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Finding Our Sense Of Place

Mar 12, 2024
Article by Mat Groom

We were in Strahan. The owner of an accommodation provider had ushered us into the back sunroom of her residence where a big, beautiful dog desperately tried to jump onto our laps as we tried to navigate an old version of Microsoft Windows on an old computer, struggling to understand why some font files weren’t installed properly.

Former Creative Director Jo Roca and I were there because brand agency For The People had recently completed a months-long place brand project for West Coast Tasmania, and a key part of that was creating brand elements that could easily be adopted and used by local business owners – giving them world-class design assets for free, as well as a place in a brand that was gaining both national and international attention. Jo and I were on a tour to troubleshoot for those business owners. The excitable dog was just an appreciated bonus – and a strange moment for our careers to arrive at.

For The People was founded in 2014, by a group of creatives looking to change the way creative agencies operated. It aimed to create work that solved real problems, with asmall team that could meet the people the work would serve, truly understand their problems, and collaboratewith them on thoughtful andpractical solutions.

It quickly became clear that place brands – particularly for traditionally under-visited regions – are the perfect type of work for that. Getting boots on the ground, meeting people all across the community – understanding their passions and concerns, listening to their stories – and then distilling from that an emotional and cultural truth that can serve as the basis for a unique, shared and authentic identity for the region.

It sounded great in theory. But the first major test of it came when we were engaged to work on a place brand for West Coast Tasmania in 2018.

We knew there’d be challenges. At the time, we were all Sydney-based. Outsiders. We knew we’d have to work hard to get past surface impressions. We also knew that we’d be trying to unify communities that were proudly self-identifying. Rosebery is not Strahan. Zeehan is not Queenstown.

But as we travelled (many trips, over about 10 months), talked to people, sat enthralled listening to local storytellers in small pubs… a uniting theme began to emerge: being in the West Coast was a little tough! It’s out of the way, it doesn’t have all of the luxuries you might expect in the east. Football’s played on gravel, mobile signal vanishes between towns, and the natural environment can be harsh to the unprepared. But this wildness, this challenge, was part of the joy!

The idea of the West Coast being ‘just outside your comfort zone’ was one that everyone could identify with and rally behind. We built upon that with design work pulled from both the landscape and the region’s industrial history, and a sharp-but-welcoming tone inspired by our conversations with locals. From there, we set to work creating a customisable and intuitive set of tools that allowed locals to use the brand assets or design their own in the brand’s style.

We were so heartened to see our work embraced enthusiastically and creatively by the community. We had come in as outsiders… but our approach helped us see the West Coast from the perspective of locals, at least enough to understand and represent them.

It was a transformative experience for us as an agency – we’d discovered work we loved doing, and we’d found a way to do it that worked, well, For The People. But it wasn’t just transformative professionally – some of us, including Jo, were so completely enthralled by Tasmania that they packed their bags and moved down permanently. And the West Coast project wasn’t the end of our working relationship with Tassie either.

We next journeyed into the Derwent Valley. We heard old fables and local yarns – and some we thought too unbelievable or exaggerated to be true turned out to be quite true (or at least, true-ish). Through the eyes of locals, we saw a seemingly never-ending parade of biggests, weirdests and wildests — a strange other world once hidden, now revealed.

Then, in Launceston, we discovered Tasmania’s un-capital city – a big community with an unorthodox approach to being an urban centre. The only traffic jams were outside farmers’ markets. A typical lunch break run in the park was more likely to be a quick kayak in the gorge. This was life at a different pace – and here, illustrations were especially important, to capture a lifestyle that couldn’t really be seen, but could be felt.

And it continued ever on from there – we’ve helped launch community action programs in Burnie, we’ve consulted on visitor responsibility plans on Bruny Island, we’ve even helped a local Tassie brewer put their stamp on the beer market.

We hope it never ends because, while For The People started in Sydney, it found its heart in Tasmania. Our experiences here helped us understand who we are, and how we want to operate. We can say, from experience, that if you want to reimagine how place brands are created, or if you’re just looking to move somewhere beautiful and welcoming, there’s no place like Tasmania.

For The People is a brand agency with offices in Sydney, Fremantle, Melbourne, Wellington in New Zealand and Launceston. www.forthepeople.agency @forthepeople.agency

For The People is a brand agency with offices in Sydney, Fremantle, Melbourne, Wellington in New Zealand and Launceston.

www.forthepeople.agency
@forthepeople.agency

PHOTOS FOR THE PEOPLE

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