Meet Grant, the founder of Neu

A self-taught developer and self-styled “total httpster,” MacLennan has masterminded eye-catching campaigns for everyone from Tennent’s lager to Coldplay, and created innovative, internet breaking products drawing a line between technology and popular culture. In a wide-ranging conversation, MacLennan shares revealing insights into how he works, how he stays at the cutting edge, and where he finds his inspiration.

Grant MacLennan Founder, Neu

Question 01 In your line of work, do you think it’s better to be a generalist or to be niche?


Businesswise I’m a generalist; I’m interested in lots of different businesses. I think the secret is seeing things happening in one industry and applying them to another industry, reading between the lines. I think I’ve had ADHD since I was a kid, but it’s never been diagnosed. I was reading articles about it, and one person mentioned that they find things funny that other people don’t find funny, because they join them up to other things. I absolutely do that, too. It works in a creative process as well because you think‘I saw this thing over here, I saw this thing over here, and I think there’s a gap in the middle, which this thing fits into.’

Question 02 What made Neu famous?


Making things that are interesting, that have kind of popped. The first thing was [online radio station] Poolside, which I made with a friend of mine that went viral. We did an ad for Tennent’s that was in The New Yorker. We’ve done stuff with the music industry that’s popped. Exit Brexit did really well. The interesting thing now is people come to me for consultation, like, ‘have you got an idea for this?’ Which is great, but it can be very hit or miss.

Question 03 Tell us about some weird things you've built


I built something on Twitter a couple of years ago called DJ Lazy Set, where you tweeted the name of an artist and it replied automatically with a playlist. That went so big that Twitter closed it down because it was sending so many tweets. There was another I did on Twitter called MJ’s Mixtape, based on a scene in the Michael Jordan documentary on Netflix where he’s got headphones on and he’s bobbing his head. I built this thing where, if you tweeted at MJ’s Mixtape with the name of a track, it automatically generated the video with the track over the top pulled from Spotify. I quite like seeing memes or things in culture and thinking: how do you automate them?

Making things that people genuinely like

In a world where stimulation awaits us from multiple avenues on tap, how might we design to truly capture our audience’s attention? Establishing themselves within a world more connected than ever before, Studio Something aim to meet this challenge head on, whilst staying true to their mission to ‘make something people genuinely like.’

There’s something quite empowering about being intensely hated by some but loved by others. Getting attention both positive and negative; I guess that’s the world we live in.

Ian Greenhill Founder, Studio Something

Question 01 Making things that stand out


I took this notion of doing stuff that only some people would like – and understand – into my business. All these things we make don’t need to be liked by everyone; we believe in making things that stand out and get noticed, drawing attention simply by being. Generally, the stuff we make is loved by the right people. 

Question 02 One of your favourite Changesource projects?


We helped create the brand for a smart-money app called Choices. Within the app, we decided to create a series of characters called ‘Choicemakers. The theory behind the Choicemakers was that, because money is both emotional and scary, creating a series of characters to guide you along your financial journey would make things a little bit easier. So far so uncontentious, except we knew we wanted to make the Choicemakers look a little less than conventional.

Question 03 When to listen to customers, and when to be inspired by them


We’ve had a lot of research sessions go awry, so we know when to listen to consumer feedback and change things. But if you listened to all notes from feedback sessions you’d end up with some very bland work; the trick is knowing what to concede and improve on. For us, that one thing was the Choicemakers’ thighs. They were massive and, seemingly, all people could look at. I’m all for being memorable but I didn’t want to be known as the thigh guy.