A Sydney design consultancy that loves to create good brand stories


Why ‘smörgåsbord’?
Q&A with Tone Bullen,
Creative Director.


Q: Why ‘smörgåsbord’? Are you Scandinavian or something?

A: No! Not at all. Well, I’m a fan of the whole Scandinavian pared-back design aesthetic – and getting lost in Ikea’s canteen – but that’s not the reason for the name.

Q: So the reason is–?

A: Originally it was because it suggested the idea of choice; that out of a whole range of design capabilities we offer, clients were able to pick and choose what was appropriate for their needs. They might load up their plate exclusively from the visual identity bowl, or go for a mix of web work plus a more prosaic mix of electronic collateral, like PowerPoint or Google Docs templates. But these days ‘smörgåsbord’ also references the wide cast of skilled collaborators we work with, whose talents we call on from project to project. Plus, it’s a funny word. It’s fun to say. It harks back to the bygone days of Australian RSL culture.

Q: You mentioned a wide cast of collaborators; why do you prefer that kind of structure, rather than having full-time employees?

A: So many reasons! Firstly: freelancers have such good antennae. They roam more widely. They’re in contact with a much more diverse range of opinions and techniques than anyone who’s confined to just one agency. So they’re faster to pick up on new thinking, and, thanks to competitive pressure, sorting out what’s useful from what's just a half-baked fad. Secondly, preparing for each major project is like crewing a ship; you've decided the creative direction, but who are you going to get on board who can execute it the best? You might need your best Wordpress whisperer, your Javascript genius, your gun typesetter, your social marketing specialist, all as required. Plus, these people have networks of their own to draw on, too. It’s a very efficient, fluid way to assemble a team who can solve some very interesting challenges.

Q: What would you say to a business owner who was at the ‘kicking tyres’ stage, looking for a partner to sort out their branding?

A: I’d say that allocating a budget to give yourself good visual branding is a really smart strategic move. It smooths the way for everything that comes after it. Every piece of communication, every promotion, every pitch for business is much more likely to resonate well. Anyone who’s got a stake in your business – customers, investors, staff – are, all things being equal, more likely to give you a go.

A good identity isn’t just a pretty logo. It’s a process. At the start, it forces you to consider the most basic, most ‘inner’ ideas about your business: why do you do what you do? What are your people backing you to do? Why do they want to see you succeed, rather than your competitors? Answering these can sometimes be counter-intuitive: they sound like the most obvious things in the world, but finding the clearest, cleverest, most truthful and nuanced way to say them takes some skill.

By the end of the process you’re equipped with a toolkit of brand elements that takes the guesswork out of building all the visual parts of your brand – your website, your sales pieces – but when it’s done the right way you also get something deeper. It’s a great feeling, the first time you take a client through their new identity. You see the lights go on in their eyes. You hear them say: yes, now I see the kind of brand I can be. I’ve got an anchor to pull towards. I’ve got something to show the world. When they say that, they’re revitalised, they’re inspired. It’s truly the best.