We talked to Gaétan Pautler, founder of the Paris-based Concrete Club, to discuss creative inspiration, the importance of collaboration, and what it means to be part of a freelance collective.
How do you ensure that every project remains true to the Concrete Club's commitment to never let creativity be compromised?
One of the main aspects on which I founded Concrete Club is "creativity before profit". After years of working in various agencies, I've come to realise that creativity drives me far more than the quest for profit. My job is an incredible outlet and a place of self-fulfilment, rather than a day-to-day job in the true sense of the word.
Obviously, the idea is not to work for free, but to find a balance that allows me — at certain times — to get out of this "profit at any price" zone and push a project further and experiment with new creative orientations to get out of an artistic comfort zone.
Also, Concrete Club's structure (a kind of freelance collective, with no salaried employees) means that I don't have the pressure of paying salaries at the end of each month.
I'm also lucky enough to work with people who are as passionate as I am. This shared passion and the quest for creativity in every aspect of the project changes everything.
In what ways does the studio's collaborative approach differ when working with other people rather than for them?
There can be no good project without a good client. The studio-client relationship is an essential component in the success of a project, in all its aspects. It's a priority for me to work with clients who have the same mindset as me: a passion for what they do and a desire to do things differently.
I like to use the word 'with' rather than 'for' when talking about my collaborations with clients, because I believe that to have a healthy and constructive dialogue, it's important to create a relationship of equality.
My clients are included in the creative process, and their ideas are as valid as mine. The same goes for the story they tell through their project. Sometimes I intervene in its structure or even its content.
How does the love for design, digital technologies, and art manifest in your daily work at Concrete Club?
The creative inspiration process is constant. There's hardly a moment in my week when I'm not thinking about my work, and how to enrich it. I try to feed it with as many artistic influences as possible and I think everyone I work with has a similar passion and approach. The plurality of artistic influences also manifests itself in the very concrete creative process.
I think that the tools we use on a daily basis, be it Figma, Photoshop or any development framework, tend to dictate the rendering guidelines of our work. It's important to break free of these limits by exploring other ways of creating, and that's where the artistic intelligence and references I’ve accumulated over the years come into play.
Whether it's collage, hand-drawn illustrations, analog photography or stop-motion animation, we try to refine the boundary between digital and real life.
“Working alone is boring, socially, intellectually and creatively. ”
Could you share a story that illustrates the importance of friendship within the Concrete Club community in driving a project's success?
Working with friends is an enormous opportunity. The time we spend working on projects is just an extension of the time we already spend together in our lives, which has so many advantages.
We know each other's sensibilities and limits, but more than everything, it makes every project simpler and more damn fun!
How do you approach the collaborative dimension in your work to make it central to your creative process?
Working alone is boring: socially, intellectually and creatively. Working with talented people from other creative disciplines gives a project so much more depth. Collaboration allows you to push a project much further, with basically no creative limits.
My clients know that, whatever ambitions we decide to give to the project's creative approach, we'll collaborate with experts in their fields (illustrators, 3D artists, typographers, videographers etc.).
The collaboration is also intellectual. It's important for me to give everyone involved in a project the chance to raise the creative bar. A developer, for instance, can have crazy creative ideas that I would never have thought of on my own. The same goes for an illustrator, or even a project manager. Everyone is more than welcomed to participate in the creative process.
This is the symbiosis that I strive for on a daily basis and that makes the process so exciting.
What challenges have you faced in maintaining a collaborative environment and how have you overcome them?
Honestly, I may be very lucky, but I've never had any issue with collaborations so far. All the projects we work on are very fluid, and the clients are very receptive to our approach. I get the impression that the idea of collaboration is really fun for them, and they're happy to play along.
We also have total freedom, thanks to our freelance status. Everyone is free to define their limits, which makes it s a very healthy relationship, I think.
Can you discuss a project where collaboration led to unexpected and innovative results?
I worked on a website project with an illustrator who was in charge of hand-drawing flowers, which we planned to make appear every time the user would click throughout the experience. The initial idea, which the client agreed to, was to have just one variety of flower, but Marie, the illustrator, suggested 5, to energise the surprise and densify the art direction, so we decided to spend a couple more evenings working on those flowers.
Once the project was under development, Remi, the developer suggested we animate them to add even more surprise and immersion. So the three of us spent the weekend testing and animating hand-drawn flowers frame by frame.
The result of those additions to the initial perimeter really elevated the experience. In my opinion, the best creative idea came from a developer on this project!
How do you maintain a balance between individual artistic freedom and the collaborative ethos that is central to Concrete Club's philosophy?
I try to work with the right people for each project. It's important that the people I work with bring real value to the project by being as free as possible in the way they work.
The reason I decide to work with a particular person is because I am fully confident in their ability to elevate the project. It's important to me that they take part in the discussions and redefine the project's ambition by contributing their ideas and vision.
For the alchemy to be perfect, everyone has to have fun, that's the most important thing.
Looking forward, how do you see the collaborative aspect of your work evolving with Concrete Club's growth?
Collaboration is at the heart of the creative process, and it has to stay there, by any means necessary. If this is no longer the case, Concrete Club has no reason to exist anymore.
I also want to experiment working processes that would give even more space to these collaborations. Nothing concrete yet, but it's something I'm constantly thinking about.
Also, there are a lot of extremely talented people with whom I dream of collaborating. It's mostly a question of finding the right project and the right time for everyone to be as comfortable as possible, but it's a real goal that I set myself every year. I really do have a list of names that I dream of ticking off!