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Matt Schwartz founded New York brand strategy and design firm, MSDS in 1999. He serves as chief creative officer, developing integrated brand experiences for clients, focusing heavily on interactive design and content strategy. In his role he partners with clients to translate their business goals into effective brand experiences, while guiding the studio to develop engaging work. Prior to founding MSDS, Matt worked as a designer and art director with Young & Rubicam and several interactive agencies.


Taking Smart Chances

If you have a degree in what field is it? I have a Bachelor of Liberal Arts from Sarah Lawrence College with a dual concentration in creative writing and visual art.

What’s the best site you’ve seen lately? What’s so great about it? Feels like trying to pick a favorite color! One we recently tweeted about that I really love is the new Bloomberg corporate site. First, because it’s visually stunning and one of the most innovative site designs I’ve seen in a while—without going overboard. It takes smart chances. Second, it tells a great brand story in a simple way and communicates ideas without the amount of text most professional services sites have. Third, it does a great job communicating impact through data visualization which we have particular interest in.

If you were to change professions, what would you choose to do? People will think I’m schizophrenic here, but it’d either be a chef or a financial advisor. Cooking is a really satisfying creative outlet and making food for others is something I really enjoy. Most creatives probably wouldn't choose finance as a second profession, but I’ve had a real passion for the fundamentals of investing and economics for about fifteen years now. The US in particular doesn’t do a good enough job of educating people about even the basics of this stuff, and I really do enjoy trying to help friends and colleagues who feel a little in the dark about it.

Design or technology? Which is more important? Why? Design. I say this because “design” is an activity that’s not only enmeshed in the entire course of human history, but also in nature. As political scientist and sociologist Herbert Simon said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Anyone who seeks to take existing situations and change them into those that are preferred, is engaged in the act of design.” Design is not beautification and decoration. It is fundamentally about problem solving, and everyone is a designer in some way. Think about FedEx’s legendary fulfillment process... it’s as designed as the computers that help make it possible and the brand that represents the business.

From where do your best ideas originate? The best ideas originate from having a deep understanding of the brand. Collaborating with clients to understand the fundamentals of their business, industry, audience, is what creates the most successful execution and, by extension, collaboration in the studio when we’re working to solve brand and business challenges as we understand them.

How do you overcome a creative block? Like a lot of people, I often look at work I admire to gain momentum. When I’m really stuck I always go back to the strategic brief: If I’m working on visual design or UX, I try to get to the best solution by asking what the work is trying to say about the brand, not how it looks or functions; if I’m working on copy, I try to remember how the brand should feel. Technical skill and natural ability take over once you put your mind in the right frame of reference to solve broader brand goals.

In one word describe how you feel when beginning a new project. Psyched.

What well-known site is most desperately in need of a redesign? Wikipedia. I know it’s open source but I think it’s about time they lose the Craigslist aesthetic—it’s something like the fifth most visited site in the world. I don’t think a redesign needs to be drastic, but... refine the typography and implement some web type to make the long pages a bit easier on the eye; add the appropriate degree of pixel polish to make the UI a little more contemporary; and do a little work on integrating images a bit more thoughtfully. Dedication to the visual details would pay big dividends.

Do you have creative outlets other than Web design? As I mentioned, cooking. I also played drums in band for years, so music is something that’s a big part of my life. My illustration skills are a bit rusty these days, but my wife and I have a four-year-old daughter who loves to draw, so I’ve been trying to have more fun with that.

What music are you listening to right now? Be Your Own Pet, Hollerado, Phantogram, Fitz & the Tantrums, Telekinesis!, Jessica Mayfield, The Besnard Lakes and The Ettes have been atop the playlist the last few months.

What product/gadget can you not live without? My iPhone 4s was stolen a week after I got it; I found it pretty difficult to not have a working mobile phone.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve bought online? I was flipping channels once about six or seven years ago and passed QVC while they were selling authentic cheesesteak meat online—frozen sliced ribeye—and I’m a cheesesteak nut and it was too good to pass up. It was shipped in one of those cryogenic packs and I took it to a friend’s Super Bowl party and cooked up cheesesteaks to order.

What’s your favorite quote? “Your brand isn’t what you say you are, it’s what they say you are.” —Marty Neumeier

Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? Never settle for mediocrity. Collaborate with and learn from others. Make clients feel included in the process. Realize the importance of strong writing and presentation skills.

What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? The value of networks.