Learning to deviate from the norm, with Rob Duncan from Mucho


Just when it feels like everything has been done before, you see something that makes you stop. Maybe it’s an interesting new cafe or a movie you can’t stop thinking about. And the same is true for your business – there is always a way to make the familiar feel new and exciting.

That’s the approach designer Rob Duncan from Mucho takes to his work. So when he spoke in Brisbane with AGDA, I made sure I was there to catch his every word.

His career has taken him all the way to an anti-gravity chamber at NASA’s Space Power Facility in Ohio. And yes, there’s a link here between NASA and design, so bear with me.

As Rob discussed the way he sees the world, I was captivated — so I wanted to share his insights with you here. Because looking outside the box isn’t just a design exercise – it’s a mindset you can apply to so many aspects of your business. And it just so happens that Rob’s visit to that anti-gravity chamber is the perfect metaphor for how great ideas are born …

How amazing is it to see a bowling ball and feathers falling at the same pace?! Not only is that a stunning visual, it’s also something you would never expect to see. When you think of these two objects being dropped at the same time, you instinctively know the ball will fall faster than the feathers. And when that expectation is challenged, magic happens.

When it comes to your brand, it pays to think in the same way.

Creating new ideas for your brand

Your anti-gravity chamber is your idea and the research behind it. Your brand is the memorable visual of the bowling ball and feathers.

Even if your brand is offering a product or service people have experienced before, there is always a way to turn the idea on its head. To arrive at that final destination, you have to first consider what you want your brand to stand for.

Let’s say you’re a photographer. You could stand for capturing memories, or you could align yourself with another core value. Maybe you’re more of a rebel – and I for one would love to know more about what happens in a rebel photography session. That’s different.

The same happens when it comes to designing a brand. Together we sit down and work out what makes you different. This process takes time, thought and research. We get inside the anti-gravity chamber and go through a brand workbook together in order to make you stand out in an authentic way.

As designer Alan Fletcher said of the familiar: “Stroke a cliché until it purrs like a metaphor.”

So what do the results of this process look like? Here are some ideas that show you how to take something familiar and tweak it just enough to make it different.

1. G’ AY MATE campaign

There’s nothing more Australian than greeting a friend (or a stranger, for that matter) with g’day mate.

As last year’s same-sex marriage debate heated up, the designers behind the G’ AY MATE campaign reframed the discussion. Rather than focusing on religion or what was happening overseas, they aligned the issue with Australian values of mateship and a fair go.

It’s this insight that made the campaign so memorable, and its tagline “Australia, are we missing something?”

Interbrand’s simple and poignant G’ AY MATE campaign.

2. Wallpaper* City Guides

A city guide isn’t a new idea, but Wallpaper* City Guides have a cult following because they are different to everything else.

The small pocket-sized guides are easy to flick through and they don’t shout ‘I’m a tourist’ when you open them in the street. And the concise number of recommendations makes it easy to get to know the city – as opposed to feeling as though you’ll never see it all.

It’s a familiar format, but reinvented for discerning travellers.


Wallpaper* City Guides are reminiscent of Pantone colour swatches, appealing to a designer audience. Images via Compendium Store

3. Venmo debit cards

Here’s an example of how Rob’s studio Mucho have challenged the status quo through design.

They were tasked with designing a new debit card for payment app Venmo. Instead of accepting that debit cards must be horizontal, they created a vertical orientation with the chip at the top to make it easier to insert the card into payment terminals.

This decision, together with packaging and personalisation options for the card, shows how simple everyday products can be reimagined.


Image via Mucho’s website.

In summary: it’s the little things that make the biggest difference

When it comes to your brand, it’s the small details that will mean the most. Being able to tune into those details comes down to your perspective.

According to Rob, there are for ways to keep an open mind:

·    Look outside your day-to-day bubble for inspiration (that’s what I did recently in Germany)

·    Give ideas time to develop

·    Be curious and always ask plenty of questions

·    Understand the essential truth of your business

Feeling inspired?

Don’t waste this moment – write your ideas down while they’re fresh! I’ve created a free Brand Discovery Journal where you can keep all your ideas in one place. It’s a workbook with prompts to help you make those ideas bolder and brighter.

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