Bookshelf to boardroom

Ana Rita Teodoro

Our Head of Brand, Ana Rita Teodoro, talks about what it takes to build the right creative team for the cut and thrust of professional services design.

With vast experience in London’s publishing world, chances are you, or at least someone you know, has one of Ana’s books on a shelf at home. More likely, it sits proudly on your coffee table to tell everyone who visits that you are just that little bit cooler than them.

Ana’s rise to Head of Brand at Within International has been meteoric. Not yet in her third year, Ana has shown the kind of guile and drive that the leadership find infectious. These traits have also led them to give her complete autonomy in building a team of designers who deliver complex work for some of the biggest businesses in the world.

Within International's brand team having a meeting
Ana (centre) and the Within International brand team.

In this interview we ask Ana how she built her team, what she does to keep them functioning so seamlessly and how they support her to get our work to emanate that same ‘pride of place’ in the most powerful boardrooms around the world, as it previously has on bookshelves.

What is the secret to how you build your team? And why are you the right person to do it?

“I don’t think it’s much of a secret. A good team is built on a mixture of raw talent, education and backgrounds. This gives us a range of different perspectives as an agency that our clients can benefit from. For me, it’s about the whole, not the individual; how we come together.

“In order to build a successful creative team, you need key ingredients. Some of which are easy to come by – others not. The most important of them is personality. I like enquiring minds in my team, the kind of people who understand that you need to really know the sector, the business and the client to do great work. Most members of the team are frustrated in the early weeks as I force them to learn everything they can about our clients. “I am a designer, not a researcher,” is something I have heard a few times, but they soon understand why, when their work leaves the studio and comes back without amendments.”

“I like enquiring minds in my team, the kind of people who understand that you need to really know the sector, the business and the client to do great work.”

You mention background as a key factor, how does your own contribute to the team?

“In the same way that everyone else’s does. Within International is a collective mix of people from all over the world. We speak 13 languages between us, and each have different backgrounds and experiences which complement what we can offer as an international agency.

“I think my publishing experience helps with the accuracy and turnaround our clients expect. Publishing as an industry can be brutal – deadlines do not change when the parameters of the brief do. The same is true now, and I guess that has helped me help my team to understand that change in business is constant, and as such, flexibility in our studio is fundamental to our clients’ needs.”

Do you look for a publishing background specifically in new hires then?

“Not especially, I love the differences our team has. Some have taken a conventional route into the world of design, but others have taken a much less obvious path which has shaped how they approach their role. For example, one of my team started life working in law and business before retraining for a career in the creative industry. It is this kind of diversity in background that powers the group. I mean, how many agencies that work with the top law firms in the world have a designer with a law degree?”

Ana working with designer Suki Law
Ana (L), with graphic designer Suki Law.

I know you hate them but you have two nicknames in the studio, care to tell us what they are?

“Wow, who wrote these questions? The least annoying is ‘Guardiana‘ which comes from my obsession with our clients’ visual identity guidelines and the correct application of them. I have a physical reaction to incorrect brand applications, especially with the brands we built. In our eyes, brand is a mixture of design and business. Having a great creative team (design) is a necessity, but then so is having a process (business). This is a little bit geeky, but I guess that’s why I like to be a manager. I find it interesting to look at approaches and processes – really detailed elements that make our work better each day. If a client is going to trust you with their communications, the very least they deserve is complete adherence to the direction they set in their brand guidelines.

“The other (more annoying) nickname is Brandma’– which as a thirty-year-old is less than flattering. I am assured though that this comes from my attentiveness to my team rather than my age, so I do hope that’s the case. I achieve this by instilling in my team the value of our process. Everyone will have a different way of working and thinking – but in order to have the right approach, we must have the same checkpoints in between. There is a commonality of thought and methodology that facilitates great work. Coupling creative freedom with organisational discipline is a skill. The structure we have in place is vital because it allows us to work with a purpose.”

So Brandma, sorry, Ana… I have heard you talk a lot about purpose, can you elaborate?

“Before I answer that, be assured that new nicknames for all of you will be penned this weekend.

“When a problem is solved, we are serving our purpose. In that sense: structure is essential. As a team, we work together under Will’s creative direction with me guiding the designers to their best work. I like them to own it. The designers want to own it too – they want to take responsibility – and that in itself is purpose.

“Interestingly my personal take on purpose comes from my early years growing up in Portugal. There isn’t a translation for the word ‘design’ in Portuguese, we just adopted the English word. But the closest word to design in Portuguese is ‘designio’ which means purpose. Since I learned English and developed a love of design, I have not looked at the word in the same way, I’ve just replaced it in my mind with ‘designio’. So for me design is synonymous with purpose, intention, project planning and will, much more than the act of drawing or visualising.

“For me design is synonymous with purpose, intention, project planning and will, much more than the act of drawing or visualising.”

“Everything we do has a purpose. We want our client’s stakeholders to think, feel, do or buy something they offer as a service or product. In some ways that’s not so hard because our clients are literally the best in their fields. But factors informing buying decisions are becoming smaller and smaller as technology levels the playing field, so our purpose is always to make our clients win. That way, they always come back.”

Ana working with clients at an event.

In closing, how has your work changed to adapt to the boardroom from the bookshelf?

“Perhaps not as much as you think, there are links between my background and how I work today. Everything needs a purpose in its creation, from a coffee table book to a global pitch for a worldwide real estate client, and, as a given, they must be beautiful as well as fulfil the reader’s curiosity. I like to think that my work and that of my team would be well received on any table in the world.”

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