Martynas Birskys started his career in branding in big advertising agencies, such as Saatchi&Saatchi Vilnius or BBDO Ukraine. He established the design studio DADADA in Vilnius. In Cocoon, Prague, he directs a team of designers. What are the places that give him his best ideas? In what does he see the parallel between team management and an orchestra?

Martynas, what happened before you became the creative director at Cocoon?

I think I have been very lucky in my life. All the chapters of my life have one thing in common, and that is meeting great people. It started in the film industry as a graphic designer in 2000. I learned a great deal in my first ad agency, Saatchi&Saatchi in Vilnius, where I worked as a graphic designer. In 2006, I met my muse and the mother of my children – photographer Dalia, and we founded DADADA studio together. Now there are 8 people working in DADADA and we operate more like a boutique branding studio. In 2013, I met Rytis Juodeika, who invited me to act as design manager at BBDO Ukraine. Then came Prague, where I met Petr Báča and Jiří Votruba from Cocoon.

What were the reasons leading to you join the Cocoon team?

When I look back, the decision a year ago wasn’t caused by specific reasons, but circumstances. When Petr Báča (company owner) explained the new vision of the company and when I saw the full support the management provided, I decided to come on board. I saw good opportunities for Cocoon as well as myself. 

What does managing a large team mean to you?

I like to see a parallel to an orchestra. Rule number one – everyone has to feel like the most important player on the team. Rule number two – the orchestra as a whole needs to understand the piece we are playing together. And as for the last rule – the performance has to come from the orchestra as a whole, not from an individual accompanied by the rest. I believe that an important motivation for the individual player is the feeling that whatever they do is the best thing for them, but also for the entire team. I know this feeling very well and it is beautiful.

What is your vision with your team of designers? 

My dream is a perfectly working orchestra (laughter). I want to lead a good team and work on great projects with them, much like Gustavo Dudamel conducts an orchestra playing Dvořák’s 9th Symphony. There are 10 people on my team right now, only 2 of them are Czech. The others come from all parts of the world – Turkey, Ukraine, Russia, Romania. I am always looking for new talent, sticking to the start-up mentality, which is currently related to the development of Cocoon. We are not looking for narrowly specialised people. Instead of your typical graphic designers, we are looking for “thinkers, designers, makers“.

Tell us more about your lifestyle between Vilnius and Prague. What are your biggest challenges and what do you enjoy the most?

I keep alternating two weeks in Prague and two weeks in Vilnius. It is a great experience for creatives. I would recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity. It’s been like this the last three years of my life and it suits me. First of all, switching between two cities and two teams gives me energy and a lot of inspiration. I miss my colleagues and my workplace twice a month – isn’t that wonderful? The biggest problem is time, though – it runs twice as fast.

What is your normal workday like?

I try to have breakfast before 7 AM. The time between 8 and 9 AM is only mine, and I can be sure nobody disturbs me. This is probably the moment I’m at my most productive. What happens then is unpredictable. I can spend the whole day in meetings and responding to e-mails. To be sure everything gets done, I have a to-do list – it’s the only file on my computer desktop. 

When and where do you get your best ideas?

A few years ago I realized I seldom work at a desk and I like it that way. I prefer to work from an armchair, my kitchen, with colleagues at a table. I don’t believe that the best ideas can come at a precise moment according to some schedule. If I told myself I’ll think about the campaign tomorrow between 2 and 4 PM, I can be almost certain no good idea will come to me. The best thoughts emerge at breakfast, on my way home, at lunch, during a meeting with a client or talking to my colleagues. I also like to improvise. True, this working style is stressful and you really have to watch your deadlines. It is not easy to find a good idea. Sometimes it’s all about teamwork and talking. Often it’s enough to talk to the junior designers in the corridor and it brings more fruit than a planned meeting with more senior experts. 

If you were to give advice to beginning designers, what would you tell them?

I would sing the lyrics from Someone New by Hozier: “Would things be easier if there was a right way? Honey, there is no right way.”

You often say that “design is not make-up”. What exactly do you mean?

Design is not make-up is my mantra. This is a proposition we came up with together with my strategic planner in Vilnius. And I firmly believe that communication through design is not just decoration. I think that an idea expressed through design can bring a lot of value to the product, as well as the brand or the service. 

How do you relax?

I read and spend time with my family.

What makes you laugh?

Stories told by people who make jokes about themselves. 

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