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Describe your career path as a creative director and entrepreneur. I’ve actually gone back to my roots. In the ’90s I was super involved with the digital and service design business. I was coding and designing digital experiences that were quite advanced at that time. Most of the things we were trying to build are pretty standard now, like live video help in retail environments, but at that time, the bandwidth simply could not support these types of experiences.

Then I got involved with the brand and advertising side of creative work. After that my love for designing digital experiences came back strong. So I did some work with start-ups, and then landed at frog, where I help the team design and deliver magic, especially when it comes to blending the physical and digital spaces.

You’ve lived and worked all over the world. How have your experiences in Brazil, the United Kingdom and the United States shaped your point of view as a designer? In Brazil, I learned the craft of design and how to get my hands dirty. In the United Kingdom, I learned how design can elevate brands. In the United States, I learned how to sell design—and how design can help companies sell. It wasn’t until I moved to the states that I got to study business modeling and evaluate how changes in design or the creation of new design avenues can positively impact profitability.

As brands, products and consumers become more connected than ever, this creates powerful new opportunities for businesses to establish meaningful relationships. However, as product and service ecosystems become more varied and complex, the brand experiences risk feeling fragmented and disconnected over time. Design earns a new “integrator” responsibility—ensuring experiences are positively engaging and connecting with people.

How would you describe your leadership style and philosophy? Most people believe that success is all about control, decisiveness and resilience. I actually believe in a different style of leadership. I believe it’s more about collaboration, vulnerability, transparency and flexibility. It’s not about just talking; it’s about listening. It’s not about one-way communication; it’s about inclusive decision making. It’s not about hierarchies, but decentralization.

Most systems, laws, products and services have been built from one perspective. For the majority of governments and companies, success, growth and leadership are viewed through a lens that encompasses assertiveness, competition and aggression. Some people call these masculine traits.

We need a different set of values—things like intuition, flexibility, empathy. Masculine or feminine, I don’t think leadership is a chromosomal matter. It’s a perspective one. Men and women need to create more things (governments, companies, products and services) from a different perspective and set of values. Or even better, mix both the old and new values together.

When did you take a big risk that allowed you to advance? I take big risks almost every week. We’re currently working on a project that involves rethinking the way people socialize and connect. We’re trying to push some new thinking that will challenge the status quo, and that’s scary.

I’ve also gutted my house and am currently living in a building site.

Are you creatively satisfied? One can never be creatively satisfied when there are objects out there like ceiling fans.

Where do you seek inspiration? Weird start-up ideas, Eisenstein, heady movies, drum and bass music and scrappy Brazilian indie bands, celebrity Silicon Valley, machine learning, typography, digital clock interfaces, dying old-school code, bass guitars, language mix-ups, and learning to identify poisonous snakes.

What is the one challenge facing design firms and ad agencies that they need to address to remain relevant? Design firms need to allow more storytelling into their processes. Advertising agencies need to learn how to make things. I’ve been at places where art directors don’t know how to use Photoshop, and I find this ridiculous. At frog we push our designers to even go beyond Photoshop so they don’t design in the abstract, but prototype in real-time and understand the materiality. This ensures our designs become real. Ideas are nothing without great executions.
Ale Lariu is an executive creative director at the global product strategy and design firm frog, working with clients in the retail and financial services spaces. In 2012, she was in Fast Company’s “League of Extraordinary Women” with 60 other accomplished leaders like Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey and the founder of Kiva. In 2013, she had a baby. Prior to joining frog, Lariu had been working with start-ups and running two of her own. Before that, she was a creative director for clients such as MasterCard, General Mills, Kohls, Nikon and Verizon. What she really loves is using design to accelerate entrepreneurs’ business growth. In 2007, Lariu co-founded SheSays, a vibrant community of creatives with more than 10,000 women in 22 countries. Born in the Amazon jungle, she grew up in Rio de Janeiro, lived in Europe and has settled in Brooklyn, New York.
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