France holds a special place in the design landscape. Agencies of worldwide groups but also independant ones have an edge in luxury, food products and the car industry design.
With the crisis, the roles of marketing and design have been partially redefined. We met Matthieu Delapalme, CEO of Pulp, a French independant design agency since 2001, former Euro RSCG Design. We discussed the place of design in the upcoming years, its new stakes, while keeping an eye on advertising and marketing.

Simon Bouanich, co-CEO of Pulp, former Euro RSCG Design President

Les Archivistes : Can you tell us about your career ? How did you become the head of Pulp Design ?

Matthieu Delapalme : I went to Audencia Business School and studied in OSU (Ohio) too, where I took a specialization in consumer behavior. Then, I chose to work for CBA, a design agency, instead of being a Danone marketer. I chose design over marketing because I considered it a lot funnier and more diversified. I had numerous various and interesting projects to work on.

Next, I went developing Euro RSCG Design in South America, mainly in Argentina, Chile and Brazil. I stayed there for 7 years.

In 2001, I became CEO of the agency, which meanwhile, was renamed Pulp Design.

In 2006, with Simon Bouanich, President of Pulp Design, we bought the agency from the Havas group, and we turned it into an independant agency.

L.A. : Why did you want to become independant ?
M.D. : In the Havas Group, we had ups and downs. This group doesn’t think about design in the same way as WPP and Omnicom, for whom design is much more important. The Publicis Group even has an excellent agency which is Carré Noir. France has a real expertise in luxury, food products and especially in car industry  design and it wasn’t well used in the Havas group.
We wanted to build a new relation to design, develop our own ideas, and above all, work for ourselves.

L.A. : Which design projects do you think are the most successful for the year 2010 ? You can speak about your own realizations or competitors’.

M.D. : My answer could be disconcerting, but I was struck by the 2010 Special Designers AD Edition. I was in Spain, on a flight, and I was able to rediscover all the different ways to design simple objects. For example, the chair, which is a mandatory step for every designer wannabe, is still a hot topic. In kit, by recomposition, recuperation… It renews itself again and again.
Our consumption habits complexify our choices and desires. Design gets hurt because it is expected to be the source of this complexification, and to adapt to it in the same time. I think that design is not enough considered as a simple changing factor.

L.A. : What are the new stakes for a design agency today ? Do you think of the trends of Ecology and « No Logo » as serious opportunities ?

M.D. : To me, No Logo and minimalism rather have to deal with ideologies than with good knowledge of brands history. A brand is made to make an offer clear and simple. Thanks to the brand, the product can exist, be advertised and well understood. No logo (minimalism) is sort of an alert, a critic analysis of our consuming habits, rather than a major change for design.
On the contrary, ecology is truly important for design today because its appearance directly comes from the expectations of consumers.
There are two central concepts in design : interest and desire. You have to make interesting objects and turn them into desirable ones.

Interest mechanisms have changed. 50 years ago, when someone bought a washmachine – I know it’s caricatural- he wanted a cutting edge technology futurist efficient product. On the contrary, nowadays, when you buy this product, you are concerned with its carbon footprint and you cannot spill anything you want in broad nature.
Affectiveness is much more important today than before. Design has to participate in the growth of the brand and make the product lovable, desirable, more than ever.

To conclude, I would say that there are numerous under-used innovative and creative potentials. There must be a richer relation between design and daily life. There is not enough design in the consumer’s life and it’s a shame.

L.A. : Did the crisis influence design?

M.D. : Indeed, the crisis highlighted the contrasts and generated a big questioning. Facing buying power weakening, brands decided to show their involvment and careness about our new born world.
Brands try to be personified. For example, SFR (mobile phone operator), is deploying a strategy showing that it is responsible, that she has genuine values, through a young talents competition. Apple has been well personified for a very long time. Even Microsoft starts being a personified brand with their communication campaigns which have a « You + Me » thing and try to show some humanity and care in a very expressive way.
In the aftermath, several brands which were kind of « Louis XIV » switched to being « Gandhi » : altruistic dedicated and adapted brands.

L.A. : Do you know a designer who embodies this change ?

M.D. : Karim Rashid does embody this new deal. He designed daily products such as detergents but he knew how to make them nice, fun and even aspirational. He made everyday life more meaningful and desirable.

Designer Karim Rashid

L.A. : Could you give us your opinion about the new Monoprix packaging campaign?

M.D. : Graphically, it is very interesting. But was it designed to last ? This change was made to advertise, and advertising is by essence ephemeral. Won’t the public be bored at some time ? Normally, food products packagings have a strong taste / gustative emotion, whereas here, it is all about thinking. Indeed, they are well known FMCG products but they could be more « gourmand », tastier.
For Monoprix’s main target, it is perfect (urban upper class). But will this new packaging be efficient in other cities than Paris ?
It is very innovative, impacting and even bold, but the main issues in design are about the duration, because the brand expresses itself, creates a new language.

L.A. : As a conclusion, what pieces of advice would you give to students who have an interest in the design sector ?
M.D. : I advise them to read « C’est Quoi l’Idée ? » by Philippe Michel (« What’s the Idea? » by Philippe Michel, co-founder of CLM BBDO, a famous French advertising agency in the 1980s). Above all, I recommend to travel as many times as you can. To understand design well, you need to discover other forms of consumption, of taste, of likes and dislikes. Be curious, practice serendipity. Design is a sector of sharing, of permanent discovery, so keep learning. At Pulp Design, our business culture encourages this cultural and experiencial blend, so open up.

The Pulp agency website