While working as a creative director at Arnold Worldwide in Boston, Kevin Grady landed a choice account as the original design director on the Truth anti-smoking campaign, propelling him to fame. His “Singing Cowboy” concept for Truth was nominated for two Emmys, and went on to become one of the most awarded ads in the world. After more than 20 years working for clients including MTV Networks, Converse, Reebok, Scion, and Penguin Books, Grady was recently named director of design at Crispin Porter + Bogusky. We caught up with him just as he was packing up for the good life in Boulder, Colorado. For all of you in Boston, you can wish Grady a fond farewell tonight at the release party for the fourth issue of his side project, the ‘zine Lemon.
AW: This is an interesting move for you–you were the original design director at Arnold Worldwide for the Truth campaign, an account they shared with CP+B. Is that how you first connected?
KG: Yes, that’s when I first met Alex Bogusky, and I’ve sent him copies of my publications–Lemon and GUM–over the years since then. So I’ve kept in touch.
AW: An article I read on CP+B last year said they were up to four designers, which was double the year before. Now they’ve hired you, a big time design star. Are they looking to expand their design ranks?
KG: I think they’re open to that, yeah. But they’ve been design-conscious for years. In fact, Alex’s dad had his own design firm, so this whole thing isn’t new to them.
AW: I just saw Alex Bogusky present their B-Cycle concept at SXSW. He hinted that they might be moving towards more work like that–industrial design concepts instead of just traditional advertising. Have they mentioned any of that to you?
KG: Yes, it’s something that they have been doing more and more of. They’re very excited about taking it to the next level and so am I. I love it when people expand beyond perceived limitations. That’s really what creativity is all about. That’s what growth is about.
AW: Do you think traditional advertising is looking for design to give it a new direction–or maybe even a swift kick in the ass?
KG: I think the industry in general has come around to accepting the importance of great design, but in many cases it’s been a slow adjustment. In most agencies, designers have traditionally been seen as what I call layout monkeys, with very little to offer in terms of the bigger creative picture. So it understandably has taken some time for that mindset to change.
AW: Any clue about what you’ll be working on? Or personal agendas you want to accomplish within the job?
KG: I think we’re all approaching this with an open mind as opposed to a set agenda. This wasn’t a position that was advertised or anything–it just seemed like a great fit and a great opportunity. So I’ll be doing everything I can to help make a difference there. No pressure!
KG: We’ve just released our “Heroes” issue, a tribute of sorts to David Bowie. For our two cover variations, I asked Daft Punk–in their full robot gear–to mimic Bowie’s angular pose from the cover of his “Heroes” album. They were a lot of fun to work with. And Bowie himself contributed artwork to the issue, so it’s been an exciting project.
AW: No one seems to complain about having to relocate to Boulder to work with CP+B. But like me, you’ve already lived there: We both went to school at the University of Colorado. Any Boulder favorites or highlights that you just can’t wait to return to?
KG: Well, I’m hoping it won’t feel like that Will Ferrell movie, Old School. Hopefully no one will find me “running naked around the quad” or anything like that. I was actually born in Denver and am a huge Broncos fan, so I’m looking forward to watching games there. There aren’t a lot of designer football fans around, so I may be a demographic of one there for all I know.