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January 09, 2020

Five Questions with Sophie Maxwell: Futures Director Global at Pearlfisher

At the In/Visible Talks conference on January 16, one of the panels will feature Manuela King, Principal/President of RHAA Landscape Architects and Planners, Carolein Niebling, Designer & Food Futrurist, and Sophie Maxwell, Global Futures Director at Pearlfisher. Together these amazing women will explore how to empower brands to create mainstream changes in their talk on “Keeping Our World Healthy Through Design”.

Our theme for the 2020 conference is “Go Beyond.” As you read Sophie’s answers to our questions below, you’ll appreciate how excited we are to have her joining us.

What is your relationship to the creative process?

“There’s a clear difference between spotting trends and creating the future, which is why insights and trend analysis are essential components to igniting the creative process. So I’m constantly looking to discover unexpected cultural and category shifts that can lead to completely new ways of thinking, enabling original strategic and creative opportunities for brands. I’m also a big believer that by using your intuition and looking beyond the typical boundaries, we can use what we find to define truly new and unique expressions.”

How or where to you find inspiration?

“A big part of my day-to-day is understanding and interpreting key cultural, category, and consumer shifts to create meaningful future-focused brand innovations, so I often find inspiration by looking outside of one specific sector. For instance, bringing beauty insights into the food category or vice versa where you can propose, produce, and develop new creative offerings. Of course, there has to be methodology, theoretical practice, and a level of science to underpin insights in order to make them actionable. But the way brands across multiple categories are engaging with their consumers has never been more exciting, fluid, and original, and that alone is inspiring.”

What was one of your biggest creative challenges?

“I’ve always found it unacceptable that certain client briefs can be deemed creative dead-ends. As the seemingly least ‘desirable’ can actually offer up the best challenges. We recently completed a thought piece called ‘Desirable Undesirables,’ which looks at the premiumization of several commodity categories and everyday products—from toilet paper to intimate care (including feminine hygiene and sexual health)—and how these products are being redesigned to be uniquely special. Today, the perspectives and needs of millennials and Gen Z are changing and they’re now requiring and looking for essential products at an elevated level. It is currently one of my favorite—and Pearlfisher’s most referenced—pieces of work.”

When did you first realize you needed to be in a creative field?

“I was collecting, drawing, and making things from a really early age. But as far as trends, I remember picking up forward-thinking publications like i-D and The Face before my teens. I would have slept outside Central Saint Martin’s college in London if they hadn’t let me in. I don’t think it ever occurred to me not to be in a creative field. I think if you are a creative, it is something that naturally materializes. You just start producing and gravitating toward activities and tools that inspire your creative drive.”

Who are some of your heroes and why?

“Working in trends and innovation, you’re somewhat of a magpie for inspiration, which is why I’m torn between the many creative thinkers, writers, philosophers, painters, photographers, and filmmakers who have inspired me over the years. Charles and Ray Eames for their creation of historical design for the masses (visiting their house in Malibu a few years ago was almost a spiritual experience). Marc Jacobs, who completely reframed heritage luxury brands by giving them new life during his tenure at Louis Vuitton. Today, I still question whether or not Jacobs is fully recognized for the cultural impact and influence he had while at Louis Vuitton.”

Bonus Round: What’s on your desk?

“Fabien Baron’s new book, Fabien Baron: Works 1983-2019. An amazing visionary. His typography and layouts in Harper’s Bazaar are unsurpassed for me. At one point in time, I had every magazine issue before they were lost during my move to Italy for work. And so, Baron’s book is the closest thing I have to my once precious Harper’s Bazaar collection.”