Herbert Reininger

The Creative Director.

A person who is curious, driven, demanding, and perhaps even a bit rebellious. A creative pioneer who empowers and values his team…inspiring innovative ideas while also delivering top-line results.

I am a design-based creative director with 20+ years experience leading global creative initiatives, producing award-winning designs, and traversing the globe collaborating with like-minded people. I seek to empower creative teams to generate not only visibility and profits—but pride. I want people to recognize and maximize their talents as together we celebrate the perfection that comes from meaningful collaboration.
Someone once described me as a “creative professional with a capital ‘C’…who lives and breathes the creative process, consistently bringing positivity, openness, and a truly multicultural, global perspective to his work.” Every day, I aspire to make sure those words are true.


1. The audience.

Like “location, location, location” in real estate, “audience, audience, audience” is the most important consideration in web design. Who is the audience? How will they interact with the site?

When I was hired as the Creative Director in Penn State’s Outreach Marketing Department, I found attractive websites, informative websites, interesting websites. But what I found missing was a clear understanding of the “user”—the audience—and what his or her or their experience would be when visiting the website. I changed our web development paradigm by introducing two important concepts: user-centered design and usability testing. Once we really looked at WHOM WE WERE TRYING TO REACH and WHETHER WE WERE ACTUALLY REACHING THEM, our websites were transformed. Using sophisticated software to create a usability test lab, we found that user-centric websites generated much higher traffic and yielded better results.
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But we were just getting started. We needed something—someone—more.

Card Sorting

I convinced my superiors to allow me to hire an information architect.
An information architect has an exceptional ability to understand how an individual interacts with information and then to organize the flow of website information based on the user’s needs.
Before writing, design, or coding begins on a website, the information architect applies what she knows about the user to plan a meaningful user experience. Labels. Navigation. Information. Is it simple? Intuitive? Inclusive?
We hired a talented professional whose biggest challenge was helping people understand her role and the value she brought to the position, the department, and even the university.
After just a few months, everyone wanted her services. In an unprecedented move, the University’s marketing department asked Outreach’s information architect to be involved in redesigning the Penn State’s website.


2. The creative team.

Talented writers and designers from top art programs and institutions. Creative, innovative people. Thinkers. Many members of my creative team, however, had little experience developing materials for the virtual world.

As soon as I arrived at Penn State, I knew my most important role was preparing these talented individuals for a rapidly changing world—one in which print communications are shrinking in popularity and people of every age, background, and country are accessing information via the web. We needed to make the transition to interactive design. With approval from our supervisor, we began to chart a roadmap for this transition.
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Adaptation. Risk-taking. Growth. These were our guiding principles along our journey.

Dream big, fail fast

GEILI Fellowship Summit 2012

Using in-house training, conferences, practical experiences, and case studies, we marked each step.
And in two years’ time, it was clear that what I had predicted was coming true. We were producing fewer print pieces.
Luckily, most of my team had by this time embraced a new way of thinking, designing, and writing.
A new era of user-centered interactive design was about to begin.


3. The cohesion.

My team-building philosophy is like my philosophy of life: Celebrate multiculturalism. Embrace diversity. Band together for the greater good.

This story comes in two parts.
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Part 1

In 2000 I was hired as a Senior Creative Director at Agency.com (since renamed designory), an interactive agency with offices all around the globe.
My role was to build the creative department at one of the company’s New York offices—in seven weeks.
With only a few employees and freelancers on my team to start, I achieved the nearly impossible. I hired 28 highly qualified individuals (using creative recruiting tools such as sign-up bonuses and other incentives).
Once the people were in place, I organized off-site teambuilding activities to shape the group dynamic, build trust, and ultimately establish a cohesive, collaborative, productive, and effective creative team.

Part 2


Ice cream social
Shavers Creek

In 2007, I was hired as Creative Director for Penn State Outreach, inheriting a team of about 30 people who had developed a “do what you are told and don’t ask many questions” attitude toward their work.
Designers seemed to have neither ownership nor creative control. Their work suffered. Their self-esteem suffered. They did not look forward to the next day or the next challenge. The same was true for writers and coders.
I decided to tackle this issue by valuing my team members’ opinions and encouraging them to defend their work and decisions. With conviction but without conflict. Focusing on time-tested principles they knew well. Leveraging the talent that put them on the team in the first place.
Concurrently, I visited most of our clients, inviting them to think more critically about the deliverables they asked us to create. Telling them to expect more from themselves and from the creative team.
My goal was to create a culture of collaboration, a meaningful and results-oriented partnership based on respecting each others’ expertise and needs.
The road was bumpy, but the destination made the journey worthwhile.
Today, our clients are thrilled with the quality of our work—and we are winning awards.
Cohesion accomplished.


4. The approach.

Change has always been the new normal, the only constant. The pace of our lives and the speed at which new ideas are generated is accelerating. Innovation is the key to survival, to success.

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My Innovation Story: Part 1

IAEA VI cover

OASIS home

Almost anything that’s new or different meets with resistance. It’s human nature.
And that’s what happened when I was hired to redesign the main website for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Shorty after my hiring, I realized a redesign was the last on a long list of very daunting tasks, which included creating a new logo and a visual identity for the organization and establishing an intranet to connect employees in a more efficient way.
Convincing the higher-ups came first, after which I assumed the role of the information architect to evaluate the needs and expectations of stakeholders and determine how to structure information and develop navigation tools.
Though initially I encountered resistance, I made presentations, showcased best practices, and eventually earned the confidence of stakeholders.
In only 18 months’ time, we successfully launched the first intranet for the IAEA.
PS: In 2005 the IAEA and all it’s employees, including me, were awarded the Peace Nobel Price, very cool!

My Innovation Story: Part 2

OR Intranet Timeline
Our.Outreach home
 Intanet launch award

Fast forward a few years, and I am now Creative Director at Penn State Outreach, an organization of 1600+ employees.
Sixteen hundred people who did not have an intranet.
I followed the same formula that led to success at the IAEA, essentially becoming an intranet evangelist touting the advantage of an intranet to top-level stakeholders.
Innovation equaled resistance once again, but I finally received the buy-in I needed.
Stakeholders came around to understanding that an intranet would promote internal communication and improve productivity by reducing activity, waste, and overlap.
We contracted with a company that offered a customizable product close to our needs. We generated excitement by initiating an internal advertising campaign.
And on a day the university designated as a day of connection, we launched Outreach’s new intranet—a wildly successful and award winning project that has generated national and international attention.


5. The social one.

I am very passionate about social media. In fact, I am very passionate about being social. Long before Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter became ubiquitous, I was thinking about how better to connect people.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, headquartered in Vienna, Austria, is part of the United Nations. I worked there for five years, originally hired to redesign the main website. But with 4,000 employees, the agency had some issues. Issues related to communication. To morale. To the public, the IAEA presented itself as diverse and cordial organization; internally, it was anything but. There were many issues that people talked about around the water cooler.
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I decided to do something about it. And I knew I would have to do it under cover.

Im Sorry
picture in hallway

Without the approval of my supervisors, I decided to use the tools I knew to shine the light on issues that had, until then, remained in the background.
To highlight issues like insincerity, honesty, and authenticity, I developed eye-grabbing posters, a website, and a blog—launching my “attack” during a weekend when no one would see what I was up to.
The posters drew people in; the website and blog sparked comments and discussions.
The whole campaign became a conversation piece, bringing people together in a more positive way (there were naysayers, but eventually they all came around), and we began to see our relationships and our organization in a better light.
To my surprise, the Director General—the agency’s top manager—issued a statement saying he had authorized the campaign!
Social media has come a long way since then, here is a 20 minute video of a Google+ Hangout demo I presented during the 2012 Social Media Summit at Penn State, but now you understand my passion for using social media to connect, to heal, and to move organizations and people forward.


6. The startup.

Breaking out of one’s comfort zone can be daunting, but the rewards are worth the risk. I had a comfortable job at a United Nations agency in Austria. I could have stayed, but instead I closed my eyes and jumped.

NION was a startup interactive agency in Austin, Texas. They were not doing very well, so they invited me to help bring them to the next level. A bold move on their part, and perhaps a bolder one on mine. I moved my whole family from Austria to Texas because there was something exciting about the prospect of working with a startup company.
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Sometimes it’s worth taking a risk in life—even if the outcome isn’t what you had hoped.

Nion Email
Nion Email
Nion Email

I arrived at NION and began with the basics, reinventing the way the agency was pitching to prospective clients.
We redesigned the internal workflow process, expanded the office, and hired new people. We had considerable initial success, winning some national accounts.
But it wasn’t enough. That’s they way it sometimes is with startups.
So on a Saturday morning just before Christmas, the owners called us all together and said the company would close on Monday. Permanently.
Despite my best efforts, I was out of a job.
Rather than viewing the experience as a failure, however, I view it as a rich and rewarding challenge that taught me about myself—how uncertainty gets my creative juices flowing. I applied what I learned in the next job and the next.
And I’m a better Creative Director because of it.


7. The conference.

As the world becomes ever more interconnected, the ways we relate and learn and share are changing. Since the first TED talks were made available for free, I have been intrigued by them. And I wondered: “Can TED be a relevant tool for relating and learning and sharing at Penn State?

Ideas worth spreading: TED Talks and Pizza, TEDx PSU, TEDx Summit 2012 in Doha, TEDx LionRock 2012 in Hong Kong
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TED Talks and Pizza: A Global Phenomenon on a Local Level

TED at lunch invitation
TED at lunch invitation

Shortly after I started working at Penn State University, I was invited to join a prestigious innovation team. Our charge? To explore ways to make our organization more innovative.
Immediately I suggested watching TED talks together and then having conversations about them. We found this experience very inspiring and soon were inviting colleagues in our office building to watch TED talks over lunch. (We supplied pizza and soft drinks.)
We watched TED talks about topics relevant to the culture of our organization—higher education, youth, teaching, personal growth, problem solving, and others.
I served as moderator at these events by presenting the theme, introducing the talk, and stimulating the follow-up conversation.
These events became so popular that we needed to move to a venue that could accommodate several hundred people.
Though after two years budget cuts and other challenges caused us to curtail our Friday lunchtime TED Talks with pizza, we all gained a great deal of insight into each other and our organization.

TEDx PSU 2010 + 2011

TEDxPSU 2010
TEDxPSU 2010
TEDx PSU 2011 Executive Team

But my passion for TED talks did not stop there. When I saw a small poster in early 2010 calling for volunteers to help organize a large TED event at Penn State, I was excited to get involved.
We were to organize a “TEDx” event (“x” stands for “independently organized) under the direction of and licensed by the TED organization.
As we set out to organize such an event, TEDxPSU, for the first time at our university, I joined the communications group and soon found myself leading volunteers and spending many nights getting the related design work done: event design, program design, stage design, websites, invitations, advertisements, an iPhone app, and many other big and small assignments.
Admittedly, we didn’t really know what we were doing at first, but somehow we generated tremendous excitement. More than a thousand people showed up at our event.
One speaker, a Penn State sociologist who presented A Radical Experiment in Empathy, has since been featured on TED.com. The talk has been viewed more than 650,000 times and it definitely has transformed the life of the speaker.
In 2011, we did it again, learning from the previous year’s experience. We decided to make this an even bigger event, taking over a central building on campus and making sure we had an experienced and dedicated executive team.
I again served as Director of Design, still recruiting and working with volunteers.
The 2011 event was more colorful, inspiring, entertaining, and successful than the last and 4 of our TEDxPSU talks are now featured on TED.com, probably a record for any TEDx event.

TEDx Summit 2012 in Doha, Qatar

TEDx Summit 2012
TEDx Summit 2012
TEDx Summit 2012
TEDx Summit 2012
TEDx Summit 2012, learn by doing

As if two successful TEDx PSU conferences, with more in the works, wasn’t enough, in February 2012 I received an invitation to apply for a TED conference in Doha, Qatar– all expenses paid and hosted by the TED organization except the flight!
My application was accepted, and on April 15th I and a fellow team member arrived in Doha, joining 700 fellow TEDx conference organizers from around the world.
The weeklong TEDx Summit 2012 was rife with inspiring conversations, incredible experiences, and fantastic entertainment. I found myself immersed in a huge group of absolutely like-minded people. Ideas were exploding all around me, and I knew I was making connections that would last a lifetime.
Coming back from this conference was not easy; with a heavy heart we returned to our homes vowing to stay connected through the technologies that brought us together in the first place.
Several new projects were born there including a project I’m now working on with people in Zürich and Dubai, another with a woman living in the Amazon rain forest, a man from Greece, a man from Sudan, and a growing group of supporters of our global environment.
A whole new world has opened for me, and I now find myself in a position where I believe anything is possible.
We all are here to work together.
And together, we can change the world!

TEDx LionRock 2012 in Hong Kong

TEDxLionRock 2012, Hong Kong
TEDx LionRock
TEDx LionRock

Inspired by our Doha experience, we took on the challenge of developing a TEDxYouth event—in Hong Kong—called “Ordinary People, Extraordinary Experience.”
The TEDxLionRock event took place on July 20, 2012 in the Li Po Chun United World College of Hong Kong.
A small, international team of 14 TEDx organizers worked round-the-clock for three days, collaborating brilliantly and putting the finishing touches on the event just moments before the audience arrived.
The event featured a morning TEDx workshop, introducing the concept and the many components of the TEDx phenomenon. The actual TEDxLionRock event started after lunch and featured three sessions with 13 speakers and two performances.

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