1. When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?
There wasn’t really one defining instance. I would love to have a lightbulb moment story to share but it was more of a slow burn for me to realise something I loved so much would become my career. I have loved designing, drawing, and art directing since as far back as I can remember so through that I’ve always considered myself an artist.
At six, I was creating watercolors and selling them to my neighbors, then in my teens I attended Rhode Island School of Design taking illustration and painting classes on the weekends, and by seventeen I was art directing and concepting the visual merchandising and window displays for the family retail business. All signs pointed towards art school. Maybe that’s why I rebelled against it! I felt I needed to broaden my education and so I went to the Liberal Arts division of the New School in New York City and was able to sprinkle in Parsons classes as well. I liked that I was able to get the best of all worlds.
There I was free to try on many hats and interned all over NYC with stints at an uptown gallery which I found stifling compared to the excitement of working at a downtown magazine called PAPER Magazine. Here I had opportunities to work with photographers on fashion shoots and assisted in styling celebrities like Matt Dillon and Chloe Sevigny. Back in 1994, digital was still in its infancy so I was pasting in the ads for the magazine and then dragging a huge case of boards to the printers in Long Island to get it printed. If there was an aha moment when it felt real for me, then it was in my final year in college when I was the Creative Director for the college magazine. My professor introduced me to Quark Xpress, and I was blown away that I could have so much control and creativity in creating a magazine.
2. How did you get started and what was the biggest hurdle you overcame?
My first big break in NYC was at a music internet start-up called GetMusic. I was the lead Art Director and managed a team of designers. Our biggest hurdle was that the internet was new and we were all just learning what worked and what didn’t. I remember I was setting type at ungodly small sizes and locking them in so users couldn’t change the size on their screens. When I think back now, I feel bad for anyone trying to read those pages.
I loved that we were ahead of our time with live chats and artist programming – we had everyone from Robert Plant to Fab Five Freddy coming through the door to be on the shows. At this time users were still on dial-ups and the internet was super slow, eventually there was the dotcom bust in 2002 and many were laid off – including myself. It came as a shock and I remember feeling unsure where I would land next or how I could utilize my talents.
I’m a big believer in staying the course and building on what you know, so with patience I waited for my next big break which happened to be at an agency – every day was a new learning experience and I felt challenged in a good way. Agencies work you hard and this is the place where designers become Art Directors and Art Directors become Creative Directors. Working at a renowned NYC agency is like the New York Marathon for designers if you can handle the run. After fifteen years of agency life and the birth of my son, I was forty-three and knew I needed to make a life change and move towards running my own studio.
With every new year there is a new hurdle, a new challenge and this is how I continue to grow. Last year my hurdle was launching my own agency in Los Angeles and having the confidence to do it on my own. To trust myself and my voice. Once I did and with some time the ball has really started to roll.
3. What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?
I genuinely enjoy meeting clients face to face and it has by far been the most successful way of bringing someone on board to hire me. During our conversation about their needs and expectations, I listen more than I speak. And, of course, it’s often your relationships that get you the work. People want to work with people they know and like.
I’ve been asked for advice many times over, and I always say build your relationships and don’t ever burn your bridges. You never know when you may want to connect with an old colleague who can get you work. I have found that my connections are my biggest source of landing jobs and clients and likewise I will go out of my way to return favours. So I go to lunch as often as I can to connect with friends, clients and colleagues and that network of creative people has led me to some incredible opportunities.
4. How do you get clients to stay with you and use you for more work?
I try to never turn down a job if it’s a person or company I want to work with. Once you tell a corporate client you are too busy then they go somewhere else and may never come back. So I’ve built a small intimate and nimble team that can handle whatever comes our way. It pays to be organised, respond to enquiries as quickly as possible, always be professional and friendly, and strive to be creatively fresh.
5. Do you ever have issues with clients paying late? How do you manage that?
So far I haven’t had any issues. I work with a couple of corporate clients – Boston Scientific and Allergan — so they are always on time with payments. I also implemented a 50/25/25 policy for my smaller clients so that I always get paid 50% upfront before any work starts. I may work in a creative field but I have structure in my business which allows clients to be aware of my terms and it keeps things running smoothly.
6. What does your typical work day look like?
I pack in as much as I can on my work days so I can really make the most of my time off.
- It usually starts out with wrangling my four-year-old into some clean clothes, packing his lunch and getting him off to preschool.
- Meet with my assistant to go through the list of stuff I delegate to her.
- Sit at my desk with a cup of tea and jot down my to-do list for the day.
- Meet with my right-hand man (designer) to divide up the projects for the day.
- Work, design, walk the dog, work, design
- Pick up son and hang out with him usually playing legos.
- Make dinner and have a meal with my husband and son.
- Put son to bed and read him a story (or two).
- Catch up on work that needs to be wrapped up, press released or signed off.
- Me-time is from 10pm with either a glass of wine or a cup of tea tapping away at my laptop or my guilty pleasure watching an episode of the Housewives of Beverly Hills.
7. Any piece of advice/wisdom that you’d like to give the readers at This Design Life?
I think the best advice I can give someone who wants to be a Creative Director, is to get a job at a big name ad agency. I could write pages on how much you will develop in that environment. I learned how to run every aspect of the business from project management, to account services and, of course, my own Creative Director taught me everything I know.
Agencies demand the best, and it’s also competitive, so you are driven to go above and beyond. At an agency, you learn the business side of design, how to partner with a copywriter and concept a campaign together and how to become a copywriter yourself. The very best Creative Directors can do both – visuals and copy. I’m still learning even now because technology is always updating, consumers and trends change, and we need to adapt with them so be willing to do so and you’ll stay ahead of the game.
Rebecca is the Creative Director and founder of CraftWell, a customer experience design agency in Los Angeles, CA.
Utilizing best practices in design, ux, strategy and branding she has led and launched countless campaigns throughout her career. Working with Allergan, HBO, Vail Resorts, Pfizer and Universal Music Group (to name a few) she was instrumental in developing many of those brands businesses.