Fast Talk: The Creative Impulse

Five young professionals in the fields of fashion, design, publishing, advertising, and architecture discuss the source of their creativity and what drives it.

It's Not About Me

Joe Doucet

Design director, Kirshenbaum Bond + Partners
New York, New York

I grew up in an environment where i was encouraged to be very creative. My mother was an artist. My father was a third-generation ironworker. He made things with his hands. So genetically, you could say I was predisposed to design, which is a combination of both. I never envisioned myself at an advertising agency. But I always wanted to make a good living creatively. I just wasn't sure how.

The essence of what makes a truly great creative person is the ability to remove oneself from the process. You have to become the person for whom the work is being done. And what that means in terms of my work here is that it's never done for a client; it's done for the people the client is talking to. That removal of oneself is critical, not only to executing the work but also in explaining why a solution is right for the client.

I'll give you an example from one of our accounts. Most people look at a Target ad and say it's just fashion. There's no concept to it -- or at least what the advertising world thinks of as a concept. But it's high fashion for a mass brand. Talk about concepts. That's a very big concept.

The majority of the products in a Target and Wal-Mart store aren't that different. It's the experience, the message, the lifestyle that you're buying into. The way you tell the story is just as important as the story you're trying to tell.

In addition to his role at Kirshenbaum Bond + Partners, Joe Doucet founded, with his wife, a high-end design company in New York called Intoto.

Question Assumptions

Donna Kacmar

Principal, Architect Works Inc.
Houston, Texas

My creativity lies in trying to explore new possibilities for what might be considered a dumb or mundane problem. We all think we know how to make an office building or a townhouse or some run-of-the-mill thing like that. Well, do we? Let's question the assumptions that we have and see if there are some new things we can try. I always take risks on projects. But I don't take risks with wacky forms. I'm not Frank Gehry. But I'm not trying to be.

I always thought of myself as a problem solver. I also teach architecture at the University of Houston, and I once had a student tell me my buildings were boring. And, yes, they are pretty straightforward. But they're complex in that they allow systems to be expressed. There's a world of limits I operate

in and that I am appreciative of. For example, the project that I'm working on right now is a Montessori high school, and part of what they do is have the students help maintain the building. They don't clean it. They maintain it. What does that mean -- and what could that mean -- for architecture? It's the idea of taking the routine and making it into something more. How do you understand the rituals that take place and then relate them to architecture?

What I'm able to do is help people see things a different way. I think I'm able to see things a little bit more openly -- to find relationships between things that aren't as readily apparent and then make something of those relationships. My version of creativity is more like a quest for understanding.

Donna Kacmar was one of five recipients of the 2004 American Institute of Architects' Young Architects Awards.

Frugality Fuels Creativity

Zean Nielsen

Director of marketing, Bang & Olufsen America Inc.
Arlington Heights, Illinois

We have to find creative ways to engage our customers at very little cost. Our customers are cash rich and time poor. Most companies spend millions of dollars on brand advertising to pull in a big barrel of customers that they're eventually going to lose. We can't do that. But we're selling a lifestyle to a very affluent, sophisticated audience. That means, from a creative standpoint, we can't have a disconnect between our product, our store design, and our brand ads. We're a Danish company, and I'm Danish. In Denmark we make you read between the lines. We don't shout a lot.

When we released a new line of $17,000 speakers in July 2003, we wanted to do a special event for our best customers and prospects in Chicago to launch the line. But with no money to spend, we had to be clever in how we developed a fancy event. What we did was build a series of partnerships with other luxury brands. We formed a partnership with American Express and handpicked 160 platinum card members -- names you can't buy off a list -- to attend our party. We picked them up in Bentleys and drove them to our store for a demonstration, then for drinks and dinner at [the hot restaurant] NoMI. The venue paid for a lot of the food, and Bentley had 160 people -- who could actually afford to buy one -- out driving their cars. That one event, which cost virtually nothing, has so far brought in sales of more than $100,000. The trick comes in mixing existing customers with new prospects, so the people who already love you can do the selling for you.

Bang & Olufsen execs recruited Zean Nielsen out of a marketing group in Denmark to open 60 B&O stores in the United States.

A Creative Education

Rene Holguin

Vice president for creative services, Lucky Brand Jeans
Vernon, California

After college, I was working at a Polo outlet in Vermont when I got a call asking me to move to New York and work at what they call the "mansion" -- the 72nd Street flagship store -- in creative services, doing window displays, interiors, everything. What I learned in college, yeah, thanks very much. Working with Ralph Lauren became my real education. I was so scared -- terrified -- of going to work there at first. As soon as you walk in, you leave the world as you know it and walk into the world of Ralph Lauren. But that was the beauty of it. There were people there who saw that I had creative talent, and they drew that out of me.

In the early 1990s, Polo asked me to move to Mexico City to help straighten out one of the stores there. That was a fantastic opportunity, not just with the store or the company but also because I'm Mexican. So I was forced to go and learn about myself. The greatest part of that experience was just waking up to who I was, to my creative self. I became hyperaware of details. My father always told me, necessity is the mother of all invention. And boy do you see it there. I remember a mother dressing her kids for a cold day. All she was trying to do was keep her children warm. She didn't realize that the colors and patterns she just put together were beautiful. They were so simple and inspiring. She had no idea of the huge contribution she made to my life. If I've learned anything, it's that creative people automatically gravitate to things that trigger or register something within them. We may not know why we like it, we just know we do.

Before coming to Lucky Brand Jeans, Rene Holguin also worked with J.Crew and designed costumes for the film Big Eden.

Creature of Instinct

Asya Muchnick

Editor, Little, Brown & Co.
New York, New York

You can't predict what other people will read. If any of us had such great instincts -- that is, if we really knew what made a blockbuster or best-seller -- someone would have grabbed it and bottled it by now. I've been in publishing for seven years, which is not a huge amount of time. But I think that those instincts -- those feelings I get about what's right and what's wrong with a particular manuscript -- have always been there. The only thing that has really changed is my confidence in asserting those opinions and not second-guessing myself.

You only know what you love. If I find something unsatisfying as a reader, the only assumption I can make is that book buyers will also find it unsatisfying. I edited Alice Sebold's book The Lovely Bones. There were a lot of people at the company who fell in love with it very early on. But there were also quite a number of people who were fairly apprehensive. They wondered if people would be put off by the fact that it's a dark story.

The way I countered that is by letting the book do its own selling. Sebold's writing shows a real creative spark, and her characters have an ebullience that you want to follow. No matter how good an editor you are, no matter what your instincts are, it always begins with the talent of the writer. No one thought it would be a best-seller, though, much less this runaway phenomenon. There's an element of luck in everything.

The Lovely Bones spent 66 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. Asya Muchnick also edited the best-seller The Dogs of Babel.

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