The name Human After All may be unfamiliar to CR readers but its work is unlikely to be. The creative agency was launched in March this year out of the design arm of The Church of London, publishers of film magazine Little White Lies (whose illustrated covers feature in our Annual) and ‘radical culture’ title Huck.
As with many publishers of independent magazines, Church of London found themselves being approached by brands and their agencies interested in tapping in to their creative contacts and cultural understanding. Founder Danny Miller spotted the commercial opportunity of this early on and, along with Rob Longworth and Paul Willoughby (and, later, digital director, Alex Capes), set up a sister company, The Church of London Design 2 3 in 2006 to service the needs of the publishing side of the company and to also work on third party projects.
“Over the last seven years both companies grew alongside each other with a fairly integrated management structure, and about 15 employees each,” explains Miller who originally conceived the idea for Little White Lies as the final project of his design course at Northumbria University. But with the design arm of the company becoming increasingly involved in client work Miller felt the time was right to make a clean break and relaunch it as Human After All, “with our directors effectively quitting TCOLondon to focus on the future” at the new agency.
Their speciality is that buzzword of the moment, ‘content’, whether in print, online or as a live event. “When clients like Google and adidas come to us, I think it’s because they see us as great visual communicators,” says Miller. “Publishing magazines isn’t just about the printed product, it’s about having something to say – hopefully something no-one else is saying, something utterly essential that you feel you need to start telling the world. Effective communication now happens across all channels, including digital, social, and events. Some of the most compelling ways we’ve been able to connect with people over the last decade haven’t just been through magazines, they’ve been through our website, our exhibitions, film clubs, and of course through Facebook and Twitter. The magazines remain the beautiful, finely curated products at the centre, and everything around them serves to grow the community.”
In effect, the HAA team has very cleverly transformed the magazines it has worked on into multiplatform brands that engage and inform the communities they serve across an integrated network of channels and events. It’s what a lot of magazine brands talk about, but few actually deliver (It’s Nice 2 3 That is perhaps doing something similar in the creative sector).
The Church of London team even has its own space underneath its studio where it has run exhibitions with the likes of illustration agency Handsome Frank and an exhibition and workshop tied in with a D&AD student awards brief. These activities in turn led to The Guardian asking TCOLondon to stage a series of masterclasses on illustration. “We knew we wanted a place to collaborate with people and organisations we admire,” Miller says.
HAA is continuing to work on projects for The Guardian, including We Illustrate, an illustration symposium, Miller explains, “that looks to bring together new talent, professionals and masters of the industry for a day of inspiration and learning”.
The new agency will also continue a relationship with Google which began in 2010 with the creation of Think Quarterly, a publication which Google sent to its UK partners and advertisers. “Think Quarterly has actually evolved into a more comprehensive content strategy for Google,” says Miller, “we’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of the launch of their new Think Insights website which looks to help brands understand better their customers’ media habits and online behaviours.”
Miller is keen to stress HAA’s desire to become known for its approach to strategic thinking. “We’re a creative agency, but we’re also massively open-minded about what we do,” he says. “If you come to us and ask us for a magazine or to design a menu, then that’s fine, but before we talk to you about that, what we want to do is take a step backwards and talk first about your marketing objective, who your audience is. This is, I’m sure, no different to what any sensible creative agency would do, but we’re really good at that stuff. We’ve spent a lot of time as our own client thinking 2 3 really methodically about it, working out ways to map, draw and understand it. Now we’re working at the highest level with YouTube talking about content and communication strategy.”
Of course, it’s not all about client work at HAA. Miller and his fellow directors at the new agency understand the power of the lessons learned through self-initiated endeavours and are keen to explore and respond to their own ideas. Their first self-initiated project will be Face Stamp, a workshop at the Pick Me Up graphic art fair in London’s Somerset House. Visitors will be able to create artwork using rubber stamps all bearing facial features drawn specially by a host of illustrators.
“I think there’s a real need for simplicity, to focus, to strip back, to find just the things that matter,” says Miller. “What we’re doing at Pick Me Up is a very good example. We want to do something creative that’s interesting and fun and off our own backs, but it’s a pure and simple idea that we won’t over complicate for the sake of it. And we’ll try and make sure that everything we do at HAA has that air of focus about it.”