You describe yourself on your site as a “Frankenstein creative.” What are the most important skills you’ve picked up throughout your career? I was always trying to fit my career into a box in agency land. But, when I was at Anomaly NYC, my now mentor Kevin Lyons taught me to embrace my hybrid skill set. He taught me that all that matters is the idea. Because a good idea is something you feel, and starting with the confines of a medium is limited and outdated.
In agencies, I felt so confused—at once feral and freed by my utter randomness and indefinability, yet totally trapped by my constant yearning to belong in a box. Today, I say I’m “a proud Frankenstein creative” because for years, my imposter syndrome tried to squeeze me into one of those tight little boxes and it suffocated me. I’m not a designer, copywriter or a strategist. I don’t think true integrated creative thinking can be born out of a singular craft, especially when you’re working for brands. We need to think in terms of the ecosystem and how we want to reach the audience.
How has your visual aesthetic and taste evolved, and how do you adapt it to different projects? I’ve always adored the surrealists, like Man Ray; subversive portrait photographers like Cindy Sherman; loud artists like Barbara Kruger; the visual language of activism, satire and feminism, like the work of the Guerrilla Girls; and the morbid darkness of Nobuyoshi Araki’s photographs. More recently, I love how artists like Mateus Porto make me feel—uncomfortable in a good way—as well as the cutting tension in the work of photographer Jack Davison and artist Jesse Draxler; the engulfing darkness of Aleksandar Krajinovic’s paintings; and the delicate punk of the plating and the scribbled-type menu at Maurice, my new favorite female-run restaurant in Portland, Oregon.
Despite my seemingly “dark” personal taste in visual culture, my whole career has been built on crafting visuals for commercial brands. I love the challenge of adapting a brand’s visual identity and weaving in powerful messaging and smart commissioning, because brands are the most effective vehicle for important positive change. They have the power to shift culture and perspectives and galvanize people. Injecting a little punk into brand messaging and helping brands be a platform for voices that deserve a stage gives me so much joy.
How has working at agencies prepared you for your in-house role at Refinery29? Agency life is hardcore but amazing. You’re surrounded by inspiring creatives, the expectations are high, the pressure is hot, and craft is king—in every sense of that phallic, hierarchical word. Where I work now, the audience is queen—in every sense of that powerful, nurturing, reclaimed word. And I prefer creating in this way, from this place. Working in agencies taught me how to navigate internal systems, use my differences as my superpower, sell my work, gain internal buy-in, and stand confidently in front of execs and deliver. Because agencies are the ultimate boot camp, I would not change my experience. Out of that chaos, I found clarity about the kind of creative leader I want to be. And the kind I certainly do not want to be.
You’re a cofounder of the campaign #thisdoesntmeanyes. What do you hope other creatives take away from these portraits? My hope is that other creatives will be inspired by the power of the image. That they will recognize the responsibility we have as storytellers, because the images we make and launch in the world have the power to enforce bias and disempower—or to lift up, make space and challenge preconceived notions. This portrait series, for me, shows the power of visual communication. I’d love for creatives to see that this was a personal project, with zero budget and zero support, and yet a group of us were able to make it happen with the skills we’d earned in advertising. We used our skills for good. Please, I implore you to find something that matters to you and dedicate yourself to lifting up those messages and visuals, because our industry has the power to right the wrongs.
What visual trends are you most interested in today? Visual creatives, mainly photographers, working as collectives. The output is so much richer for the tight collaboration, and it gives the creative work a core of authenticity and relevance. The reason the success of creative collectives excites me is because it rings a loud fucking bell that tells everyone that the solo, crowned—usually male—author is dead, passé, and lacking bite and relevance when it comes to telling modern-day stories. The power of the collective voice, the energy of the shared experience and the coming together of multiple perspectives, is ultimately shaping the future of creativity for the better.
Which brands are you most excited by right now? I love sex products brand Maude and its content around the lifestyle of sex—super beautiful and smart writing. I also enjoyed emerging fashion designer Peter Do’s recent exhibition. Glossier is celebrating the female experience with smart creative and product innovation. Gucci is a good example of a heritage brand wielding its power and cash for emerging creative. REI will always astound me with its integrity and “grow strong, not fat” strategy, which solidifies life-long loyalists. Spotify is making fun work with data, which I’m into, but I’d like to see how it connects music and mission. Man Repeller’s recent e-commerce launch and site was perfectly pitched, from the UX to the launch. The Cut’s content always gives me that feeling “Oh, I wish I saw that and did that.” And the pinnacle, Nike, continues to bring new meaning to what a brand could—and should—stand for. From the integrated Dream Crazy campaign, which tackled politics head-on, to the sharp focus around women this year, Nike continues to show what fearlessness looks like. And for someone who talks so much shit about ad agencies, their TV ads are still the only ones I’ll actually seek out to watch.
What advice do you have for people just starting out in the design industry? Embrace the beast. Infiltrate from within and rebuild something good. There has never been a more exciting time to create. The possibility for our messages to shift culture, change thinking and mean more than just selling stuff is now. Don’t fear the changes. Don’t hide in the outdated systems and churn out empty work. Demand more from your work and yourself, because how we shape language, the images we choose to put out in the world and the visuals we craft reflect us and the future we’re building.