You began your career creating covers at Random House. Talk us through these early days in publishing and explain how you made the move into advertising.
We all wanted to do record covers and book covers back then ( I ended up doing both). It was the perfect place for a designer who also had an interest in image making as both these formats gave you an opportunity to touch both. Working with these formats taught me typography and how it relates to image. It also taught me how to collaborate with people as I got to commission some of the best illustrators and photographers in the world. When I started we were doing manual handcrafted artworks, which is where I really learned about type, spacing and layout as we labored over them for hours. About half way through that time we got our first MAC and everything changed, although not all for the good, but it did put me on the path to working in digital. I got my first opportunity after meeting Olaf and Thomas Mueller at Razorfish in London. He encouraged me a lot to make the transition to digital telling me “he was looking for people who could design, not just understand technology”. To be honest there wasn’t a lot of technology to understand back then.
Tell us about some of the highlights of your time spent at digital agencies Huge, Organic and Razorfish.
That literally spans about 12 years!
Well, staying in the Sean Connery room at the Taj Hotel in Mumbai was pretty cool. He is a hero and they were a client. Getting to sit on the Design Jury at Cannes twice meant I got to meet some pretty amazing people like Karl Heiselman from Wolf Ollins and Mary Moberly from Lewis Moberly who have become friends. Working on the Meth Project with Brad Mancuso on my team when we got to commission and shoot spots with Darren Aronofsky. Getting to meet and work with Sean Combs on Revolt TV. He turns out to be a pretty inspirational guy and gets type.
I guess I have been pretty lucky.
You’ve overseen branding and design for household names including Nike, Pepsi, Audi, Intel and VW. Share a few valuable lessons from your experience working with these leading brands.
The higher up an organization we go, the more successful our work becomes. The work we do tends to push brands into areas they have never gone before and it takes the person who owns the vision for the company to help you get there. We spend way too much time on what the technology is going to do for us and if it is cool and new. We do not spend enough time of the design layer, and if that is good enough and pushing the brand forward visually. A lack of budget puts off too many people. Big brands don’t always mean big budget. Sometimes a smaller budget and a tighter time frame can push us to do things we wouldn’t normally consider. Some of the best work comes out of these pressure cookers.
What have been the 3 most significant campaigns of your career so far?
The Samsung Touch TV campaign I did with Ross Maupin where we got to work with Usher (I think it is still the 5th most watched YouTube video ever). The Meth Project I mentioned before, the work still gives me goose bumps two tears on. Working on Pepsi Pulse was fun.
What are some of the unique challenges associated with leading a global team of creatives?
This might be an essay in itself. Communication has to be the biggest problem. We all have our day-to-day problems at an office level that can keep you pretty much 100% focused. So finding your common language, work style, approach, what you all believe in as creatives requires you to spend a lot of time together talking and breaking bread, so you understand each other first and then the work. That is hard when you are in all the corners of the world so you have to put things in place that bring you together and force you out of the day-to-day. It makes you communicate. Make you examine the work as a network and be honest about what is working and what isn’t.
You have a huge love for design. Which designer(s) work do you particular admire?
A lot of the classics like Vaughan Oliver, Peter Saville, Paul Rand, but also a lot of the new British designers like magazine designer Matt Willey (of PORT magazine), the branding agency Coast from Brussels do some beautiful work. But also product designers like Tony Fadell of NEST who just killed it with the Nest Thermostat, from product to package to experience.
Which recent campaign(s) best showcase the power of design?
I really loved the outdoor campaign that Ogilvy France did last year for IBM Smart Ideas. They tweaked old advertising formats like bus shelters and made them not only more functional and useful, but beautiful in the process.
What frustrates you about the design process?
The word “Process”
What has been your biggest career gamble?
Leaving a successful career in record cover and book design and moving to digital at a time when we could only use four fonts and 256 colors. Thankfully that changed.