada to an Italian family, Carla has come a long way from her roots. The designer used to work with a large Canadian agency that had, for a while, an office in Dubai—allowing her to become familiar with the region and even introducing her to her husband to be.
Carla explained: “They had to close down the Dubai office, and they offered me my job back in Toronto, but I had said no. I had just met my husband. But these people are in such a huge agency, and they actually wanted to buy Brand Creative last year, but I said no. Though, we have an awesome relationship and if I ever chose to bring this to Toronto, I could.
It could be bigger than I want it to be, but at this moment, we’re really hands on. And we love this and we’re doing really well. Every month I think, what are we going to do now? And then six new projects turn up. What excites me is not just that we’re busy, but all the work is a sign that the industry is picking up, and people are starting to do things again.”
Conte distinguishes the work of Brand Creative from other design agencies through the group’s design process. According to Conte, many other design agencies begin their process with 3D visuals, whereas Brand Creative likes to take a step back and really develop an authentic strategy.
For Carla, knowing who your customer is, is an important starting place as well as how you can grab their attention. And the shopper truly worth understanding is the female shopper.
According to Conte, as early as 30 years ago, women were buying whatever they saw in fashion magazines, even if the item looked less than great. Today, fashion magazines have adapted to suit the present-day woman, who has a much more evolved understanding of individualism.
The retailers who are succeeding, understand this, and know how to cater to their specific audience.
Carla adds: “Before, many purchases were made by family based decisions. The way the world has evolved is that the female shopper has suddenly dominated all purchase decision-making, and men—what shows up in the study–prefer it to be so. So you look at how women have evolved. In North America, things are female based, but on a convenience level. They want to get in and get out.
“Here, there isn’t much else to do because of the climate and the culture. Most retailers, who are getting it right, have thought about the female shopper and her journey and how they have that 30-second window to catch her attention…There are things you can do design-wise that can really catch the attention of the specific market and we’re really good at honing in on the market you want and catching their attention.”
Having recently completed the new Bin Sina pharmacy in Mall of the Emirates and taking home an International Interior Design Association (IIDA) award for the 2013 Middle East Interior Design category, Brand Creative has been rewarded with a number of new projects.
Very new to the market are two up-and-coming projects from Brand Creative: Nar, a trendy hookah lounge, and Maybury, a chic supermarket that applies a quirky, playful designs and provides cooking classes and an upscale deli on the second level.
“With something like [Nar], the directors come to us and say, ‘Carla, we really want to open a [hookah] lounge. But we really want to do it differently. We want to attract young Arab professionals. It has to be in a really cool location, or a location with potential.’ And they walk away and they say, ‘come up with a logo and a name, and a whole design.’
“So we brainstormed names, and it all started with that name. We did a report on younger professionals between the ages of 25 to 50…So we wanted it to capture that demographic. It has to look cool and kind of luxurious. That’s when we came up with the name and from studying this demographic, we found that they’re fine being controversial.”
While the name Nar typically means fire, Conte explains that it can also be used as slang to describe young, attractive women. And selling a somewhat controversial concept to the elder Chairman could have been wasted effort, though the agency managed to pass with flying colours.
Carla explains: “We had to sell [the name Nar] to the Chairman, who is 75 years old. We thought, ‘He’s religious, he’s old school and he’s not going to
Being controversial isn’t exactly what Conte and her team strive to be, though they do aim to achieve unique design solutions that really speak to consumers and target audiences. A proposal project from Brand Creative tends to turn into a space that is creative, fun and an inspiring work of art that truly bode well for their clients.
As far as the story of Nar goes, it luckily had a happy ending. Carla concludes with a laugh: “[The Chairman] loved it. He turned to us and said, ‘that’s going to sell.’”