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.
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.
Adaptation. Risk-taking. Growth. These were our guiding principles along our journey.
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.
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.
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.
My Innovation Story: Part 1
Almost anything that’s new or different meets with resistance. It’s human nature.
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.
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
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
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.
I decided to do something about it. And I knew I would have to do it under cover.
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.
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.
Sometimes it’s worth taking a risk in life—even if the outcome isn’t what you had hoped.
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.
TED Talks and Pizza: A Global Phenomenon on a Local Level
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
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
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.
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
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.