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The design of optimism and craft: Arthur Foliard on Koto’s practice, p
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The design of optimism and craft: Arthur Foliard on Koto’s practice, process and success

Article by Studio Ground Floor

Sitting down with Koto's Creative Director, Arthur Foliard.

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“I love exploring movies and games,” Koto’s Creative Director Arthur Foliard tells us, “I find a lot of my inspiration in Art and Culture,” whether that’s delving into famous artists’ less-known creations or “understanding different cultural movements and the vernacular that surrounds them.” Either way, there is a broad scope to Arthur’s intrigues, which is no surprise, given the sheer breadth of the work Koto have committed themselves to.

Spanning London, Berlin, New York, Sydney, and Los Angeles, Koto certainly lives up to the definition of a global branding agency, working with the likes of Airbnb, Discord, Glassdoor, Google, Netflix, Sonos, Spotify, Uber Eats and WhatsApp, to the companies shaping tomorrow — Bolt, BackMarket, Headspace, BlaBlaCar. (Is that enough for you?!) “I’d say that for the past nine years, we’ve worked on a bit more than 300 brands,” Arthur contextualises, spanning all sectors, subjects and sizes – comprehensively delivering brand creation and strategy alongside brand activation, campaign and digital products. As such, Arthur suggests the significance of team dynamics in his and Koto’s practice in order to not only deliver such extensive brands but to do so with original thought and influence.

“For me, inspiration primarily comes from conversations, especially listening to my team discussing together,” Arthur details, “it’s crazy how simple conversations can ignite a spark of inspiration,” noting his preference for speaking last during meetings. “It’s important for everyone to share their thoughts first,” he adds, “and I regularly find myself inspired by their contributions, and it does bring up a lot more ideas,” a process that doesn’t drastically shift project to project. “We understand the steps necessary to build a successful brand,” Arthur explains, “however, we always adopt a flexible approach since every client is unique, and adapting to their specific needs is essential to achieve what’s best.”

Part of Koto’s, and indeed Arthur’s, speciality in delivering the remarkable brands they do is their forthright approach to type, playing a prominent role in the aesthetic, conceptual and strategic parts of their practice. “Typography is arguably one of the most important assets of a brand,” Arthur details, raising its undeniable, consistent visibility across every brand application. “You may experience the brand without photography, illustrations, or even the logo,” he continues, “but the typeface always remains,” forever the brand’s storefront and personality shorthand.

“That’s why we emphasise the importance of typography, encouraging our clients to either select the right option or opt for a bespoke solution,” he adds, such as Koto’s custom typefaces for Call of Duty, designed in collaboration with NaN, or Glassdoor, alongside Type Department. “More and more, we recommend the latter,” Arthur recalls, “just as we strive for a unique and distinctive logo, we aim for the same in our typography,” evidencing not only their strong relationship with type but also type foundries. Considering Koto’s approach to type more broadly, Arthur explains, “choosing (or making) the right typeface starts with intent,” challenging the intentions of what the typeface aims to communicate, the personality it should embody and, importantly, “how it adapts across the brand,” as Arthur suggests, be that more loud, expressive moments, or clarity-led, accessible spaces.

This duality, one of study and play, is one integral to Koto’s practice, balancing an often joyous tone with meticulous, pragmatic attention to detail – sensibilities that have blossomed from Koto’s three core pillars: Optimism, Co-Creation and Craft. “For sure, optimism is the backbone of our approach, but we’re not about wishful thinking,” Arthur elaborates, “we’re about actionable optimism, it’s a nuance worth noting,” suggesting the optimism that underlines his practice inhabiting more of a grounded role that enlivens the work they do. “Honestly, this is second nature to us,” he adds, “I think deep down it comes from the fact we love what we do, that’s why co-creation is so important to us,” sitting very much at the epicentre of Koto’s creative approach, as well as their working relationship with the team and their clients. “It’s a partnership through and through,” he remarks, “there’s nothing more fulfilling than crafting something together,” taking precedence over anything more superficial – from numbers of likes to awards.

“And as for what you quoted as ‘meticulous attention’,” Arthur tells us, “we call it ‘craft’,” bringing to attention the dedication to detail one must have in the creative industry. “Whether it’s something as small as 10 pixels or as large as 100 feet, perfecting every word, vector, and interaction is crucial,” he suggests, explaining his regular reference to the incremental grains of Formula One cars. “The extra 1% is the difference between Mid-Grid and World Champion,” Arthur continues, “now, what we do isn’t as complicated as car engineering ha, but it can help us understand the importance put in every part of the process,” refusing to take shortcuts or leaving anything unchallenged. “Iterate, iterate, iterate,” he adds.

One such project is Bolt, the digital checkout brand, the kinetic, energetic rebrand that made quite an industry splash. Setting the tone, Arthur explains, “The e-commerce checkout industry has never been so crowded, but as we often see in many industries, 99% of these brands are doing and saying the exact same thing,” presenting not much more than your typical, somewhat blue, bland brand. “Recognising this, we identified an incredible opportunity to differentiate in the market,” he adds, offering Koto the space to truly express Bolt’s one-click checkout USP. “This led us to build the brand around the concept of Lightning-fast checkout, which made total sense from both a visual and verbal brand perspective,” and with it, plenty of fascinating creative territories to explore, grounded in data, research and strategy.

“We built a brand that reflected the speed of the product,” Arthur remarks, illustrating the concept behind the brand. “Every brand asset was carefully considered to support and reinforce this vision,” he continues, “from the logo, which incorporates a lightning bolt in the negative space of the L and T, to the shift from blue to a bright Lightning Yellow,” even expanding further into the surrounded photographic, iconographic and illustrative elements of the visual identity. Each element, individually and collectively, inhabiting the notion of speed and dynamism so central to the brand. “We often use Bolt as a prime example of a brand living by its vision,” Arthur expresses, “every element is meticulously designed to ensure the brand appears consistent and harmonious at every point of the physical and digital experience, flexing greatly between the B2C to B2B world.”

An instrumental element to the success of Bolt’s brand – as we so biasedly suggest – is Koto’s use of Agrandir as the primary typeface, a Pangram Pangram fan favourite. “When we scoped out the competitive landscape, it was clear that generic sans serif typefaces were everywhere,” Arthur explains, utilising typefaces that prioritised function over form. “They embodied a kind of default vibe that spoke volumes without really saying anything,” he adds, “we stood at a crossroads with two paths,” wanting to either disrupt the expected with a challenging tone of voice or, as Arthur puts it, “embrace a sans serif that brings its own unique flair to the table.” As you can tell, they opted for the latter. “We needed a typeface with sufficient personality to match our new brand,” Arthur details, “and Agrandir paired nicely with the quick-witted, energetic and exhilarating new tone of voice,” sitting alongside the bespoke modifications of key characters that embellished its character. “This ensured the typeface not only served its purpose but also contributed significantly to the brand’s identity,” Arthur explains.

Taking a step back to consider Koto’s practice, whilst equally looking ahead, there seems to be plenty to keep the international agency busy. “We recently celebrated Koto’s ninth anniversary,” Arthur recalls, “reflecting on our journey, the initial years were focused on inception and growth,” blooming into the worldwide force we know today. “In the past couple of years, we’ve perfected our craft and achieved excellence in our work and process, and I think it shows,” with 2023 turning into an “exceptional” year for the design studio, a feat especially impressive in the wake of the world’s (and industry’s) instability. “But the job isn’t done,” he adds, “a year is a success, a title, it’s commendable, but not lasting,” instead, it’s a building block in one’s legacy. “So for 2024 we have big ambitions, and already have some pretty incredibly exciting projects in the pipeline,” Arthur concludes, “and I honestly can’t wait to share them with the world.”