“Live in the leading–
the spaces in between the rules.” –Stefan Mumaw
Starting in 2004…
I became the Senior Art Director for Creative Strategy Group. We were a full service agency that specialized in annual reports. I worked closely with editors and account managers and learned how to flesh out a narrative. But, most importantly, it was at CSG where I experienced the importance of audience. Annual reports are not geared towards the customer of the product that the company produces. It’s intended audience is it’s shareholders. They have different needs. I had to step out of my own way — my bias’ and assumptions — in order to see how to best serve my client’s and their users. After all, in today’s design thinking world, form by necessity follows function.
Fundamental to helping client’s solve their problems is empathy — for both the user as well as the client themselves. Good design starts with strategy: How does this fit into business goals? What types of communication can help further these goals? Will what I’m creating actually bring about gains for my clients? I understand business needs and how good design helps to achieve these objectives through clear communication and usefulness. I start every project with a creative brief of my own design— a document whose purpose is to expand on not just the basics of the project, but also audience information, client goals, stakeholder specifics and success visualization. This brief has enabled my agency to capture far more information at the start of a project, thereby reducing revisions and the costs associated with churn.
None of this can be accomplished, though, without process and organization. I had been building amazing creative teams for over a decade. But what about the processes that are the necessary underpinnings of a successful business? When an agency scales, it’s absolutely important to make sure that processes scale as well (because most don’t). Given the opportunity to start from scratch, what could we do to create efficient solutions to complex problems? In my current role as Creative Director at mock5, I help to spot these areas of inefficiencies and then pull together a team to create, plan and kick off internal solutions. To date, I have launched our project management initiative (including workflow and software), a digital discovery process and a fully collaborative digital workflow. These 3 projects have allowed our agency to capture more earnings through:
Better communication: this helps to preemptively gain client buy-in
Estimating: and since we’ve communicated to the client the research and rational for our decisions, the client sees the value in each line item
Happy clients: these 3 processes each provide a mechanism to ensure client communication and collaboration that’s been determined at the start of the project and based on the client’s desires and needs. This results in happy clients who enthusiastically see our value and love working with us — increasing expenditures on both new and pipeline projects.
I have been able to guide these processes through because of a methodical and analytical approach to problem solving. It is this holistic approach that has helped grow our agency from 4 people to over 20 and increase our client pipeline through retainer growth as well as rate card earnings.
It’s this love of problem-solving that led me to re-consider my approach to leadership and management. The typical evolution—from designer to art director to creative director—follows a typical formula: after x-amount of years, you trade up to art director; then to creative director. But these skills—a great designer whose been designing for a few years—are not related to the demands of being a great manager. And being a great manager is not the same as being a great leader. To do both you need to have the humility to go back to the drawing board and learn — what does the latest research say about motivating people? What do experts say is the best way to gain consensus? What does the evidence say is the best way to get the best out of people? The goal is not to churn out duplicates of ourselves. It’s to allow designers and creatives to expand on what makes them great. And how do you do that? How do you guide without helicoptering? And how do you hold people accountable? You do so by always learning, always keeping an ear out for what’s new. But also by tracking what works and what doesn’t and allowing time and experience to mold you into a great Director. A great manager requires organization and care for their staff. A great leader requires confidence and vision. I strive for both and every day is an opportunity to learn. Every day is an opportunity to ask…