Nick Hammond, self-described Creative Consultant/Marketing + Design Admiral, joined us on the show to talk all things creativity. Nick and Lisa nerd out on creative philosophy, how technology sometimes isn't designed for the human mind, the importance of asking questions, and more. Nick even flips the script and asks Lisa some fascinating questions toward the end of the episode.
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Nick: I think I'm after the intersection of, like I said before, analytics and design. I think too many times we can go off one way or the other where marketers are so hyper-focused on results and a lot of times creatives can be too hyper-focused on the art. And to me, that middle, that like wonderful middle ground of the two of them is almost like this thing that I strive to hit, which almost never exists. But there are times where you feel like you can like gently lay a finger on it. And when that happens, you're like, oh, this is a sweet spot.
Iris: Hello, hello and welcome to another episode of Outside By Design! My name is Iris Matulevich, I host the podcast alongside Lisa Slagle, and as always, the show is brought to you by WHEELIE, a modern creative agency and production company for the outdoor industry.
This week Lisa was able to interview Nick Hammond - Nick describes himself as a creative consultant slash marketing and design admiral. Nick and Lisa dive DEEP into creative philosophy, the intersection of analytics and design, how tech can be designed without humans in mind, and authenticity in outdoor marketing. This one is jam-packed with insights on creative living, so let’s get right into it.
Lisa: Nick. Thanks so much for being on our podcast today.
Nick: Yes. Appreciate it. Thanks for having me.
Lisa: The first question we ask every single person is to describe where they are in the world and what they're looking at.
Nick: Yes. So I am in our living room in Orlando, Florida, and I am looking at my- our two dogs sleeping on the couch next to me. And then my partner roaming around doing other various creative things as I’m on the podcast.
Lisa: What kind of dogs?
Nick: So they’re two rescues. The first one, the older one, he is a mix of like four different types of hounds. And the little one that we just got like a month or two ago, he is an Aussie and a Lab mix. And he's a silly, silly little guy. He's got two different eyes and he's like all white, but he looks like a toasted little marshmallow.
Lisa: That sounds adorable.
Nick: [laughs] Very. So you might hear him come in and out every once in a while, depending on how frustrated he is.
Lisa: Cool. What's going on in Florida?
Nick: Oh, man. Some great weather recently. That's been fantastic. What else is going on in Florida? Not a whole lot. I, I feel like to tie it back to a lot of the outdoor industry talk… so I've only been down in Florida for like a few years at this point, maybe like three ish, something like that, years. And the like… well, I was in Utah before this. And when you go to a place like that, it's like the outdoor industry is on the surface. So much of what Utah has to offer is being sold to people on the surface, because you can go from the airport to the slopes so quickly. Down here in Florida, it's like, it's buried under everything because there's so much construction and new building and communities and people and yada yada yada, and like tourist industry. So it's been funky because there's this level to Florida that I didn't even know existed really until I started trying to explore more down here. So that's, that's my answer to that question. That's where Florida’s at. The good stuff's buried
Lisa: So your job title, your self-described job title is hilarious to me because it's Creative Consultant / Marketing and Design Admiral.
Nick: [laughs] Yes.
Lisa: How did you come up with that word choice?
Nick: Oh man. It's, it's a wild, wild answer to get into. We'd have to, we'd have to back it up all the way at the beginning. And it is not a short story, but the creative consultant part comes from my attempt at expressing my skillset in a succinct way.
And that was like the only thing that I could think of to like wrap it up easily. ‘Cause it's like, there are some days where I'll do a lot of actual heavy pixel pushing and actually designing in Adobe programs. And then there's other days where I'm off in marketing land, thinking about analytics and strategy and branding and the whole nine yards. So at any given point I could be at 90,000 feet down to 5,000 feet and like in all these different realms of how design fits into the greater business world. So that's where the creative consultant part comes from.
The Marketing and Design Admiral comes from more of the full-time role that I'm in currently with this company called Mang. And they're basically a small family-run business down here in Florida, apparel business, that plants a mangrove for every product that they sell. And… we have like, probably… it's under 10 full-time employees, most of them being family members. So because there's no real hierarchy in how the company works and who reports to who and whatever, t was just like, “Hey, let's give you a title and let's come up with something silly that's water-related.” ‘Cause that's the only thing that really makes sense.
Lisa: That's fun. And so you do marketing and design there?
Nick: Yeah. Yeah. So it was interesting. I kind of came in at more of a freelance contract capacity doing mostly apparel design for them, which is how I got into design and that's always what I've loved to do. So that's how I started with them. And then over time, I just started taking on more of the marketing tasks until I got to a point where I was doing the majority of it. And so, because we're such a small team, it kind of… pieces of that land on everybody else, depending on what needs to get done. But for the most part, I'm running the majority of the marketing oversight as well as design for product and web and the whole nine yards.
Lisa: I like about your content that you are a little bit like me in that you really like philosophy and you like the philosophy of creativity. And I'm curious, on this, we sent you this questionnaire, which we started doing this season. And the question was, how does creativity play a role in your daily life? And your answer was ‘the process of creating is my everything.’ So I'm curious, like if you want to expand on that.
Nick: Yeah, absolutely. I… so before I get too deep into my answer with that, I loved, I was listening to one of the most recent podcasts that you guys did with, with you, where they were asking you questions, which was awesome.
And it was cool to hear more of the philosophical side of design from you guys. And that's kind of where part of that answer came from. For me, it's interesting. It's like, I got to this point with design, where I tried so many different avenues of what it means to be a designer and do design work, whether that was apparel to marketing, to, you know, web, any, any number of different avenues and how design shows up.
But I got to a point where I realized it was, at least for me, it was more about just asking the right questions based on what I was seeing and kind of mixing that with my own taste. So that's kind of how I ended up approaching not only just creative work in general, but more just life, is like, if there's something in front of me, I ask a lot of questions which can frustrate a lot of people, but that's how I get to get to answers and get to learn where maybe gaps are in thinking or where we can maybe move into an interesting space with concepts and things like that.
Lisa: And so… I know that you care a lot about the analytical side of creativity. And it sounds a little bit like you're hinting at that, but.
Nick: [laughs] Yeah. So what was interesting to me is over the course of the last few years, I think I started analyzing more of my own career because at the beginning I had kind of come out of college trying to do more of the freelance stuff right out of the gate. And because I didn't have a name for myself or client base or anything, it was really difficult. And that kind of forced me to jump in and out of a lot of these different roles in different capacities and have to kind of meander through the entirety of a career as you would see it looking back, which obviously looks like absolute chaos in the middle of it.
And, and yeah, it's, after looking back at all of that, I was able to kind of analyze more of the moves that I was making at the time and put pieces together and just recognize where if I would have thought through something and kind of asked questions of my own process and what I wanted out of my career and out of design, that it maybe would have helped me to get to other places more efficiently, or maybe not fall into some traps that I think can kind of get creatives hung up in certain times of their career where they maybe don't feel as inspired or want to do some other work.
Lisa: Mmm. What kind of traps?
Nick: Yeah, I mean, for me, it's like the biggest one would be feeling like what you're doing day to day is just too monotonous. I love feeling like each day is almost entirely different and I can get into new experiences. And I think the ability to do that helps creatives so much because they can pull on different things when they're in different situations for inspiration or ideas, or, you know, whatever comes up. But, yeah, I think the monotony of it, like getting stuck in a position where you're told that, you know, let's say you're, you're a production designer and this is what you do, and you don't get to do anything actually creative. So we just need you to put a photo into a template and kick it out and save it. And that's your job. And you know, you do that for a year or two. And before you know, it you're like, man, how did I get here? And where do I actually want to go with this now? You know?
Lisa: Yeah. I had a job as a designer at backcountry.com once. And it was my, I was in the bike department. So it was my job to cut out the negative space between spokes on wheels and like just using the pen tool and cutting out everything. And I just remember being like, “I will never get this time back.” You know, but it, it made me really, really efficient.
Nick: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it's funny. I had a very similar experience. Like, I went from… I also worked at Backcountry for a while, which I feel like many people do in the outdoor industry. Like it's, it's a lot of times that company specifically can be a gateway and I don't know why it's them, but, yeah, I remember at one point having a similar experience where I was like, compositing, this image of someone snowboarding together. ‘Cause they, they weren't able to communicate to the photographer what types of actual shots they needed. So I was like making this thing work for a super wide banner for the website. And it was the same thing where I was like, I'm just like cloning all these pieces and trying to get it to work together. And I was like, man, if we just would've just gotten a better shot right off the bat, it would've saved me like a half day of just sitting here, staring at this one image over and over and over again.
Lisa: Clone stamping branches.
Nick: [laughs] Yeah, and then being like let's review in a, you know, in a meeting with 10 other people and decide which little branch piece needs to be removed or changed to a different piece of the image.
Lisa: Yeah. In those moments I’m like, this art is not for me.
Nick: [laughs] Yep.
Lisa: You know, like, this doesn't belong to me, this belongs to someone else, and I will just be the catalyst to get it there.
Nick: Yeah. And it's interesting. I think those experiences, like they give you, they give you an ability to almost look at the work differently where you're like, I may not be doing anything super creative here, but if I try and get some learning out of it, whether that's technical or, you know, people skills when you're in that room with 10 other people trying to fight for where the branch needs to go, that can be awesome. But at the same time, you can only do that for so long before you go absolutely insane.
Lisa: Yeah. Yeah. I think for me, it taught me like a healthy detachment, like caring about the work and having pride, but also just detaching from the impact versus the intended impact perhaps. But yeah. Yeah. I don't know.
Lisa: I liked your top three values, which were adaptation, bias toward action, and reputation. How did you come up with those three? Because three is the specific number. And that question probably made you think a little bit.
Nick: It definitely did. And I was actually worried throughout the whole process that the typeform was going to reset on me and I was going to have to write that down all over again. But, yeah, adaptation being the number one. Like I, I think I mentioned this before, I moved- or I, at least I mentioned it in that questionnaire- throughout my ‘design career,’ - which I'll put in quotation marks, ‘cause it doesn't feel like that, it's been all over the place - I have gone from different industries to, you know, basically living in a different city. I think I came out with on average a year to a year and a half was as long as I would stay in a city for like the last seven years or something like that. So getting into a new situation, a new environment, and having to learn, you know, where are the creative people at? Where, where are the groups of people that I want to be around? What do I enjoy doing here? How do I kind of mold in what I want to do into what's happening around me? I think that was the single thing that allowed me to get to where I am in my own career. And just be able to thrive in these different environments because you kind of have to come in and hit the ground running and know where to start looking for the things that you're after pretty efficiently.
Lisa: What are you after?
Nick: [laughs] That's a good, good question. I think I'm after the intersection of, like I said before, analytics and design. I think too many times we can go off one way or the other where marketers are so hyper-focused on results and a lot of times creatives can be too hyper-focused on the art. And to me, that middle, that like wonderful middle ground of the two of them is almost like this thing that I strive to hit, which almost never exists. But there are times where you feel like you can like gently lay a finger on it. And when that happens, you're like, oh, this is a sweet spot. With storytelling and visuals and, and all of that textual stuff in between that can come out of something like that.
Lisa: How do you balance it? How do you personally find the balance?
Nick: Oh, that's yeah, that's an even better question. Hm. I would say like, the… just questioning helps more, kind of like I mentioned earlier, being able to question things always helps because I think it leads you down to… when you, when you can maybe find certain dead ends within creative thinking, and you're kind of, you're trying to ask of it, what needs, what needs to come out next and you maybe can't necessarily find the answer. Being able to ask questions helps you to figure out, like, maybe I've been looking in this one direction the whole time and I've hit a dead end now. The only way to really get out of that is to start asking questions and figure out, all right, do I maybe need to look in a different direction or do I just need to kind of reframe how I'm going down the route that I'm currently on? I think that's one of them.
The other one for me, I think, is more with process. It's kind of like, I would always have difficulties trying to stay in that creative mindset for very long. And I kind of got into this flow of understanding if I'm feeling less creative or not as energetic or something and I really need to get something done or like there's a really heavy overarching project over the top of me that I just don't feel like lifting at that point in time, I'll start to kind of chip away at these smaller things that feel easier until my being feels like it can handle a little bit more. And then I'll start stacking more difficult kind of creative tasks on top of that to start roping it all together.
I feel like it's very similar to getting into some of these conversations with podcasts, where you start at the beginning and it feels a little more robotic and you're, you know, just trying to ask the question to get it going. And then once you hit more of that flow state, it's kinda, everything feels a little more fluid.
Lisa: Yeah, it reminds me of running. So like the first four miles suck and it's so painful. And then once I hit the four mile mark, I'm just… my body kicks into like, I call it marathon pace, and I can just run all day.
Nick: It's funny. I… I always hated running. So I worked for Jaybird for while, they sold headphones to runners and it, part of like them starting to target runners more is like they wanted us to really feel more of what that experience was like. And I always hated running. I hate cardio with a passion. And so when I started running, it was just a fight the whole way through. And when I finally started getting into cooler trails and different areas, that's when I think I started to open up a little more to what you're talking about. But it would still be a fight. Like, there would be times where it was, it was so incredible and felt, you'd feel that runners high so much. And then you're just all of a sudden, right back down at the bottom. Like hearing, hearing stories from ultra marathoners and people like that, it's so interesting because the, the ebb and flow of your, your moods and your, how your body feels and stuff throughout the whole process is just… nuts.
Lisa: Yeah, seriously. It reminds me of the creative process a lot, but most sports do ‘cause I love action sports, so.
Nick: Yeah. So you're heavy into a snowboarding, right? Is that what I heard from the last couple ones?
Lisa: Yeah. I'm very into snowboarding and mountain biking, but yeah. Very, very into- yeah. I live in Crested Butte and I'm just obsessed with snowboarding.
Nick: That's awesome. Can I ask how you got into it? I'm actually wearing my - I didn't realize it this morning, but I'm wearing the Natural Selection Tour stuff that I bought.
Lisa: Oh, nice.
Nick: I loved watching everything about how they put those together minus the fact that every time they start the live feeds, the women get a crack at the course after the men blow the whole thing out. That's garbage.
Lisa: Yeah. It's still really cool. They do, they still… that's the best competition in snowboarding.
Lisa: I got into snowboarding though from the movie Out Cold, which was significant for most of my friends as well, because that was the first time Hollywood had given us a role model that was like a cool snowboarder chick. And, you know, It wasn't kind of like Hot Dog where it's like a chick in a bikini. It was like a cool shredder chick. And so, that movie has been very influential for most of my core friends, fascinatingly enough. And then I worked at a Coldstone Creamery in Fort Collins and I saved up all my tip money and I bought my snowboard setup for a $500 in change. [both laugh] I was like 15 or 16 years old. I can't even like, they were so annoyed, but they just couldn't be mad at me cause I was so excited. So that's ,yeah, that's how I got into snowboarding.
Nick: That's awesome. I think you guys mentioned this in one of the other podcasts, but that newest film, Learning To Drown was incredible.
Lisa: Oh yeah. That was amazing.
Nick: Absolutely incredible. We've watched that several times over. That's one of those things where the storytelling comes through so well that you almost forget you're watching a film. And the story becomes so real that you're just like engulfed in it.
Lisa: And then you don't have a body.
Lisa: That's how I know a movie's really good. There’s something where I like don't have a body. And I'm just like in the movie. Just floating.
Nick: Yeah, absolutely. I always loved that about film. I don't have any desire to edit ‘cause I've, I've worked with friends who have done a lot of that work and it just looks so monotonous and awful, but I love the creative output that film can provide through storytelling. It’s great.
Lisa: Yeah, I'm going to start a second career in screenwriting.
Nick: [laughs] Do you have anything on deck?
Lisa: Yeah. Yeah. I have a whole-
Nick: Do tell.
Lisa: I can't because it's too cool, but I have a whole Netflix show that I'm working on writing. And then I have to just figure out how to sell it to a TV station or, you know, a network.
Lisa: Yeah. It’s…
Nick: That would be its own process.
Lisa: Yeah. Yeah. It's going to be cool. I'm really excited about it. Because the thing is like, you know, like as a creative director of commercial work, everything has to have a purpose and everything has to really relate to, like, how humans interact with the product or the service. So it's a lot of study of culture. And I have a great appreciation for like long format narrative that isn't really made to sell anything, but it's just made to make you feel something instead of both.
Lisa: ‘Cause I think, I think like great commercial work makes you feel something and kind of like includes the product placement or whatever. But if it's long format narrative, where the only thing is just like to make you feel your feelings, I think there's a lot of beauty and fun in that.
Nick: Yeah, totally. It's… it's interesting. ‘Cause I feel like that's, that's one of the things that I feel like, kind of subconsciously got me into art in the first place was interacting with some of these different pieces of - whether it was marketing or just art in general, and just kind of looking at it and being like, okay, there, there's something… this person's trying to say something here. And I feel like I'm picking up on parts of it, but there's other pieces that I don't have the knowledge or experience to truly understand. And that… how art forces you to try and read between those lines to understand it is a very interesting process.
Lisa: What's the first product you remember being like, “I want that!” ‘Cause, you know, like the marketing worked on you as a little kid where you're like, my life will be so dope when I get that.
Nick: [laughs] Yeah. So I actually grew up- I remember, I think it was like my 12th birthday. I had a conjoined birthday party with one of my friends at the time, and we all went out and played paintball and I was hooked immediately.
And so I played competitive paintball up until I was like 20 ish years old. And we, we got to a fairly high level playing nationally, but I remember like some of those first days, when we were first starting to play more often, getting these magazines that are now no longer in print and just like paging through them over and over again, and looking at all of these different guns that were available and seeing how cool like these - like, they were awful at the time - advertising messages and stuff that had these guns, different pieces of equipment and stuff in it. And that was when I was just first like, ‘oh my God, I need all of this.’
Lisa: Yeah. Yeah. Like magazines, there's something so special about them.
Nick: Tangible. Yeah. That's what's so funky about seeing some of the stuff go to such a digital world. I feel like... I was just talking with my partner about this the other day. We, I have such huge respect for creatives that have an outlet that is one, not commercial, but two, has something to do with like a physical space where they're creating something with their hands. ‘Cause it's just a, such a different, tangible feeling to be able to work with something in real space, because so much of what we do now is so online-oriented that you almost just lose this connection to it that you have when you can feel it. Like, you know, so when you see like these magazines that get hosted online and you click a button and the page like animate scrolls, you're just like, this is nowhere near what it was if I had this magazine in my hand.
Lisa: Yeah. You know, the other thing I'm really interested in seeing long-term effects on humans is… I need to research it more, but basically like when you're stressed out as a human being - oh, first of all, our, our eyes are set on our heads in landscape format, you know? So we see the world in, they’re next to each other, they’re landscape. That's why you go to a movie theater and it's really easy to get involved because you're staring at a huge screen that matches kind of like the dimensions of your eyes.
Lisa: Uh huh. And then when you're like stressed out and anxious, you like furrow your brow and physically, you can measure that people's eyes get closer together because of how they scrunch their face when they're stressed. And so the really interesting thing about cell phones and vertical video is that it's forcing your eyes to fight. To fight your natural landscape tendency and experience everything in this vertical video, vertical format, vertical scrolling, and it actually causes stress and anxiety just from a neuro-biological level.
Nick: Very interesting.
Lisa: Isn’t that weird?
Nick: That that reminds me of - and I've seen this too with, with different articles that I've read about how tech is, is kind of going counterintuitive to human's actions. There was one that I was reading where the guy that basically like invented infinite scroll was talking about how he regrets it, because it creates this tendency in your brain to just keep going.
Because as humans, we seek resolution. It's why when music comes to an end, that it feels so good to have it resolved. But then when you have a digital experience and there's no end, your brain just tells you to keep going on forever. And it's why a lot of times people have a hard time getting off the apps is because it just trips this thing in your head where you're like, I'm trying to get to the end of it. And I can't do it.
Lisa: Yeah. There's a study correlated to that about rats and cocaine.
Nick: Please tell.
Lisa: Yeah. So, so basically the algorithm is similar to this scientific process. There's a name for it that I'm not remembering, but the whole thing is based on rats, getting rats addicted to cocaine. And so one group of rats had a steady supply of cocaine water at all times. They could go get cocaine. And then the other group of rats had water and sometimes it had drugs in it. Sometimes it didn't. And those rats, because of that variable, became far more addicted quickly. And that's what - because they had to know, is there cocaine here or not? And that's what the apps do where literally every fifth, seventh, third, tenth video will be shitty, because - and that's a mindful thing because your brain gets hooked on needing to find out if the next thing that you scroll to is good or bad. If it's stupid or fun. And so your brain has to find out and that's why you can't get off of it. And it's the same thing you're saying like your brain wants resolution and you don't have it. And you need to know if the next thing is cool or not. It might be funny. You might be missing out on something funny if you don't keep scrolling. So.
Nick: The only answer is to just throw the phone at the wall.
Nick: That's the only way.
Lisa: Go outside.
Nick: Yup. Outside by Design.
Nick: That's the next advertisement.
Lisa: It should be. We do some crazy ads.
One thing that you would like to change about the outdoor industry is its openness to change?
Nick: Yeah, I think so. Over the course of my career I feel like I've come in and out of the outdoor industry, and I've always loved it, but it always feels like it's very much a, kind of exclusive club. And if you're not in the know with certain things, and you're not wearing the right product or whatever, you are looked at as an outsider. And it's always been funky for me because throughout my creative career, I've always felt like I've been on the outside. I've never had like true design or creative mentors in the way that I think I've seen other people around me have.
And I always kind of get frustrated when I see people within specific creative scenes. ‘Cause I think they tend to group towards certain ideals at the expense of new ideas. And so… It would be like, if you got really into fine art and then some concept outside of fine art was just not cool. And so you stick your nose up at it, type of thing. And that always frustrated me. And I think that's why I always kind of connected more with… subcultures more, is because you were a little more free to come in and out of what you wanted to do and who you wanted to be. But it, it was funny ‘cause I feel like I got to a certain point with the outdoor industry where it felt like a lot of the marketing was almost based on being this outsider, but then if you are doing something outside of that, being an outsider, you're also not cool. So it was weird. It's like, I've kind of always had this difficulty of enjoying it to a really deep degree, but then being frustrated at that side of it.
And, yeah, I think there's just, there's certain blind spots that I think the outdoor industry has to change. And it's been interesting over the last few years, watching more companies try and kind of get in the sustainability space and inclusivity and things like that. And it's wild. ‘Cause I think you can… regardless of if you're in the industry or not, it seems like it's very easy to tell or to sniff out BS and be able to tell when it feels like a company's hopping on a trend versus really trying to understand what they're missing and make it more a part of who they are.
Lisa: Yeah. What do you think some of those, like visual cues or like behavioral cues, like how do you sniff it out? Cause I know exactly what you're talking about, but it's hard to just put words on.
Nick: Yeah. I'll, I'll give a very specific example of this that maybe isn't, doesn't talk as well to the inclusivity or sustainability stuff, but it's more so I think a good example of sniffing it out.
There is a recent piece that Yeti did for Earth day where… it was cool because they were basically giving away funding to a couple of their nonprofit partners that they work with. But their whole thing was, they messaged it as if, instead of trying to create a new product or something, they were, they were doing this all digitally to make it a smaller footprint, which it's like, okay, that's fine. Let's see what else you have to say about it. And then it turned into, we're basically giving you the ability to vote on screensavers. They call them screensavers instead of backgrounds.
Nick: And they were like, you can vote on the screensaver. And then whoever has the most votes or downloads will get this sum of money donated to the nonprofit.
And I just remember reading through it and at first being like, well, this is an interesting idea, but then when you kind of sit there and feel it out a little more, you're like who's called these things screensavers in the last decade? And so you kind of like pick apart these weird little, small elements of it, where you're just like these, these pieces don't connect to me at all. And it feels like the higher-level thought was there, but when you start to get down into the actual execution of it, you're like these pieces just don't, there's no connecting point between them. And I feel like that's where you can start to pick apart some of those things, whether it's more of a practice that you're doing on purpose, or more subconsciously. I think a lot of times if you’re as deep into culture as you are - like for you, it's probably snowboarding - you can tell when someone's trying to market something snowboard related and it just doesn't make sense. And it's almost hard for you to explain it when it's a little more subconscious, but that's kind of the process I'm going through. Where it's like these small little pieces don't connect to tell the story that they're trying to tell me if that makes sense.
Lisa: Absolutely. Another place where that's really obvious is when it's something that's specifically a product for women. And it's very obvious that women had nothing to do with being behind that camera. You know, like there's a really high probability that other women would not want to photograph that or use that camera angle or shoot from that way. You know? So it's like just very obvious you can, I'm hypersensitive to it, but like, I can feel the person behind the lens. Yeah. I'm just hypersensitive to it. ‘Cause it's what I do for a living.
Nick: There… I had a good example of that with some pride stuff that, that accompany I was working for at one point was doing. And they kept trying to, like - it wasn't necessarily as deep as focus groups, but they kept trying to ask other people in the office, you know, what do you think of this? What do you think of this? And I was like, why don't you go to somebody that experiences that every day? So you don't have to ask somebody outside of who would understand it the most. And then on top of it, like that should just be the person that's working on it. Period. Not anybody else. Because they understand it more than anybody. And they're talking to the people that are like them as opposed to the outside in. And it almost feels like… what always frustrates me about that is it feels like it's co-opting something to try and make the people working on it feel like they're more understanding than they are.
And it's interesting. I got into a conversation with one of my friends about how he felt about some of these companies that felt like they were just hopping on the pride stuff at one point. And he had a good opinion about it, where… that was different to my own, where he said that he, even though some of it feels disingenuous, he appreciated it because at the end of the day, it helped bring awareness to more things happening within that space then would have been there had they not done it.
Lisa: Right. Like they didn't nail it. It wasn't perfect.
Nick: Yeah. Or even-
Lisa: But the process provided value.
Nick: Yeah. Or even if it's the complete opposite where they literally went out to take the thing and make it theirs when they had no intention of trying to do it to justice. He was basically saying even that is good, because, you know, it's helping to surface conversations and topics that wouldn't have been there otherwise.
Lisa: Ah. Yes. Okay.
Nick: Which I thought was interesting because I, for whatever reason, I, like, I can understand that after he said it, but that's just not how I personally feel about it. I get really frustrated when it feels like people just jump on that stuff and take it for their own.
Lisa: Right. And you're like, we can turn this into a learning moment.
Nick: Yeah. Yeah. So how do you feel about that when, when you're talking about that with more of the female oriented stuff? Like, are there any tangible examples that come to mind when, when you start talking about more of that?
Lisa: More of just like how to market things for women in an authentic way?
Lisa: I mean, just… what seems really basic, right? Like, if you're going to be shooting women, don't like, shoot the camera like low with an up angle at a woman's butt. Like that's just not going to make women want that product, right? Cause it's like, don't expose all these like insecurities in your marketing out of like thoughtlessness, right? Like make it look like aspirational enough that like, it's not about how I look in these, you know, this item, it's like how it feels to use it. And so like really going in for some of those feelings of almost like souvenirs of… like a product as a souvenir, more of like, it's something you're going to take on an adventure. And so kind of just having thought toward how women want to interact with things and want to be perceived rather than like exposed. I guess it's like the difference between aspirational and like exposed.
Nick: Yeah. That makes sense. Yeah. The mountain bike industry seems like it’s having… or, I mean, I guess I haven't paid too much attention to a lot of marketing in that space lately, but even just a few years ago, it felt like they were having as a whole, a difficult time with a lot of that, where it would be like, here's a women's specific bike and you're like, well, what's different about that? Nothing really. And then the marketing with it is like garbage compared to what the guys’ is. And so you're looking at the two of them, like what's happening with how this whole process is working internally?
Lisa: Yeah. And I love bikes simply because they're a vehicle for freedom. And so, you know, like at the end of the day, everyone wants to feel free. Everyone wants to feel like lit up and alive. And so bikes are the most obvious tool for that. And, and so why wouldn't the creative support what it feels like to coast on a bike? ‘Cause coasting on a bike is fucking awesome and like… yeah. That experience is the best. Like why, why would it be focused on fashion, right? Because maybe some people like fashion, but at the end of the day, like everybody just wants to feel free. And so that is kind of like my underlying philosophy on anything. Anything, whether it's banking, whether it's a corporate, like some really corporate client, or a trail system, like everybody just wants to feel free.
Nick: Yeah. Yeah. I feel that. It's interesting. I, like, I remember getting to a point when we were doing some stuff with that headphone company where they were targeting runners pretty frequently. And I remember at one point seeing a giveaway for this just whole kitted out thing of like headphones, hat, like performance shirt, like, you know, the whole nine yards.
And it's like, I was sitting there looking at it like, ‘oh my God, this whole kit probably costs upwards of like several thousand dollars.’ And I just remember - it was one of those things we were just talking about with the authentic/inauthentic thing and just smelling BS, where I was sitting there, looking at it, being like the only reason somebody wants to run is to get away. And you just completely got rid of that with all of these things that you make it feel like somebody needs just to be able to use their own two legs to go get somewhere.
Lisa: Yeah. Exactly. And I always play this game when I'm working on a project in my own mind where I'm like, okay, what is my relationship to… and then I'll use like a word, like freedom. What's my relationship to freedom? Or like, what's my relationship to running? Or what's my relationship to fashion? And then I'll ask everyone else on the project, like the same question, like, and the thing that COVID has revealed is people's relationship to change.
Nick: Oh yeah.
Lisa: It’s gnarly different. Like, I love change. Other people hate change, like, you know, so, so I just think that exploring those things. Because at the end of the day, everyone's just going to bring their own lived experience to whatever you make. And they're going to project all their shit all over it in the way that you projected all your shit all over it when you made it. And so it's just this intersection of like humans connecting through like the conduit of the creative work.
Nick: It's interesting. It sounds like you kind of go through a similar process to what I was talking about with asking questions, which is really cool. Only I feel like - maybe it's just because I don't think I asked very good questions. I just ask a lot of them. But I feel like the questions you sound like you ask are awesome. They're more creative, which I feel like leads to more creative answers.
Lisa: Some people enjoy them.
Nick: Some people.
Lisa: Some people, some people want me to go away.
Nick: So, how do you, how do you do that then, when, like, let's say you have a client that comes on board and they need a certain output of creative, but then you have a difficult time trying to connect the authenticity or the trueness of what they're wanting with how you're feeling? Like they're trying to move it based on what you were saying with what you were just talking about.
Lisa: I have a kind of controversial opinion of quote, unquote, happy client.
Nick: Yeah. Lay it on me.
Lisa: And here's the thing that I have found - because I have, so I've owned really for 13 years and I've fucked a lot of shit up along the way. Right? Like, I have made so many mistakes. I've had a lot of great employees. I've also like, had a really hard time because I love who I hire. Like, I hire the coolest people in town and then it's like sad that I can't be friends with them because I'm their boss. Right? Like, then I get like bummed because they’re so cool.
Nick: [laughs] That’s a good thing to be bummed at.
Lisa: Yeah, it's my biggest struggle always. ‘Cause I just have so much like genuine love and admiration for whoever.
Nick: “God. You're cool. I hate you so much. You're so cool.”
Lisa: Yeah. You're so cool! Like why do you have to be so awesome? You know, like I just have to be like hyper aware of the power dynamic of being an employer. Right. Even if I'm just like, no, I'm just like you, like, we can go ride bikes. We can’t, really.
Anyway. But yeah, so, so I think that like, through the years of like working with people, having people work at a place I've created, clients, all of that… agencies always focus on like the happy client. Is the client happy?
And I'm like, well, we're not in the friend-making business, we're not in the business of being buddies, right? Like I'm sure our clients have really kick ass friends. Our clients are really cool people. Like, I'm sure their community's kick ass. They're not paying us what they're paying us for friendship. So if they're sourcing quote unquote happiness from this project, that's a huge fucking bag of issues that don't belong in an agency. And so what actually makes a client quote unquote happy is like, kicking ass, like accomplishing their goals through the lens of creative work. Like, if they had the intuition to hire my company and they have the trust and we've built that trust, it's not necessarily about a happy client. It's about work that hits those goals, exceeds the expectations, makes the client feel seen and heard and then better yet makes the customers feel seen and heard.
And so I think at the end of the day, the happy client is a really poor way to direct creative work. And it's, it's so prevalent.
Nick: Yeah. I love that though. It's… so if I'm putting that into my own experiences, I think it can be difficult because as an entry-level creative, you almost have to… being in that like friendship pleasing side of the business almost has to exist at the beginning because you… I've run into this time and time again, if it's difficult to kind of, I don't want… it doesn't necessarily make complete sense, but bite the hand that feeds you. It's like if you're consistently kind of prodding at someone to figure out where their blind spots are or understand what they may be missing or, you know, explaining that to them, I think a lot of people psychologically have a difficult time with those conversations.
And as a creative, it can be to the detriment of not necessarily the work, but at least your ability to continue making money and doing the thing that you need to do off of the work. So how did you… did you ever have to go from a transition of, of, more of like the yes man type of thing, as you slowly move over to like, you know, if you don't want to be our friend, we're still going to do the best thing we can for you, even if that means you dumping us as a agency?
Lisa: Yes. And then when you, so when you add employees too, right? Like, sometimes we'll have account managers that are more conflict-avoidant. Right? And they won't have those hard conversations and they'll just be like, sure, we'll make it blue because you like blue. Right? And it's like, I have the, I guess you call it owner's advantage, right, like I own the company. And so I come in - and I'm not like a jerk, right. But I'll be like, Hey, can we talk about this? I want to understand where you're at. I want to understand why you want this to be blue. Because I think maybe you’re seeing something that I'm not seeing. Let's figure it out. Because you know, here is what I see, right.
And like not everything we make, we want to put in our portfolio. You know what I mean? Like not everything is a stunner. Some of it is a little more client driven, but at the same time, like, clients are hiring us for our expertise. And so they're a little happier when we kindly, you know, bring things up and like point things out and bring our perspectives to it.
Additionally, like most of the people hiring agencies are still like white dudes in their fifties. Which is great. Love them, love you guys. You know, but, but that's another reason that those guys are going to appreciate different perspectives because they are hiring my kind of like human-centered, thoughtful agency. Like, they want our perspectives. Otherwise they would go with a different agency, you know? So. I do think though that there is a period of time where you have to learn through experience… like yeah, you show up, like I did at backcountry.com you show up. I believe in hard work. Like you show up, you cut out the white space between bike spokes for 40 hours a week, you know, like, and then you can build up into being able to have those hard conversations with grace and authenticity, but also expertise. And also the ability to just be totally fucking wrong as well, but be like, Hey, at least we got thinking about this.
Nick: Yup. I think that's such a great example, too, of what I was talking about earlier with the, the mix of more of that analytical thinking and the creative skills with what you were just talking about is… a typical agency owner that doesn't come from a creative background, doesn't understand the bubble that needs to be created around creative teams to allow for that work to come out.
But what's great about you understanding both ends of that is knowing when you maybe need to get harder with a client to protect your teams, to make sure that that creative work doesn't sacrifice because- or get sacrificed. Because I've seen a million times where, whether it's an agency owner or one of the account people is doing that yes-man thing so often at the detriment of the creative team that eventually you just have the creative people leave. Because they're like, I'm trying to explain to you that this thing is sucking my soul out and no one's listening and it's just that every single day, you just can't, you can't maintain that. It's always a part of the job, but if that becomes the job, then you know, you lose the soul of why you got into it in the first place.
Lisa: Yeah, absolutely. I think the thing that we do is ask a really important question in the beginning of a project or a relationship with a client, which is, how are you going to know if this project is successful? Name three specific ways.
And what that does is, well, one, it puts, it gives us something measurable. They're coming up with their own KPIs. But also I get to see what they're driven by psychologically, right? Like if it's someone who's driven by power or like ego, like they want an award for the work, or they want to look good to their boss, or they want to sell stuff. They're driven by money. They're driven by results, you know? So you kind of get some of these drivers, because at the end of the day, we're all just people.
Nick: Totally. What's one of the coolest… I'm in the interview chair now. And I love it because I love, I love hearing the other side of what I experience as well.
So what, what are some of the… what is one of the cooler things you said no to, and one of the cooler things you said yes to?
Lisa: To a client?
Lisa: Oh man. We said no to like a really cool concept, you know, that involved, like skiing all over. And it was like, yeah, we get to make a ski movie all winter? But at the same time, like the amount of permitting, it would, would have… like, to actually pull it off and honor that project, I said no to that, because it was not feasible to the level of quality that it would have required. Right? And we couldn't really honor the project and it would have been like a half-assed, you know, like you can't bank on weather days and you know, like it just would've looked… that's… when it's an idea where it has to be a hundred percent, all in, and you can only provide 80% or 70% because of weather or law, legal stuff, or animals. This one had animals in it. We said no.
Lisa: Which was hard. But we weren't just like, “no, we can't do that.” We were like, “we can't do that. Here's why, here's what we can do with this budget. Do you like this idea?” Kind of a thing.
Nick: Very interesting.
Lisa: And then I've said yes to projects I think won't be that cool. But because you get really interested in like how people interact with the product in its natural habitat, it becomes really fucking cool. So then you get to, like, learn things along the way that seem boring on the outside.
Nick: I almost think that some of those projects end up being the more interesting ones where you're not as attached to it. Like, so for us, something like snowboarding or biking is dope. But for me, getting into like the role that I'm in currently, I've never had to dive too deep into the fishing side of things. So it's always fascinating to see what certain trends exist and where people are willing to move, whether that's like with product or with how they connect with certain stories. And it's, it's almost, it's more interesting to me because it's something I haven't experienced before, but then it's almost easier to ask more interesting questions because you don't necessarily take things for granted that you might otherwise in a sport or an industry that you maybe know a little more deeply.
Lisa: Yeah. You get that like learner's mindset that can be really exciting.
Nick: Yeah. I remember, too, going back to the kind of like production-level stuff, we were, we were working on a bunch of stories for Backcountry when I was there. And I remember at one point, like, we were so stoked at the beginning because we got all this buy-in from everybody top to bottom. And then at one- during one of the shoots, I remember we started using… it was like right when they came out with Instagram stories and no one was using it. And I was like, this is going to be such a sick opportunity to show behind the scenes of all these shoots that no one gets to see and we start letting it rip and then C-suite comes in and is just like, “absolutely not. We don't want anyone seeing any of that.” And it was like, that was the start of just getting like slowly piece by piece, the whole project dismantled. And it was just so... It sucked the wind out of your sails so quickly just watching the thing go from what was going to be so sick to just like, Nope, Nope, Nope, Nope, Nope, Nope. All the way down. And you're like, oh man, this could have been so awesome if we just followed it through a little more efficiently.
Lisa: Yeah. Yeah. That's always kind of deflating too. You’re like, womp womp. Yeah. I feel that.
Nick: On to the next one.
Lisa: Well, I could talk to you all day, truly. Is there any, well, first of all, where can people follow you?
Nick: Oh, man. All over. So, I guess LinkedIn would probably be the best one, if you just search Nick Hammond. I got rid of most of my social media things because of reasons that we talked about at the beginning of this podcast. So I don't have personal ones, but LinkedIn would probably be the easiest. For other creatives I'm on Dribble, even though I haven't posted there much. And with our current project that we're working on, it's just called The Conscious Bum. So that's more of our thrifted home goods style stuff that came out of my experience within more of these, uh, bigger companies. So those would be the best spots.
Iris: Thank you so much for tuning in to Outside by Design. This show is produced by WHEELIE - you can find us at our website, wheeliecreative.com.
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With that, I'm Iris. Thanks for being here!