Tell us about yourself and what you do.
I’m the Executive Creative Director for the New York studio of Turner Duckworth. I oversee the creative output of our east coast outpost, and work closely with leadership in all of our studios to help advance the impact of what we do.
When did you first notice the industry’s shift toward more socially responsible themes? What were your initial thoughts?
I’m not sure I see a shift in the industry, or a shift in the work itself. To me, it’s more of an alignment of values with a more contemporary cultural mindset. It’s not a new idea that some of the best work we see reflects and addresses timely social and cultural thinking. It always has. It may feel like a shift because socially responsible design is simply more visible than it used to be. In part because of obvious broader reach on social media and in other channels, and also because of specialized recognition in the creative industry like the D&AD Impact Awards. It also may just happen to be that we need this kind of work more now than we ever have, across every aspect of society.
Has the shift impacted your work and the way you approach it?
It’s important to us that what we do is in-touch and relevant right now, but it’s almost more important that it will be relevant in 20 years or 50. We’re much more interested in the long term — and because of that, we’re a little less concerned with being specifically topical. The optimistic view for the future is that socially responsible design and behavior will become the norm rather than a specialization.
It’s also important that the work we do for our clients is credible, and doesn’t force a brand into a conversation they have no natural say in — even if it gets attention. It’s an incredible feeling when stars align and you get to work with a client like EJI who is actively advancing society, as opposed to helping somebody latch onto a trend for short term relevance.
Was the Equal Justice Initiative an organization you were familiar with prior to working with them?
Transparently, I was superficially aware of Bryan Stevenson and EJI in passing, but was not deeply familiar. Our SVP Director of Client Services, Bailey James, has been a long time EJI superfan (I guess you could say) and encouraged us to make a connection. I’m very glad she did.
How was your approach to this work different from the way you’d approach a typical brief?
I would say that the design challenges EJI faced were fairly common ones that we see across briefs from all kinds of clients. A lack of consistency and visual clarity, and a huge opportunity to make the work more emotive and memorable. The truth is that they corked our bat by giving us such a rich starting ground with what they do, their narrative, and in some of the materials already in play like their incredible photography library.
What did you enjoy most about seeing this through? Did you learn anything new from the experience?
We’ve gotten worked up about lots of things around here that ultimately don’t matter to most people. It’s a radical shift in perspective to work with clients who don’t make or sell anything. EJI is genuinely working to improve society, and to illuminate a fundamental historical narrative that underpins a lot of what we’re experiencing in America at this very moment. Also, having the once in a lifetime experience of working with Bryan and his incredible team was an obvious plus.
What do you say to critics that believe brand purpose is just another trend?
‘Brand purpose’ may be trending terminology, but the idea behind it is not new at all. In the same way that people have eaten salads, slept, exercised and stretched before we started calling it ‘wellness’ — or how vegan diets have been around far longer than a repackaging by the term ‘plant-based’. Clarity of purpose has provided longevity for some of the most iconic brands in history. Coke, Levi’s, Nike and Apple all have unwavering commitment to their reasons for existing, and nobody would call those brands flashes in any sorts of pans.
Is there any advice you have for creatives in the industry who are passionate about an issue but aren’t sure what they can do to help?
Sometimes the best thing to do is simply offer, as we did with EJI. Try to find people that have actual reach under the umbrella of a specific issue, and go from there. Pins and posters and posts you make on your own can help, but they’ll have nowhere near the impact you could have if you go straight to the source with a brilliant, novel idea.