#CSinterviews Jonathan Kenyon, Founder / ECD, Vault49, NYC

How would you describe your job to an alien?

I’m like a bumblebee! Flying around from plant to plant within Vault49 helping ideas cross-pollinate so our studio can make sweet creative honey… and money, so I make sure that the hive is looked after.

How did it all start, and how have you got to where you are today?

There are some early pivotal moments, but the most important of these was meeting my good friend and now business partner at the London College of Printing in 2001. We established a design and street art collective, flypostering over 1,000 hand printed screen prints each week around London.

In May 2002 we saw a derelict building in London’s East End and took the opportunity to cover it’s façade entirely in our work. It turns out that the abandoned building was in fact not derelict and was actually the HQ of Dazed and Confused magazine, and they had to cut their way into their office the next morning. The editors of Dazed managed to track us down and, instead of being pissed off, they told us that they loved what we’d done and they offered us a six month exhibition in their gallery plus three features in the magazine too.

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 13.28.20

We realised that covering buildings in our work was rather effective, so we did the same to lots of others including WGSN and Creative Review, all of whom featured our work repeatedly as a result. Commercial commissions started to come in rapidly and we had overnight global exposure.

In 2004 we relocated to New York as a design studio instead of street artists, and today Vault49 is a team of 30 spread divided between design, strategy, motion and accounts. Since the partners don’t have preconceptions from working at other agencies, Vault49 has never walked the beaten path and we’ve always found our own way, for better or worse. Mostly better. We’re unique in what we do and how we work as a result, and our clients see us as a breath of fresh air – or their ‘special forces’ as we’ve been called a few times. We work hard to retain what made us unique at the start.

Which projects that you’ve been involved with, are you most proud of?

In the early days I used to take satisfaction solely in the creative output, but I get my kicks now from understanding our client’s businesses and delivering work that’s effective for them. It’s with that in mind I’d say our most memorable recent work of the last six months has been for GE – a hugely inspiration client to work with.

The client came to us with a simple concept. GE saw the next frontier not as space travel, but on mapping the trillions of connections happening in the universe in our head. How could Vault49 communicate this ambition in a compelling and interesting way to their substantial social media audience (millions)?

With the aid of GE scientists and in partnership with Vayner Media, we developed a series of six concepts which expressed how our brains work differently when we’re in love, learning an instrument, optimistic, introverted, practicing sport, or playing video games. The output was six short films produced in a four week turnaround which were beautifully captivating, educational, and inspiring in equal measure.

I’m proud of our ideas, production values, efficiency and final deliverables, but I’m also very proud that this has been one of the most effective social media campaigns released to date by GE.

GE – The Next Frontier – Director’s Cut from vault49 on Vimeo.

We have been working on a series of videos for GE, Exploring The Universe In Your Head.

What are the biggest challenges you’re faced with in your work at the moment and how do you overcome them?

Finding the right balance between commercial opportunities, creative rewards, and personal fulfillment. It’s a constant balancing act and the challenge isn’t that much different from the days when we were two people to the 30 we are today. The consequences of getting it wrong are just greater and the responsibility of making this work for more people needs constant attention.

What’s been your biggest learning throughout your career so far?

Doing great work will only get you so far. Once you reach a certainly level of quality, it’s much more about the relationships you build. Working with Vault49 should be the highlight of our client’s days, not a chore.


What’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen recently?

My 5yr old son doesn’t just play Minecraft, he watches YouTube videos of other people playing Minecraft. I think it’s wonderful that his idol is a normal guy called Stampylongnose who loves playing video games, who is so likeable as a decent human being that he is his own media channel that everyone wants a part of. A big part of Vault49’s future will involve our own audience, and not just that of our clients.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Keep doing yourself out of a job, until you’re left only with what you enjoy and are good at.

Where do you do your best thinking?

I thrive on monotony! I like to put myself in places where I’m cut off from too much stimulus and can just process and connect what’s already in my head. It’s possible to do this anywhere with a bit of effort, but plane journeys are always very productive for me.

If you could travel in time, where would you go and what would you do?

Definitely back in time. I’ve always wondered how much the past has been distorted dependent on who’s telling the story, and I’d love to see key historical events with my own eyes.

If you could work with anyone on a project, who would it be and what would you do?

I’d like to make a fleet of holographic Dazzle ships in a NY harbor, working with Peter Martin.

Tell us something about yourself that not many people know?

I used to race Mini Metros, which was a squeeze since I’m 6”4!

If you could go back and do one thing differently, what would it be?

That’s tough! I think I’d go back and tell my younger self that it’s ok to pause, say no to an opportunity, and reward yourself for working hard. There will always be other opportunities.


Who or what inspires your creativity?

That’s easy. The whole team at Vault49. Sometimes being involved is inspiring, other times I’ve learned to get out of the way and watch the magic happen!

What’s next?

We’re finding opportunities wherever possible to partner and invest in the brands we work for, which is great for so many reasons: it’s educational and rewarding because we get to become experts in new fields; it’s good for the rest of our business as it ensures we always have a keen eye on what’s best for our clients rather than what’s best for us; and it blurs the line between service provider and integral business partner. I don’t want Vault49 to be considered an optional service when budget allows; I’d like our clients to see us as partners who understand their business, deliver a clear and measurable return on investment, and whose success is directly aligned with their own.

Vault49 are represented by Bernstein & Andriulli




Hey, like this post? Why not share it with someone?