Interview with Kurt Kretten

1. When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?

I was a comic book nerd. I wanted to be a comic book artist. And I don’t think I ever wanted to be a designer, but in High School I started to have an itch for telling stories that was never satisfied by art.

Designers tell stories and solve problems, and I like solving problems.

2. How did you get started and what was the biggest hurdle you overcame?

If I had it to do over again, I would have certainly invested more time into the craft, but maybe the roundabout way I did it is the reason I am where I am. I never had a guide or a counsellor to help me, so I fumbled it. I didn’t go to design school or take design classes; I thought I needed to be a writer first. So, I majored in English and wrote and took art classes on the side. Then I dipped my toe into film school (thinking I was going to be the next Steven Spielberg) before interning at Marvel pre-MCU and found myself way over my head.

The biggest hurdle I overcame, and a lot of young creatives battle, is imposter syndrome. Am I good enough to do what I want to do? It is crazy, intimidating, and all-consuming. I still have it to this day. You must have a lot of self-love.

3. What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?

The only way to get clients is to do great work. It’s why I love the field we are in, it’s a bit of a meritocracy. Sure, there are a lot of celebrity designers who have built their brand but, honestly, they started by doing some great work and we should respect that.

Being a designer or “creative” is more of a calling than anything else. You put yourself out there in your work every time and it is soul-crushing to have people evaluate you in uncomfortable ways. But people are attracted to fresh ideas and new ways to explore old problems, and if you keep doing great work, with compassion and respect in your heart, people will always find you and want you to do more work. It may not happen overnight, but it will happen. Simple as that.

4. How do you get clients to stay with you and use you for more work?

Ha. See question 3. The great work is table stakes. But the most important thing about getting clients to stay with you is compassion. Have respect for your client, a willingness to hear them, partner with them, and to work with kindness – while creating an environment that allows you to challenge them. That’s the blueprint.

If it is about the revenue, or the awards, or the leverage, then it will always fail. It must be about doing great work together. The rest will happen by itself.

5. Do you ever have issues with clients paying late? How do you manage that?

I have always had clients paying late, but it is never an issue because we build relationships that allow us to have uncomfortable conversations easily. If you are clear and upfront about the terms and consistently talk about those things, you can call out the challenges when they arise and (usually) the client is very appreciative and it gets resolved, so both parties are happy. And sometimes you simply choose to end the relationship. And that is okay too.

6. What does your typical workday look like?

Too many meetings. Unfortunately, after Covid, Zoom fatigue is real and exhausting. I find that everything you need to do is focused around Zoom meetings, and that makes the work a challenge. So, we have been working hard to find the right balance to give our creatives the time and space to create while finding the right times to connect and collaborate. I like to wake up early when the day is quiet and cold and get my management work done. Emails, feedback, and comments before moving into a series of meetings for the morning. Keep the afternoons for the creative work and leave the last two-three hours of the day simply to be left to the work. When you get into a good groove you find yourself working well into the evening, and not even realizing it. That is the fun part.

7. Any piece of advice/wisdom that you’d like to give the readers at This Design Life?

Invest in your craft. Inside and outside of the work. Do the little bits that will make the big work so much better. Read, write, travel, watch cinema, play sports, watch sports, hit a museum, eat really good food, eat even better street food, do things that make you uncomfortable, sit and do nothing for hours. 

But, whatever you do, never think you have things figured out – because you don’t. It is never about the outcome, but always about the journey.

Connect with
Kurt Kretten

More strategies to boost your design career

Kurt Kretten is Global Chief Creative Officer at Marks. A creative leader and curious soul with over 20 years of experience in everything from brand design to product development, advertising and film, Kurt is a multi-disciplined designer in a mad pursuit of experiences that connect people, culture, brands, and technology in meaningful ways.

Interview published on: May 29, 2023

Check out these other designers

Ruben Cespedes

Ruben Cespedes

When did you realize you wanted to be a designer? Well, it's quite a journey. Ever since I was a little kid, I was...

Tom Muller

Tom Muller

When did you realise you wanted to be a designer? I knew from very young age I wanted to do *something* creative. Both...

Liz Mosley

Liz Mosley

When did you realise you wanted to be a designer? After studying art at school and thinking I wanted to be a...