Creativity is a must-have quality for any design agency or Creative Director. Our job is to set the vision, find the right message and tone for each project, and ultimately, to make sure that it’s delivered “on time and on-budget.” Creative Directors must do that at the very basic level. But creativity — true creativity — as in original ideas, imagination, inventiveness — that’s the stuff that separates basic idea generation and next level creation.
That’s the topic I was asked to speak about on Joe Dans’ live radio show, Creativity & Technology Solutions for Business & Life. Where do our creative ideas come from? What activities can you do to foster creativity and exercise those innovative muscles? How can creativity transform business and break through the clutter?
You can hear the whole conversation by clicking the play button below to listen to the live recording.
No time to listen? Skim the key takeaways below. And be sure to let me know your thoughts with your comments.
“I don’t really believe in trendy design. I believe good design is timeless and based on lasting modernist principles with a clear purpose and function.” – Christina Hagopian
Your creative work involves really fine story-telling skills using exceptional and really memorable visuals. Where do you find inspiration and how do you achieve that artful, rich look that people look for in a brand?
I came from a fine arts background, and I always go back to art as the origin of design — but with purpose and function as an additional layer. Even as a kid, I was into painting and print-making. I also have to give credit and thanks to my art teachers in junior high and high school who both inspired and encouraged me on my art and design path.
How do you separate yourself from your competitors?
It’s a crowded space these days, but fortunately, I was able to create a niche for Hagopian Ink early on in the luxury market. We found that luxury brands like Estee Lauder, Burberry, Mercedes and La Perla, who were among our first clients, really cared about every aspect of their brand from a visual perspective and were willing to invest in exceptional design. They made truly good partners for us. Over time, we developed expertise in e-commerce and email marketing, bringing design excellence to these areas, which not a lot of agencies are able to do. Email is the marketing channel with the largest ROI both online and offline, and we’ve been able to address this need for brands like Pepsi, Burberry and Sesame Street.
I imagine a lot of clients are focusing on email marketing this time of year, yes?
Absolutely. Everyone is trying to capitalize on gift-giving season, but even off-season, it’s a challenge to break through to people’s inboxes. That’s what we help our email marketing clients do — and do well.
You’ve mentioned before that “one size does not fit all” when it comes to a marketing campaign. What do you mean by that?
A lot of agencies hire designers that are generalists, but we believe that hand-picking specialists who are exceptionally skilled in a specific area is the key to ensuring clients achieve their goals and reap the benefits of great design. I wouldn’t assign the same designer to a fashion brand and a tech brand, for example. Every client is unique and they deserve a unique solution with a 5-star team.
What is branding and why is it important for businesses?
Ultimately, branding is all about how you stand out from and eclipse your competition. It’s about making a distinctive and memorable mark and communicating the brand values and personality. And it all starts with strategy — what’s the ‘first impression’ you want to make? How do you express what your brand stands for visually? We like to refer to it as “making your mark.”
And I imagine that consistency is key, yes?
Absolutely. You want every channel and touchpoint to convey the same brand experiences, and ideally, to differentiate your business and elicit an emotional response that your target audience will connect with and remember.
What is your role as creative director?
My role is to set the vision for all creative projects for my team and clients. This means finding the right message and tone for a creative campaign and then overseeing the creative process. I often craft the creative briefs that are approved by clients and give guidance to the look and feel and message my designers are crafting. Creative briefs include an outline of the objectives, audience and competitive considerations, image direction, type/color selections. It’s basically the ingredients in a recipe for the designer to then act as the chef to pull together.
Knowing that email marketing has huge ROI, do you get involved in helping clients build their email list?
We believe in growing email lists organically through valuable content. You want your subscribers to look forward to receiving your email, not dread or delete or ignore them — so you have to provide some kind of benefit every time you hit ‘send.’
Hagopian Ink is a Certified Women-Owned Business. Does this point of differentiation give you a competitive edge?
It’s a differentiator, certainly and can sometimes help close a deal, but it only moves the needle if you’re already a contender. You have to be able to carry your weight regardless of gender.
What do you look for when you hire other creatives or build a client team?
I like to hire people with opposite skills sets, different from mine. What good is hiring someone that things and creates just like you? That difference in perspective is important to stretch new creative solutions and build a multi-faced team. I’m often hiring copywriters, photographers, videographers and web and email developers because these are not skills that are my strengths. When it comes to other designers, I do find that I look for a modernist approach of “less is more.” I care if they know the basic design principles of image balance, typography and color theory. There is a lot of design fluff out there and I care most about concept and strategic thinking. One question I often ask in interviews especially for my junior designers is “How do you organize your closet?” You can tell a lot by how a designer thinks by their answer—do they organize by like items, color, garment type or season? The order in which you organize your daily life—this translates into how you find order in website navigation for instance or structuring content and visual solutions. I even had an intern candidate tell me he doesn’t even hang up his clothes—they were in a pile in his room! I almost wished he lied to me! (he wasn’t hired 😉
Can you describe recent creative “eureka” moments?
I find I get my most creative ideas in the moments in life that are between the state of conscious and unconscious– not when I sit intentionally to brainstorm. These moments are often just before I go to bed or as soon as I wake up, when I’m in the shower or walking along the waterfront here on the Hudson—when my mind is free to wander. This is what I find so challenging as I see digital devices taking over our society in such an absorbed way—we are not allowing our minds to wander and we “fill it” aimlessly scrolling almost like zombies. It doesn’t allow for the time we need to be free for idea generation.
What Hobbies inspire you?
All of my hobbies are intentionally designed to take me off my computer and be in an analog state. I find creating with my hands instead of pixels is when I’m most at ease and in a state of joyful exploration. I came from a fine art background with drawing, painting, printmaking as my early forms of creating. I return back to these roots and take wheel ceramics and handbuilding with clay slabs. Feeling the earth element of clay on my hands is very grounding and helps balance the fire elements of my mind and spirit. I also knit for the same reason—to calm my mind and have a moving meditation and I find the tactile nature of yarn is also soothing. The same to be true for exercise—swimming, yoga, pilates and walking along the waterfront along the Hudson where I live—being in nature, hiking. All of these activities allow the mind to rejuvenate and recenter.
What recent creative projects broke through the noise?
Candle Campaign – Now is Your Time to Shine, with custom candle and matches
One of my most beloved, truly “creative” projects is the Candle Campaign (“Now is Your Time to Shine”) which I used to gain attention and close proposals that I really wanted to win. It featured custom candles and matches and created a heartfelt WOW response from recipients:
New Car Wash branding project
Another favorite is very recent — the Cloud 10 Car Wash project, which is a new, fully-automated car wash that is elevating the car wash industry and trying to attract a female audience. We came up with the name, “Cloud 10 Car Wash” to represent the elevated aspect of the new company and to remind customers that this is not your ordinary car wash experience. We will be sharing more about this project very soon.
About Hagopian Ink:
Hagopian Ink is a Certified Woman Owned (WBE) design agency in New York City. We specialize in increasing value for luxury and lifestyle brands, through branding, e-commerce, and email marketing. We create powerful brand personalities, carefully crafted logos websites, targeted email campaigns and more.