When Estonian skin care brand LUMI first hit Estonian market with its clean design and natural products it instantly caught my eye. After I watched this nordic skin care brand evolve – develop new skin care product lines and jump into a new level of design, I understood that there is more to LUMI than meets the eye. What turned out is that this brand, founded by Estonians Märt Miljan and Helen Hirv from a country with 1,3 million inhabitants, is stepping out to the World arena with their wonderful products and creative power from Ted Young-Ing – formerly Gucci’s Art Director.
So, what do Gucci and skin care brand LUMI have in common? It is premium quality products and creative power of Art Director Ted Young-Ing.
We are honoured to introduce you to Ted – the Art Director of LUMI.
Who is Ted Young-Ing, who are you as an individual?
Wow, what a question! It’s like a lie-in-bed-late-at-night kind of question: “Who am I?”. (laughs)
Okay. I’m Ted. I’m a Creative Director. I live in Berlin. It’s a great metaphor for where I am in my life right now. I moved here from London, a city which is loud and hectic and definitely thinks of itself as the centre of the world. Maybe it still is. But Berlin has no such pretensions. Berlin is an outpost of creativity in an otherwise fairly conformist country.
I got married last year. To the most amazing guy in the world. He’s great. You know, I used to be a total scenester party kid. But I prefer a whisky and a chat to a pill and a dance these days. In the past few years, I’ve discovered that… Well, I like cooking. I’ve taken up meditation and running. I have an art collection. Recently I found myself baking oatmeal cookies on a Friday night and I realised I’ve entered a new phase in my life. God, I sound boring. But I really like my life. I’m really happy at the moment.
Tom Ford has said: “ I’m a believer in fate and in fulfilling your destiny.”. Ted, what do you think, what is your destiny?
Well. First, let me say that this is a strange quote from Tom. I can’t imagine him ever waiting around for fate to show him the way…
If I learned anything from Tom Ford, it’s that we create our own existence.
As for my destiny… I guess this is it: I think my destiny lies somewhere in the pursuit of happiness, trying to maintain integrity in everything I do, and trying to stay open to change.
What is important to you?
On a personal level? Time to myself to think. Inspiration. Art. Creativity. Beauty. The English textile designer William Morris once said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” I love this quote. This is how I try to structure my entire life. As designers, we have to live our creativity. Why surround yourself with ugly useless things?
Fairness. I’ve been thinking a lot about fairness. The US election, Brexit, the refugee crisis, aggression from the East… it’s a confusing time. Wherever possible, let’s try to encourage openness and understanding.
As designers, we can contribute to this. Good design can create debate. We can use our work to focus on positivity and inclusion.
Let’s talk about work. I am curious, you worked as an Art Director for legendary GUCCI GROUP under Tom Ford and Matthias Vriens. Please, tell us about that time!
God, it was amazing. Working at Gucci was inspiring and educational and fun and exhausting and stressful and horrible and wonderful. It was a special time, and everyone there knew it. We also knew it wouldn’t last.
I guess everyone thinks working in fashion is parties and champagne and a driver waiting outside. And sure, it’s that. But it’s also 18 hour days and having an actual fight over Pantone 487 at 2:00 am and living out of a suitcase, missing your bed and wishing you had time to sit down and eat a real meal with your friends.
Working with Tom Ford and Matthias Vriens Mcgrath… They’re both geniuses. Tom knows exactly what he wants and he won’t stop until he gets it. Matthias is always pushing you to try to see things in a fresh way. You know, at Gucci, I had this amazing opportunity to work with the best photographers in the world, the best models, the best hair & makeup, the best producers, the best stylists. It taught me the value of a team. No one is there to just complete the brief, everyone has to bring something; a viewpoint or a new perspective. Otherwise, they’re just wasting your time.
You have said that whilst working in Gucci you proved that sex sells. Why is that so – why do you think sex sells?
I almost think it doesn’t anymore. It’s too easy now. People are more sophisticated, they expect more. Nowadays, I think that intelligence is sexy. I see, like, these ads for mobile phones around and they are trying to sell the phone like it’s a perfume bottle, all lifestyle and sex. I find it insulting. We’re smarter than that. As consumers, we’re smarter than that. Where’s the substance? Talk to me like I’m intelligent, like you respect me.
We live in a big world. And right now, people are scared and confused. People feel alienated from each other because of world politics and technology and global warming… as designers, we can offer solutions. Or we can at least reflect this debate and encourage discussion.
Let’s continue the thought. Would it be easier or harder to sell LUMI with sex?
LUMI isn’t sex. LUMI is about taking care of yourself, about rediscovering the personal relationship that you have with your own body, and with the natural world.
LUMI marketing is, for me, more about helping people to understand the care, the attention, the research that goes into everything we create. You know, we make a product – Birch Mist – that is pure distilled birch leaves.
All the leaves that go into LUMI Birch Mist are hand-picked from wild birch trees growing in the forest. Can you imagine? You don’t need sex to sell something like that!
So your design career has been more than spectacular and today you have found yourself art directing the LUMI skin care brand. Jumping from a glamorous extravagant luxury world into nordic quality skin care products from Estonia. How and why did this change happen?
I think everyone that works in fashion has this moment when they just can’t do it anymore. When I left fashion, I swore I’d never work in fashion again. Now I have a handful of other fashion clients and I feel okay with dipping my toes back in that pool now and then, but at the time…
Märt Miljan, one of LUMI’s founders, found me through a mutual friend. We met, I showed him my work and he showed me some of the products and we clicked. It seemed like a very natural partnership. I instantly was taken by the brand, it seemed so pure and honest. I love that, honesty is such a rare quality in a brand.
You are a talented graphic designer, campaign and brand manager. How have you used and implemented your former branding experiences for LUMI brand and products?
I think I’m helping LUMI to deepen its personality, giving it new aspects and injecting a bit of an edge. When I started working with LUMI, the brand was clean, minimal, all white. That felt a little bit old, though, we see that a lot. And the range has been growing very quickly, we’re now almost up to 30 products. So we’re trying to bring in a bit of differentiation. That’s meant bringing in colour as we can see in the Tundra range or imagery for the Superbloom range. But it’s still in a very LUMI way. We’ve expanded the LUMI design vocabulary without losing the brand’s voice.
What are the essential rules of good branding?
I suppose my cornerstone rule is to understand your brand’s message. Once you know that, everything designs itself because everything should support the brand message. You just have to give consumers lots of ways to connect emotionally with your product, with your brand. Everything that you do as a company has to support your brand’s message, everything is an opportunity to connect with your customer and to build that relationship.
Can good design change the world?
Sure. A simple design for a well can bring water to communities that don’t have access to it. The Shoe That Grows sandals… they’re a brilliant piece of design.
Let’s make the world better! More interesting! We are not powerless as creatives. We can support the young creatives on our teams and help them grow their skills and talents, give them the confidence and room to experiment. We can support up-and-coming illustrators, independent font houses, small printers. We can challenge clients to choose more daring, more outspoken routes. We can challenge ourselves to only ever produce work that we are proud of and to never say “well, that’s good enough.”
Beyond this, I’ve always felt that we have a responsibility to do more than just make things pretty. I’ve been thinking a lot about personal responsibility when it comes to my own work. We all live here, we all play a part.
As designers, we can all contribute to making the world a better place by who we cast in campaigns, by how we talk about products, by which consumers we target. We can create design that works across cultures. We can push clients to choose recycled and FSC-approved paper sources. We can stop specing varnishes and laminates that make paper non-recyclable.
How do you feel, can a company from a country with 1.3 million inhabitants make it big in the World arena?
Sure. Of course. That’s the wonder of a global economy, good products and strong brands get noticed Internationally. I really believe in the LUMI brand. I use the products myself, and I think they’re amazing. It’s great to see new customers finding the products and connecting with the brand. It’s very gratifying.
And LUMI, will you be rocking the World a little bit with its premium quality raw materials and sexy design?
I’m doing my best to!
You are the man who took Yves Saint Laurents’ luxurious 1961 created logo and renewed it into the logo that the high fashion and luxury lovers love. How did this seemingly small, but in reality big change affect the brand?
The original Yves Saint Laurent logo was designed by the legendary French graphic designer A.M. Cassandre. If you’re a graphic design fan, you’ll be familiar with his beautiful posters for Dubonnet.
Cassandre drew the YSL logo by hand. Monsieur Saint Laurent kept the original painted version of the logo. It’s beautiful, painted with such assurance and an incredibly steady gesture. I tidied it up for a digital age, perfecting some of the curves and tweaking the serifs. You wouldn’t have noticed the differences unless you saw them side-by-side; like all good updates, the new version was how you thought the original version always should be.
That was how we approached the whole YSL rebrand. Make it look like how it should always have been. It felt great to give such an iconic house back its iconic-ness.
What is your opinion on rebranding – what kind of brands can and should afford it?
You know, when you pick it apart, the Coca-Cola logo is terrible. The font is unreadable, it feels so old-fashioned, that red colour screams “danger!”, and it’s crazy to shout about the inclusion of coca leaves in a family product. But it’s one of the most recognised and loved – and successful – brand identities in the world. They make it work. And they keep it fresh.
Branding isn’t about logos and corporate usage guidelines, it’s about attaching emotion and personality to your brand. You don’t need a new logo to do that.
What is the most brilliant design or a campaign you have ever made? And why this one?
Ohhh, you can’t view your life in those terms. Or your work. It’s not fair to your current self. Can I just pick a campaign that I like a lot instead, without all the superlatives?
I was going through some old papers last week and came across a campaign that I shot for Habitat, the furniture retailer. It made me smile. Someone in a meeting complained that I never show enough product in the campaigns, so I thought: “Alright. you want product, you got it.”.
Everyone always asks how we shot it. It’s all real, no computer work. We rented a soundstage at Pinewood – where they shoot all the James Bond films. It took three days of setting up. It was shot by Adrian Briscoe, who is a really talented still-life photographer. We had poor Adrian suspended 50 metres off the ground on a little sheet of plywood looking through his lens for three days screaming: “Move the red cup forward 10 centimetres! No, the other red cup!”. Madness.
In the end, we shot three versions of the image, one for billboards and online, one for the catalogue cover and one for print advertising. I love the overall effect. It’s fun and playful and a bit wow and a bit silly. It brings a well-needed sense of playfulness and exuberance to the brand. Plus it’s so fun to look at and get lost in.
You have quite a journey behind you. Looking from a professional and personal perspective. What are the three recommendations that you would give to a younger self?
My life is pretty amazing. I’ve had opportunities that I never thought I’d get, achieved goals that I would have thought impossible. I worked really hard for it all and always really quickly moved on to the next set of goals. So I guess my single piece of advice to my younger self would be:
Take time out to enjoy what you’ve achieved now and then.
Plus three recommendations to all the young designers out there?
One, trust your instincts.
Two, fight for what you think is important in a design.
Three, don’t kill yourself for your work, keep something back for yourself.
And for last, what are your plans and dreams for LUMI?
LUMI is a growing brand, but it’s being managed very carefully and intelligently. We’ve recently spent a lot of time behind the scenes developing the brand’s range structure and strategy, so for the immediate future, we’ll be working on implementing that. And there are lots of exciting product launches to come. I can’t, of course, talk too much about that. You’ll have to keep your eyes open and watch what LUMI is up to!
Cover Photo: LUMI Superbloom products. Product photo: Kristjan Mõru. Courtesy of LUMI.