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Creativity Squared: Being a Little Extra with Alexander Aussem

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Havas Düsseldorf's senior art director in seeing the world in opportunities, the importance of routine and the joys of starting with a blank piece of paper

Creativity Squared: Being a Little Extra with Alexander Aussem

Alexander Aussem is a conceptual senior art director from Germany. He has always been heavily influenced by all sorts of pop culture and after entering the world of advertising rather by accident, he quickly realised that this could be the perfect fit.

Ever since joining Miami Ad School his creative path led him to agencies such as BBDO, McCann, VMLY&R, thjnk, or Heimat. Since early 2020 he’s working at Havas in Düsseldorf for brands like Citroën, NTV, Canal+, or Santander Bank.


LBB> How would you describe your personality?

Alexander> I’d say: Mostly quite chill, but maybe a little extra.

LBB> How do you like to see the world?

Alexander> I like to see the world in opportunities. Whether it’s a great theme for a picture, funny contextual content for social media, or some other sources of inspiration like new music and fashion for instance. You can find inspirational wealth and value in anything – if you’re willing to look deeper.   

LBB> Do you think creativity is something that’s innate or something that you learn – why? 

Alexander> I think creativity and imagination at their core are innate features.

You can surely learn how to channel it, you can learn how to utilise tools but there is a fine line between genuine creativity that –in my experience – tends to come naturally to some people, and a learned form of using creativity which might be more factual. I think this also might be the deal with KI and why it cannot replace or convincingly imitate creativity. Creativity is the product of chance, experience, and some sort of randomness – so to speak: something illogical, something personal. That’s why I believe you cannot learn to be truly creative – you need to find a sense for it within yourself.  

LBB> Would you consider yourself an introvert or extravert – or something else? Why?

Alexander> I always believed I was an introvert. But over time I discovered, I might actually be an ambivert. A person that combines features of both worlds. I can be super outgoing and noisy in certain surroundings and then, in some situations, I need space and time with myself to recharge.  

LBB> How do you feel about routine?

Alexander> I like routine. For me, some things work better when I have routines for them because they are economic: you have more energy to focus on other things when you do not have to reinvent the wheel for everything. 

LBB> When it comes to creative ‘stuff’ that you enjoy, do you like things that are similar to the work you do or do you enjoy exploring.

Alexander> It varies: I love visual creative “stuff” of all kinds, which comes in handy being an art director. But other areas like music inspire me heavily at the same time – a single base drop, a catchy melody, or deep lyrics can open up a lot of new thoughts for me. 


LBB> How do you assess whether an idea or a piece of work is truly creative? What are your criteria? 

Alexander> I do have three main criteria: 

  • Is it simple and doesn’t ask for complex explanations? 
  • Would I love to have done it myself? 
  • Does it intimidatingly impress others? 

LBB> Has that criteria shifted or evolved over the years?

Alexander> I stick to these criteria ever since and, so far, they have worked out for me.

LBB> What creative campaigns are your proudest of and why?

Alexander> I am still very proud of a piece I created back then in university. It was a small fun print campaign for a horror and crime channel, taking well known sitcom titles and giving them a morbid twist. I won my first ADC Award with this idea. 

LBB> Overall, what do you make of the industry’s creative output right now? What’s exciting you about it or frustrating you?

Alexander> What excites me are the sheer endless opportunities that have emerged since the rise of online and social media. What frustrates me at some point is the often forced purpose attitude behind everything. Every brand always wants to change the world. I feel like simple, fun advertising campaigns got a little rare recently.


LBB> How do you like to start a campaign or creative project?

Alexander> A little cliché but: with a blank piece of paper. 

LBB> Are there any tools or platforms (analogue or digital) that you find particularly helpful for gathering or iterating ideas?

Alexander> Pinterest. I love it. It never fails to help me gather some new inspirational impulses. And my iPhone camera: Sometimes I see things or people on the street or elsewhere and take pictures to come back to later on.

LBB> Are there any techniques that you’ve tried that just didn’t gel with you, why?

Alexander> Most creative techniques. I tried some of them, like mind mapping or the five W’s and one H, but I never achieved the same result that I had, when I just went for it without a framework.

LBB> Do you like to start every project as a blank sheet or are you constantly collecting possible inspiration or references for future projects?

Alexander> It’s not a matter of “either-or” for me. I constantly collect references but the first thoughts and ideas are shaped on a blank sheet. When having a first draft of thoughts, I can then combine the references I gathered. Sometimes this also even sparks further ideas.

LBB> Do you prefer to work collaboratively or alone?

Alexander> I need to sort myself first and write down some notes with thoughts I might instantly have. When I have this rough picture and plan for myself, I’m more than happy to work collaboratively to combine ideas and experiences and to commonly develop something outstanding.

LBB> When it comes to the hard bits of a project, when you’re stumped, do you have a process or something you like to do for getting past those tricky bits? 

Alexander> First, I take a step back and do something else. I can get very stuck in my head about things and when I do, I need a quick reset – visually and mentally. Then I revisit the project and often things get a lot clearer.  

LBB> When you’re working with a group, where you might be helping someone else with their process, how do you know when a piece of work is ‘done’?

Alexander> When everything makes sense. 

Is everything in your campaign connected? Great.

Is your visual a holistic image or still a gathering of single pieces? 

If it’s not consistent, it’s not done yet. 


LBB> Where did you grow up and what early experiences do you think sowed the seeds of your creativity?

Alexander> I grew up in a suburb of Cologne, Germany. I loved playing with action figures and always made up new adventures for them. Sometimes for days. And If I didn’t do that I would sit at my desk and just draw for hours.

LBB> How did you hone your craft?

Alexander> By just doing it. At my desk for entire weekends or later, when I was 14, in art and drawing classes. 

LBB> When it comes to your own creativity, what external factors can really help you fly, and what do you find frustrates it?

Alexander> I would always prefer to work in peace but sometimes a certain amount of stress and the pressure of an occurring deadline can help me to ultimately focus. I can get easily distracted and overwhelmed by too many influences at the same time. Therefore, I despise clutter. I’m more effective when in a clean and neat room. 

LBB> What advice would you give to clients looking to get the best out of the teams and agencies they worked with?

Alexander> It’s the same as with everything else: If your pie needs to bake for one hour but you take it out after 20 minutes, it’s probably still liquid inside. Good things need time. Good ideas and solutions not usually happen in  the blink of an eye. 

LBB> How do you think agencies can best facilitate creativity in terms of culture and design?

Alexander> First:  Creativity needs space for failure in the process – it’s the nature of creativity as described initially. Some of the best results are a matter of try and error but you need the culture and environment to enable it.

Second: It’s also all about collaboration – core teams are crucial but are sometimes not mixed ideally. I think, for some projects, it can be better to set up task forces that are interest-based rather than title-based. 

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Havas Germany, Wed, 16 Feb 2022 14:47:31 GMT