So, introduce yourself and burningred.
I’m Alex Mills, creative director and founder at burningred Ltd and we are a digital, design and marketing agency/team based in Cardiff, UK. We enjoy a varied and diverse client base and operate internationally to provide marketing and digital services.
That’s enough of the formalities; we exist to make your business, organisation or product communicate to the best of its ability online, in print and via other marketing routes.
How did you get here?
Back in 2003, I was at a fork in the road in regards to ‘my career’ and had the opportunity to make a break for sunny Cardiff where I set up burningred. Originally, the aim was to provide music production services and create music for TV, film and the like.
Obviously following a few twists and turns and chance encounters and opportunities, things quickly shifted and I re-fell in love with an old interest of mine, being design and photography. Now, 14 years later – here I am with a fantastic & talented team!
Being creative director / owner sounds quite grand – what does it actually look like day to day?
Haha – well typically days / weeks usually involve ensuring the team are on the right creative and technical track to make sure the idea and execution is right for the client.
Getting down to the nitty gritty and my day can include various elements of service design: concept work, writing tenders / emails, developing new business, building relationships.
Not to mention briefing team members, reviewing artwork, meeting clients, the occasional day off here and there on-location shooting and art directing for clients’ image projects and ensuring staff are ok and resolving any queries.
So, where did the name burningred come from?
I get asked this a lot. In essence I ‘think’ it came from listening to a lot of Led Zeppelin when I first moved to Wales 14 years ago. There’s a line in the song which goes ‘burning red in my head’ or something like that.
What is the ‘perfect project’ for burningred?
We love it when clients come to us who have a great product and are passionate about what they do. I think we feed on their enthusiasm – and this makes it so much easier to creatively add marketing value to our clients’ projects.
Whether it’s a new actual physical brand / product (fashion etc) or whether it’s a new portal website to help people get the right information they need.
Strangely enough, a lot of projects start life as wireframes, mind maps and data everywhere – which is where the whole team can add input in their various roles.
So what work would you love to do?
This was a question I asked myself last year – and strangely I’d love to do the branding, art direction, photography and creative for James Bond film visuals (for posters, outdoor adverts, film, box office, etc).
I think as a team we’d be able to produce some amazing things!
What are the biggest challenges for burningred in 2018?
Simply put – finding the time to invest in ourselves and communicating what we do. We do suffer from the ‘builder’s house syndrome’ where unfortunately your own place is left ’til last.
For clients this is great but we have such a great team and I personally feel we under-sell ourselves, whether with cost or level of actual service.
What makes burningred different?
We are a design agency meets marketing agency hybrid, but we take a studio approach. What does this actually mean I hear you ask!? Well, we all actually ‘do’ stuff – we’re not just middle men/women. W
e offer the same service but you’ll be safe in the knowledge that we are doing it, not having it outsourced to somewhere else.
There are a lot of design agencies out there but none of them have our approach or breadth of service for humanising brands through design, branding, online development, photography, marketing, production, print management, content making, writing, illustration, concept.
Also, I asked the team the same question recently and they also said that ‘we buy / invest locally’. We’ve built up a really strong local network of suppliers (from print to hosting), and we take pride in joining the dots wherever possible.
Name five things that you don’t think people know about you (or burningred).
1. We are marketing first. We exist to make your product / service / organisation do better. We add value and direction for your own efforts. We don’t simply follow directions blindly.
2. We do entire productions of photoshoots and events – from concept, project management, planning, through to art direction and retouching and model management.
3. We design and deliver complex database solutions for businesses and the third sector, including some off-the-shelf products like time-tracking for teams, inventory control via scanners and automated reporting for your website.
4. We do brand interiors – something that we’ve taken more and more of recently. We handle dealing with the entire project including builders & electricians through to sourcing the key items.
5. I’m not actually a photographer. Haha – well, I suppose I am but I’m a marketer / designer first. I just can’t help but see the power of strong imagery to turbocharge your brand. Logos and identities are anchored by great messages and imagery (no matter whether illustration, photography or video) and that adds such value to brands – that’s why if ever I / we are shooting, it’s with the end marketing idea firmly in mind. Then as a studio we get all the collateral and messages outputted. You can view more of my photographic outputs here.
6. I create Spotify playlists based on food-types.
So, how do you switch off?
There’s an off switch?!
Family times. My mac-time is firmly kept to a minimum when I walk out the studio door. Kickboxing. Gym stuff. Travel and local adventure. Also, we’ve recently invested in a table tennis table for the studio – which is great at ensuring that people (including myself) take breaks away from the screen.
Where does your (and the team’s) inspiration come from?
I think designers are like sponges.
Well, they should be – it’s really important to go to different places, look at different things, take different routes, listen to different music and step away from the vanilla middle ground. Take the alleyway rather than the road. Park on the top floor of an empty car park, go to that pop-up exhibition, visit different places and people. Don’t stop learning and looking. If you do the same thing day in day out then you will quickly grow stale.
I feel that everyone who works for burningred has at least one of these qualities.
How do you get a job?
I jest – a tricky one. From my own experience, I have only ever hired 2 people from a formal interview process. Everyone else appeared at the right time. Whether via work experience, getting in touch randomly or by being persistent. If you are a work experiencer – you probably need to read this article.
But ultimately, I received some great advice once ‘hire people you like, they can learn the rest’ – so true!
At the end of the day you have to spend an awful lot of time with these people.
What's your favourite album artwork (and why)?
Being a bit of a vinyl junkie – this has been quite hard. It will most probably change within the next few hours, weeks… but these have a certain resonance with me.
Swingin’ Utters ‘Five Lessons Learned’ / 12inch album
Simple, strong and using my favourite colour!
Grand Royal ‘Beastie Boys’ / 12inch vinyl
Grand Royal was like an uber-brand to me growing up. Magazine, ran by the Beastie Boys (in conjunction with Capitol) – it was all Kung Fu and great beats. The logo has certainly stood the test of time.
Dead Kennedys ‘Frankenchrist’ 1985 / 12inch vinyl
I love this album and the cover isn’t what you’d expect from the others. Strong photography presenting itself with its own story at what is wrong with America / modern western culture. More about the album here.
Don Mclean ‘American Pie’ / 12inch vinyl
Strong single photographic image.
The Prodigy ‘out of space’ / 12inch single
Bought in fourth year (year 10) in secondary school – I remember being mesmerised by the graphics.
Crass ‘Feed the 5000’ / 12inch Vinyl
I love the CRASS artwork, all produced by Gee Vaucher. Great use of messaging; decoupage compositing really helped create politically-charged masterpieces.
So, what do we need to look out for in 2018?
If I was to sum it up in a couple of words, it would be to ‘humanise brands’ – we’re doing a lot more digital marketing and brand building, using the combined studio’s talents – creating ‘real’ stories and content that people are actually interested in.
I love it because its a great mix of marketing, concept, creative, application and production – and best of all you can measure the result and change approach as projects progress and as the results come in.
We love the agility with these projects and speed you can get going. Another area we are pushing is smart-data-driven systems for businesses where we can make your data woes go away.
Also, word on the street is that someone is going to be 40 (ahem) and burningred is going to be 14, so some kind of party is definitely in order…