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brendan stephens

Interview With: MOO Creative Director Brendan Stephens

Today, we had the great honor to catch a slice of time with MOO’s esteemed Global Creative Director Brendan Stephens. As lovers of great design here at Abduzeedo (and huge personal fans of MOO!) this was an enormous privilege to get a glimpse into a brilliant mind that helps to drive MOO’s ability to deliver game-changing products. With nearly 20 years spent in various creative posts for big publishers like The Boston Globe to the world’s leading car-sharing network, Zipcar, Stephens is a supremely talented visionary we can thank for ensuring MOO is delivering the best possible experience to customers just like us. Without further ado, enjoy our peek into how Brendan Stephens makes the magic happen at MOO and his creative process to get there. We hope you all are as inspired as we are by this creative force with a personal penchant for great food, an amazing magazine rack and the perfect Manhattan. Q: What's the absolute best piece of advice that has stuck with you throughout your career that you'd like to pass on to young designers today? A: A professor and mentor, Phil Geraci, once said to me “It’s your career. Take control of it.” That has always stayed with me. Don’t wait for someone to put opportunities or make decisions or see gaps in front of you. Be (self-) aware and take or make or fill them. Always be looking ahead (with insights from the past) and be proactive in building your career. It’s yours. Make it great. Q: What is your creative process? Have you taken out superfluous steps throughout the years? A: I’ve idealized it a tad here, but it kind of goes like this (even if we have some work to do…): When possible, we like to have discovery sessions. It gets all stakeholders, from marketing to social, into a room to understand the ask, the journey and what is (or isn’t) possible. Our Experience Design and Development teams are important members of these sessions, too, as they can help determine available resources. A discovery session can greatly shape a brief (in fact, we ask that a start to the brief is brought along so that we can input and ask or answer any questions ahead of submission). When the final brief is submitted, we are sure to read it carefully and come up with any follow-up questions. We look for a fantastic, tight, and not overly prescriptive brief. It is vital that the creative team understands it. If not, the expectation is that they will ask for clarification. We move to (collaborative) concepting: Working from the brief, using brand guidelines and values, and in tandem -- designer, copywriter and photographer/illustrator, whomever is on the creative team -- to come up with a single-minded, kick-ass, ownable direction. We are inspired by what is around us but want something all our own. We encourage rough layouts to get the idea across. Some ideas work, some don’t. That’s okay. It’s about brainstorming and getting ideas down on paper. From there we build presentation decks that include mood boards. We push to have plenty of time for concepting. Sometimes we get the time, sometimes we don’t, but we still strive to produce the best work. We then start to present to stakeholders and look for thoughtful, collaborative, honest and consolidated feedback. We hope that we have answered the brief, but may have also pushed beyond it, staying on (and pushing the) brand and toward the intended goals. In terms of collaboration, we have been working very hard at being sure the right people are in the room, at the right times. We strive very hard to not be “design by committee”. Creatives don’t want to be told what to do (as we are problem-solvers) but we do need to understand business objectives and goals. Work needs to be on-brand, but hard working as well. On sign-off (and there may be a few iterations before we get there), we move to make it a reality. Pre-production is just as important (if not more) as production. Don’t skimp here. It pays off in the end. We may tweak in studio (we shoot almost all of our imagery in our London office) but we go in prepared to deliver against the approved concept. We rely on a strong artworking team to bring us home. They are fantastic and don’t let us down. And we know it’s not over after it has shipped. As creatives we should always want to understand how our work performed. We push for post-mortems. To get results, see if there are any opportunities to A/B test or optimize the work. Q: During your career at MOO what is the one body of work that makes you most proud? A: Oh, man, we’ve worked on many great initiatives: our NFC Business Cards (embedded with a chip), our Cotton paper (made from  recycled t-shirt offcuts) and our MOO Notebook (try picking a color, it’s harder than it looks!). But I would have to say our creative team, currently 24 strong between London and Boston, is the body of work I am most proud of. They are smart, driven, talented and tenacious. They inspire me, make me laugh and teach me every day. (They make me crazy some days, too, but I know that goes both ways).     Q: Can you share any tips for taking printed design material to the next level? A: It starts with wonderful work. Our drive is to partner with our customers to deliver beautifully crafted and detailed products that showcases their designs, photographs, illustrations, etc. The best work may be overlooked if the printing or material is poor. We promise “to move heaven and earth” so that our customers are happy. We take that very seriously. Q: What are the stylistic trends you are seeing that you would consider timeless for print design? A: Strong typography will always be timeless in design. Editorial and book design, site design, on packaging, in wayfindinding (look to the NYC or London subway systems, for example). There’s no excuse for bad typography. Or kerning. Or leading. Q: What's the best part about working at MOO? A: Well, it’s a cool brand. It’s cool people. We have a strong set of values we honestly embrace and strive to live by everyday. And, lots of snacks. It’s a nice mix. Q: What brands do you most admire and how do they influence your work? A: I’ve been a big fan of MUJI since I discovered the brand in NYC years ago. The simplicity of the product is amazing. Something I, personally, and we at MOO, are fans of, value and embrace wholeheartedly. I also am a big fan of Airbnb. From the site to the search to the booking. Great customer journey. So far, my experience has also been right on. From selecting a space to settling in, it’s been flawless. When I am home, as soon as I walk into my apartment, I turn on my Sonos (Play:1) and leave it on all day. I love the site. I loved the packaging. I love the design of the speaker. Lastly, and a bit more local, I’m digging London Symphony Orchestra’s typography (commissioned by the London-based agency, The Partners). It’s so thoughtful and ownable. It’s mesmerizing. Q: What do you do to enjoy life NOT in the office? A: Cooking, running (offsets the cooking), travelling and theater. When I lived in the States, I had a garden plot, which I loved, but have not found that here in London. Q: What are the top three books you can recommend as must-reads for burgeoning designers? A: Oh man. There are many. Logo Modernism by Jens Muller. Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton. Just My Type by Simon Garfield. Anything by Steven Heller. On my list to read: Branding: In Five and a Half Steps by Michael Johnson And I could stand in front of a magazine rack for hours. GQ, Bon Appetit and New York magazines are always in the seat pocket when I fly back to London from the States. I also love Communication Arts, Creative Review and Lürzer's Archive to see who is rocking the world. And I love to drool through annuals, checking out (not limited to) Comm Arts, Society of Publication Designers and D&AD annuals. Was that three? Q: What inspires you? A: Anything that visually draws me in. A beautifully designed book cover or magazine spread or website. An amazing living room, or bedroom or kitchen. Smart packaging (which I may hoard a bit, but in a beautifully organized way). A deliciously presented plate of food. (Sorry about that bad pun). A great pun. Confidence. Humor. Talent.