The Birmingham Gazette is on a mission to seek out the finest local businesses making a big difference both to our glorious city and to some of the most exciting brands around. We were delighted to catch up with Clusta, an interactive ideas agency with a passion for crafting engaging, functional and rich digital content across a range of media. From online and mobile to social, physical and outdoor they have worked with brands such as Cadbury, Channel 4, Chanel, Selfridges and Toshiba gaining them an international reputation for quality and inspiring design.
What is Clusta and how did you come up with the name?
Originally Clusta was a collective of designers, video artists, 3d animators, photographers and club promoters – the name came out of us being a ‘collective’ of skill and mind sets – plus we were notoriously bad at spelling!
When you launched the business what type of funding, grants were available for businesses in Birmingham and tell us about why you decided to launch?
When we first started the business it was self funded, but we did have some help from the Prince’s Youth Trust which was invaluable to us at the time. However, for the first year or two we simply ran the company on no salaries whilst we grew our client base and slowly started getting money through the door.
Where was your first office and who were your first clients?
Our first office was in the Custard Factory and our first clients were actually various entertainment venues around Birmingham for which we designed and printed their promotional materials. Our first real digital job was for an IT company.
Do you remember a turning point when you both realised that Clusta was going to be successful?
That’s quite a tricky one, running your own business it always feels like you’re on the verge of huge success– that’s what keeps you on your toes. For a longtime, when we started becoming the outsource for all the big London ad agencies we worked so hard our feet didn’t touch the ground, then we looked back and we were like – “oh, we’ve been producing some really interesting work for some really big players in the ad world”, at that point it felt like we’d gone from a small design consultancy, to an interactive advertising agency.
What are the values you adopt / work ethic etc?
The entire agency was involved in writing the four core beliefs that sum up how we work as a collective and the outputs that we produce.
1. Creativity without boundaries
We do things differently at Clusta. Because, we understand that innovation requires us to step outside the realms of what we know and take a broader look at the world we live in.
Our diverse team embraces a wide range of creative and technical skill-sets. This depth of knowledge is most effective when working with our partners to find the best solution to a problem, free from constraints and preconceptions.
2. Breaking new ground, together
The technical landscape is progressing at an inconceivable pace, and standing still will not move us, or our partners forward. Instead, we look towards the future, embracing new concepts and theories.
3. Doing amazing things
The world is a noisy place. So, if we want people to take notice of what we’re doing, if we want to evoke an emotional response, then we should always aim for amazing. From the way something looks, to its human connections. Amazing is a feeling that comes from the whole experience.
4. Always learning, always sharing
At Clusta, we openly encourage each other to share and explore personal interests. We learn from one another and grow together as an agency. To enhance our on-going efforts, ClustaLabs was founded in 2010. Initially born from a knowledge transfer partnership with Birmingham City University, ClustaLabs is now our dedicated research lab. It was set up specifically to help discover and augment new human behaviours, future trends and emerging platforms.
What are your design inspirations?
We all came from the roots of Designers Republic, Build, Non-Format, Attic etc. but Dan Westwood and Joe Mitchlemore in particular keep a very close eye on the current design scene – OkRM, Hort, Biblioteque etc.
What does Clusta provide now as well as graphic design?
Clusta is a strategically led interactive advertising agency and have been for many years now – design is something that has always been integral to everything we produce, but we work across a huge range of media: websites, ipad/iphone apps, interactive touch screens, interactive projections, on-line games, advertising, 3d animation, motion graphics etc.
What do you think makes Birmingham such a great place for creative industries?
I think there’s a lot of opportunity for collaboration in Birmingham, and also access to a lot of kit. London is prohibitively expensive for hiring studios, equipment etc. Birmingham is much cheaper, and quite often you can team up with the university’s here – I think it’s great if you’re a young start-up in that sense.
What are your plans for the future?
We plan to keep building on what we have, we have a great team in place both here in Birmingham and also in London. New York is definitely an opportunity we’d like to explore also.
We’ve heard about so many of your projects, from the days before social media where your printed works were produced on gorgeous GF Smith textured papers to more recent endeavours with big names brands like Gordon Ramsay. However, we’re really excited to learn more about Project Ocean, tell us more…
Selfridges – Project Ocean
The ocean is a source of food, a place for recreation, and its beauty has inspired countless artists. But, it’s under threat from over-fishing and poor fishing practices. Selfridges wanted to take a more pro-active role in protecting endangered fish stocks, whilst increasing awareness of the threat within the public domain.
We developed a number of digital touch points for the campaign, including a dynamic website, iPhone app and interactive digital ocean, installed in the window of Selfridges on Oxford Street, London. A custom physics engine was built to animate the fish, which are born into the ocean each time a user makes a donation. The 4x2m interactive window was an epic combination of hardware, custom software, digital display systems and the latest ‘Displax Touch Foil’ technology. Users were able to engage with the Ocean scene at street level, text donations and watch their fish being born in real-time as their donation was received.
Project Ocean has been extremely well received, with the website, iPhone app and window, all contributing significantly to the volume of money donated to the campaign. Nearly 4 million people saw Project Ocean’s windows 3000 Fish Guide iPhone apps have been downloaded to date. Over 50,000 visits to the Project Ocean website within a 2 month period.
But it didn’t end there. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall then asked us to develop the mobile app further into the ‘Hugh’s Fish Fight app’ focusing on banning fishing discards in the North Sea. This app became Channel 4’s second most-downloaded app and featured in iTunes ‘Best Apps of 2011’. The app played a pivotal role in garnering support for the campaign which has now helped to force a debate in the Houses of Parliament, resulting in the Government funding a six month study into the effects of a discard ban. This activity was followed closely by the European Commission publishing a proposal for a new Common Fisheries Policy which recommended a ban on discards, something which we are very proud of.
To view more amazing projects from Clusta, or simply to get in touch with the team log on to their website: