The Brooklyn Nets’ Kerry Paul on the dimensionality of creative work
This is part of our 100 Creative Directors interview series. It has been edited for length and clarity. To return to the series homepage and browse other interviews, click here.
What type of creative director are you?
I started as a fine artist. I was a painter and illustrator who got into graphic design and became interested in this idea of visually communicating into the world, using those skills to tell stories. That was my passion then and it continues to be my passion today.
Over time, I grew into the space professionally, in terms of becoming a leader and learning to guide a team to tell stories at a larger scale. As a sole designer, you’re essentially only able to do what your own hands are capable of. As a creative director, you’re guiding a team to produce something beyond yourself, to tell different stories with a broader reach.
My job, on a daily level, is strategically guiding my different teams to deliver stories for each brand under my purview. Sometimes it’s very high-level, sometimes I have to get in the weeds a bit more. Every project requires a different type of guidance, but it’s all about storytelling.
Your role is at BSE Global and you’re actually the creative director for multiple brands under that umbrella — are there challenges unique to this multi-brand approach?
I have to switch gears constantly — I leave one team, one meeting, and go to another meeting where we’re talking about a completely different property. Different stories, different players, different outputs, different values placed on those outputs. It can be clunky sometimes, constantly switching gears. That’s the challenge but it’s also the beauty. The one thing many of our properties at BSE Global have in common is Brooklyn. Most are based in Brooklyn — the Nets, the Liberty. Sometimes I’m able to step back and see that something we’re working on for the Brooklyn Nets, parts of that same story could resonate if reframed for the Liberty, or even the Long Island Nets.
It’s immensely satisfying to realize a piece of a story you’re telling for one property could translate and be even richer if brought into a second property. That level of overlap is a challenge, but also creates these great opportunities.
What's the hardest part of actually getting really good creative about the door? What gets in the way?
There are so many moments where you’re potentially getting in your own way. Time, of course, is the number one thing that gets in the way of production. Budget as well, there are always necessary restrictions that may prevent something you were really hoping to make happen. Still, you find a way to tell the same story with the resources you’re given.
Figuring out how you can produce something really high-value with less resources than you’d like is a core part of being a creative in these roles. How can you be crafty, smart, and strategic about execution to achieve your goals? I’m really keen on getting the foundational story tight. For me, when something goes out the door without that foundational thinking, without that core story, it’s frustrating. Maybe it’s pretty, maybe it looks good, but what story is it telling? How does that story connect back to the brand story?
We’re in a completely saturated industry, full of designers and brands. What I love is when we put work out into the world that’s truly representative of our brand, that portrays those foundational intentions. Back to my daily operations of overseeing these different properties, it’s crucial that everything we put out, for each property, feels uniquely connected back to each specific property. Yes, we’re able to take bits and pieces from our work on each property to inspire our work on the other properties — but the work we put out for each needs to feel unique. What works for the Brooklyn Nets should not, essentially, work for the Long Island Nets.
The hardest part, for me, is keeping a high standard for infusing everything we put out with the overall message and core intention of each property.
How do you approach and think about building and maintaining an effective team of creatives?
I’ve always placed great importance, as a designer, on being as dimensional as possible — on being willing to be open-minded. When I’m looking for someone to join a team, I’m looking for someone who is willing to try and explore new things, new opportunities, and new ways to tell stories. That's the utmost.
In terms of building a team, it’s about putting complementary pieces together. One piece may already exist on the team. How do we bring someone new in who will be complementary to that person? Not just personality, but skill sets and ways of thinking. You want people to be complementary in that they disrupt each other and the work, in a special and unique way. I like hearing and seeing different thought processes on how to solve a problem. There are always 100 ways to solve a specific problem, and our job on a daily basis is to identify and pick one that we believe to be best suited to telling that story, conveying that message we’re focused on. A great team is composed of disruptive pieces that coexist harmoniously.
I always tell my designers that if there’s something they want to do and try that they think is representative of the project or brand we’re working on in this moment, we’ll execute it. If you just have a great idea but lack the specific skills needed to execute, iIt doesn’t have to be you — we’ll find a freelancer, someone beyond our walls, to produce it if necessary. As long as it tells the story we need to tell, we’ll do it. I want you free to come up with these ideas, to be able to think beyond yourself and serve the story we’re telling. We’re in this together.
What’s something that you can't do your job without?
As I said, this job is so dimensional. There are so many pieces and layers — but I would say words are crucial to my job, to this role, and the industry. Words equal feelings and meaning. Words are the tone, the strategy, the mood. Words are how we represent our ideas. We’re not even able to design anything without words.
Usually, on most projects, I ask my designers to start with words. Just throw words at the page, try to carve out what we’re trying to represent, what we’re trying to say, and who we’re saying it to. Putting it down on a page, it tends to happen that we’re able to look at that page and both take away and add fairly quickly until we have a true representation of what we’re trying to do. That really builds the foundation and guides the creative needs for a project.
What’s a piece of advice someone gave you years ago that’s guided how you’ve moved through your career?
Very early in my career, one of my earliest mentors told me my goal with design, all the work we produce, has to be to make people feel something. Ensure that your intention is represented in the work you’re doing. Whatever you produce is almost always going to make your audience feel something, no matter what — excited, sad, bored, whatever — but it’s about pushing through that intended feeling.
To this day, I always talk about that with my teams, that’s always core to our discussions around the work we’re producing: what do we want people to feel from this and how can we make sure they do?
What advice would you give to people just starting their careers, specifically trying to get to a creative director-level role like yours?
Just be curious. That was always helpful for me and I’ve seen it be just as important for my peers. Understand how dimensional this world we work in is and seek to learn about each dimension. It’s easy to get into one space and just stay in that space, to lose the curiosity to understand how stories are told in other spaces. Avoid that trap.
When you’re curious, and when you act on that curiosity, you’re able to absorb and learn so much about the industry and all the spaces within it. You’re able to grow beyond what you’re doing today — all of a sudden you end up in a different space where you evolve personally in a way you never would have thought possible.
To that point, learn about the spaces you’re telling stories about, too. You need to know about design, but to really tell great stories about any industry — whether it’s sports, a specific sports league, or even gardening — you need to follow your curiosity into my spaces. Be careful not to lose your curiosity.