Fifteen years ago Roberto Bagatti was a bored jobbing graphic designer, dissatisfied with work that just didn’t excite him. An off chance email to MTV changed all that, and Bagatti soon found himself working on his fantasy brand. After working on all aspects of the channel’s creative design, Bagatti now heads up the MTV World Design Studio, collaborating with creative talent networks and coordinating the content to ensure that MTV and the wider Viacom networks are fresh and relevant. We got talking to Bagatti about the challenges of working on a broadcast brand in an increasingly fragmented media landscape.
LBB> What is it about MTV that makes it so successful or unique?
RB> I think it has a strong connection with a specific generation of 14-to-24-year-olds. It’s one of the only content providers on a worldwide scale that caters to that demographic. I’m obviously referring to the computer-literate youth that has a natural relationship with fragmented media and online technology. The previous generation just doesn’t have the same relationship with these things.
My parents often remind me that I didn’t ask for a bike when I was 14, I asked for a computer. At that time, it was weird, because the majority of my pals weren’t really thinking about computers. Now kids are practically born using iPads. It’s just a whole new age. What I think MTV does successfully as a media brand, is that it caters to that demographic and provides media on all platforms.
LBB> How do you keep yourself on the pulse of what’s going on with that generation. You’re not 14-to-24...?
RB> I’m not 14-to-24... I’m 41! I think as a creative director and having spent 11 years at MTV it comes quite naturally. The majority of the information I receive comes from the web. For some of us there’s been a natural progression into this technology. I don’t know if that’s because I was lucky enough to feel heavily attracted by new forms of media, like video games for example. I’ve always been a gamer – I probably will be a gamer for the rest of my life. Video games are now a mainstream form of media. You could arguably say they’ve replaced cinema in terms of relevance. Now video games have a cinematic quality.
LBB> We were talking to Al Moseley [managing partner at 180 Amsterdam] and referred to the three stages of gaming. First gaming was in the bedroom, then it was in the living room, and now it’s on the streets. What are your thoughts on this?
RB> The thing that’s interesting is the fact that gaming is not even a personal experience any more. It’s a portable networking experience. Machines are designed to be connected to a network of other players 24-7. We’re looking at a scenario where fragmentation has got to a point that it challenges the actual idea of broadcast. If you don’t know that and you’re not conscious of that, it’s actually pretty difficult to work with any brand that has the will to challenge the limits of its nature.
LBB> With so many different platforms out there, how do you face each challenge and make sure you’re competitive?
RB> It’s not something you can manage single-handedly. There has to be a high level of organisation, keeping the radar open on any sort of technology that comes in. If you think of the evolution from desktops to laptops to iPads, that’s all happened in five years, within a generation. We don’t even know where that’s going. I don’t know if you’ve tried the new operating system from Apple, the Mountain Lion, it’s essentially an iPad operating system on a laptop. Everything’s going touchscreen. How do you keep updated with that? You can’t on an individual level but you can as an organised brand. You have to be prepared to change constantly.
LBB> So how did you get to where you are today?
RB> I come from typography and fine arts. I studied typography in a town called Parma, which is 100km south of Milan. I studied within the building where Bodoni designed his Bodoni typeface. Then I moved to Milan. This was over 15 years ago. I was freelancing as a graphic designer for advertising agencies and after many years of frustration I realised that many of my jobs weren’t really fulfilling me creatively and I decided to look around. I had these two fantasy ambitions – one was to work for MTV and the other was to work for Nike. Funnily, it all happened because I sent an email through a website MTV ran. I explained that I was a graphic designer and asked if I could show someone my portfolio. They actually got back to me and after six or seven months of talking I moved back to London and started working as a graphic designer. I slowly worked my way up the ranks, learning how design and creativity works on different levels of the company.
LBB> How do you find creative people for your studio?
RB> Let’s say that we have priorities within our criteria. Of course we look for people with a certain amount of experience in broadcast, but that’s not the main point for us. We’re a team made of designers who may have become art directors; people who have taken a step sideways away from the hands on experience and instead they’re looking at how to articulate a brief, how to work in a collaborative way. What we look for are people with a strong design background; we look for illustrators and typographers, those who have a strong visual approach. You build up on that. If they have broadcast experience – bingo. The human aspect is very important too – can they work as part of a team? We’re not a team of Maradonas.
We don’t necessarily produce all our projects in-house. We produce some projects, or some parts in-house. ln the case of a channel branding, we’ll generally design and produce them internally as it gives us a direct connection with the transmission technology. We tend to collaborate with outside studios on CGI or full screen motion graphics. Internally we don’t have the muscle – but we don’t want the muscle as we want to have a continuously fresh stream of talent coming to channel.
LBB> What is it about Milan that inspires you and keeps you there?
RB> Most of the work I do is not particularly inspired by the place that I work, even if Milan is a great place for design. It’s not necessarily a centre of graphic design. Milan is more about industrial design, furniture design and fashion, things which are lateral to the work that we do. At the same time, being part of such a complex and granular network like MTV means that there is a lot of opportunity for travel. Most of the inspiration also comes from places where MTV have design studios, places like Singapore, Stockholm, London, Buenos Aires… places where you can have get a global picture of different schools of thought about creativity.
LBB> Is there anything you’ve worked on in the last 12 months that has really resonated and that you’ve enjoyed?
RB> We constantly add idents to the channel. We schedule them throughout the year so that we can have an internal refresh every three or four months in the channel. Earlier this year we worked with Buck in LA and I’m very happy with the results of that project
. I think it manages to fit in very well with our brand positioning, it’s lots of fun, and I’d say it’s the zenith of their talent. Another project in the works is a collaboration with an ex-member of Shynola, Richard Kenworthy and James Jarvis. We’re bringing to life various characters of James Jarvis. We’re very excited about working with new talent and getting in touch with them.
LBB> Do you enjoy what you do?
RB> Yes. It’s fun. It’s a lot of hard work, but with creative work you work hard and for very long hours because it’s fun. If you don’t really find that vein of fun inside what you do then it can be very hard to motivate not only your team but also other studios. What we do doesn’t just cover graphic design and motion design, but fashion, toys, games… everything. The day that ends; that’s the day you have to change jobs.