I remember the first time I told a client that we were taking our whole team to Paris in May. “How extravagant,” she said. A company-paid vacation.” I could see why she might think that, but the trip really was designed to be so much more than a perk. Yes, it was a way to thank our team for all the midnight oil they’ve been burning as of late, but mostly it was a way to inspire fresh thinking, forge deeper bonds and to be a catalyst for new ideas and growth. How could a group experience in “The City of Light” not be enlightening? And we are after all “Design the Planet.” To design the planet, you must first explore and understand it.


One City. Three Challenges.


Before our team left for Paris, we agreed to participate in three specific challenges:


1. The Advertisement Critique Challenge

Paris is renowned for its poster art and Metro advertisements. As we made our way around the city, we agreed to make a point to observe the marketing all around us. We took every opportunity to critique any individual and sequential advertisements we came upon and to discuss the pros and cons as a group.[clear]


2. The Dual Language Challenge

The need to be able to successfully design in more than one language is growing. What better way to learn than by observing how the French are already doing it in Paris? We agreed to take note and discuss what’s working and what isn’t?[clear]


3. The Texture Challenge

There are so many interesting textures, both old and new, in France. Similar and, in many cases, different from the ones in our own backyard. This challenge was to take high-resolution photos of as many textures as we could so that later we could add them into our own design work.[clear]


So What Worked and What Didn’t?

Top marks for the advertisement critique challenge. Hands down, this was the most successful exercise with obvious long-term benefits. We had lots of good discussion about the design techniques, language usage (both English and French), and multi-ad campaign continuity on site, and we brought back pictures of the various advertisements to discuss and remember for the future. Whiz Bang – this was the best challenge and a real brain expander.

The Dual Language Challenge, on the other hand, was hit and miss. Unless you count the dinner menu at almost every restaurant, there were very few cases where we saw an advertisement in French with some balance treatment to incorporate English or another language. Good to know, I guess, but a little disappointing.

As it turns out, the Texture Challenge was not very well achieved either. While we do have some very nice photos and some of them indeed feature textures, we did not come back with a texture library as hoped. (Maybe that needs its own trip.)


Other goals achieved on the trip:


1. Building Our Team

For successful team building, we utilized the Paris transportation system. With trains, buses, the Metros and more, finding your way to any destination was a group activity with real benefits and consequences. Each team member was relied upon to identify the best route and make sure we were headed in the right direction. Within two days, we were moving smoothly around the city as a group like pros. One evening, part of the team decided that we wanted to see The Arc de Triomphe at night, but we had less than 45 minutes before it closed. We jumped on the closest Metro line and worked together to figure out the fastest way to get to our destination. We had to access a total of three different Metro lines to arrive at our destination, and then we did a light jog to the base of the Arc (underground of course). Since we already had tickets to the Arc, we were allowed to immediately ascend the stairwell. We discovered five minutes later that we were the last three people on the Arc for the day. Team building achieved![clear]


2. Seeing “The New Stuff”

While in Paris you have to visit, what my kids like to call, “the old stuff.” Museums are where they keep the old stuff but we didn’t only visit the Louvre and the Musee de l’Orangerie and the Musee d’Orsay, we also experienced “the new stuff” at the City of Paris Museum of Modern Art. Great artists study what was to create what will be. That same is true of great designers.[clear]


3. Meeting Parisian Designers

Several months before leaving the US, we contacted four Parisian based design firms who appeared to be in our design ballpark, based on their websites and past work. After many exchanged emails and conversations, we were able to schedule meetings with two of the four. After their workday on Wednesday, we met up with them at a bar/restaurant called Le Boul’mich to discuss the world of design in Paris, New Orleans and, by translation, the U.S. Much of what we learned is that our day-to-day workflow and approach isn’t all that different. We agree that inspiration still comes from outside and from within, as well as from the people you have on your team. I’d like to thank both Mathilde Rivoire and Béryl as they were amazing hosts and were nice enough to have a dialogue with us in English after a long day at work.[clear]


4. The Retail Experience

We couldn’t really call ourselves designers and marketers, if we didn’t visit the shopping areas and experience the retail environment of Paris. We visited places that represented only one brand or one designer and discussed what is their vibe? Their target market? Their brand experience? And then we also visited department stores at La Defense with their slightly more local audience and marketing focus representing hundreds of brands and asked ourselves the same questions. [clear]