Olivier Auroy, the managing director of Fitch Middle East, is something of a renaissance man. He takes very good photographs, has just finished his first novel and has a view on everything from Italian football to why some corporate logos are boring to the importance of colour in design.
Born in Paris and educated at Sciences Po, one of the Grandes Ecoles, his grandfather was a Scrabble aficionado, who died at his board surrounded by an alphabet of scattered letters. This love of wordplay encouraged Olivier in his first job at a naming company, where his first assignment was to come up with a name for socks for babies.
He moved on to naming Chanel perfumes, French cheeses, cars and a variety of other products, before moving into design, then branding. Now he researches in souqs, reads widely and is infinitely curious. In his 40s, married to an Italian, with two girls, he says one of his hardest assignments was the naming of his two daughters, Livia and Elena.
Fitch, led by the charismatic Lois Jacobs, is part of WPP, the giant advertising, marketing and PR conglomerate run by Sir Martin Sorrell. In the region the business for design companies is estimated at about US$30 million (Dh110.1m), about 10 times smaller than the advertising business.
"But it's growing," says Mr Auroy. And he believes the local market is maturing. One indicator of this is when there are separate branding agencies, rather than just advertising agencies. "In mature markets, each agency has a purpose and expertise. You don't mix. It seems to me that we are reaching this point in the UAE. Companies have understood that the best brands come from the branding agencies. Why? Because they work on the foundations of the brand, they don't just scratch the surface."
Tell us about Fitch.
It's a branding and design company founded in the 1970s by an English guy called Rodney Fitch. He did a great job, was one of the first to come to Dubai. He had an office in the World Trade Centre where he did work for, among others, Pierre Cardin, at the time when Pierre Cardin was a great brand, which unfortunately is not the case anymore. He returned to the UK, went to the States, and now Fitch is the biggest design network in the Middle East, with studios in Kuwait, Doha, Dubai and Jordan, employing more than 40 people. We have people on the ground, which is why people want to call us.
What is special about design in the Middle East?
You have multiple targets. You are not just designing for Emiratis but for Arab expats, for western expats, so most of the time the identity you create has to appeal for everybody, which is difficult because it must be appealing but not a compromise. I used to say the great identity in the region is when you have an Arabic-looking identity that is still approachable for expats. There is a way to do it. If I talk about a type of calligraphy called thuluth, which is very complex, but if I use kufic it is very easy. Arabs like it, but westerners also like it. The worst is when you have something very elaborate that looks old-fashioned and too calligraphic. Simplicity is the key word.
So what makes a good logo? Do you agree that the circle is overused?
Possibly, it's very subjective. It is definitely the flowerish pattern that gets overused. For example, the logo for Kizad, the new port [in Abu Dhabi], is weak and too similar to a real-estate visual from Dubai Holding. It is time to explore different shapes and themes. Having said that, I like the work that has been done on Yas Island, Saadiyat Island, all the islands, the visual language is quite good, I like the simplicity of Adia's [Abu Dhabi Investment Authority] design. After 10 or 15 years of branding in the UAE we need new symbols and shapes. I like the identity of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, very unique. Something Fitch has worked on is the identity of the UAE. We came from a very old-fashioned falcon and took it to a level that looks modern but one that stays true to the identity of the UAE.
How important is colour?
Very. What you have to know is that blue is the favourite colour of Europeans. Here in the Middle East it's gold and green. Gold because of wealth and green because it's the colour of Islam. I never say don't use green or gold; they are very interesting, but you need to differentiate them. Beyond cultural sensitivity, the most-used colour in branding is red, and that makes sense because it is the first colour your eye sees. Blue is the other side of the spectrum, soothing and calming. At one time McDonald's put red inside the restaurants because you would then eat and go. It makes you nervous. Yellow is also very visible. Orange for food is very simple. It's the colour that makes your mouth water, it is scientifically proven.