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Creative Ops

Securitas Technology’s Quinn Struke on how life experience shapes creative work

March 29, 2023 · 7 min read

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 does it mean to be a creative director, in your experience?

It’s about being a guide for the creative journey. I've always tried to have an eye for the bigger picture, which I think comes from my background with music. It's about working backwards from what the deliverable or the need is to understand what exactly you have to do. The questions you’re tasked with answering are: why are we doing this? What is the ultimate goal? What is the process going to take to get there? 

My goal is to be a strong collaborator for my client — I work in-house, so that’s a teammate from another part of the organization coming to me with a request. What is their vision? What are they trying to accomplish? I’m a creative problem solver who helps them accomplish that.

What’s the hardest part about shipping great creative?

Hitting deadlines is the easy answer, but having restrictions is what really enables you to be creative. If you have all the time and resources in the world to do something, it would paralyze you. There’s too many options. So deadlines are actually quite helpful. 

Ensuring good communication is always a challenge. You have to overcommunicate, and I know it’s a little cliche to say that, but it’s true. When you don’t, things slip through the cracks.

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, is making sure your team members are in a good headspace. You can’t produce good work if you’re not in a good place yourself, from a mental health perspective. You need to feel like yourself, you need to have a level of comfort and trust. When your team is getting a bunch of little requests pulling their attention away from a project, they’re going to get frustrated and the work is going to suffer.

There are always requests coming into a creative team. You get a small project and you want to just knock it out in one day, because you know you can, but it gets in the way of some other project you should be focusing on. That’s just a reality of creative work, but as a manager, as a leader, I do my best to take those requests myself instead of burdening my team with them. I would rather keep my team focused on deeper projects than let them get stuck in a stream of ad hoc requests.

How do you build and maintain a happy, mentally healthy creative team?

Every week I aim to have at least one one-on-one meeting with my direct reports. It's at least 30 minutes and it usually runs over. We spend a lot of that time talking about just…whatever is on our minds, and then maybe we'll spend a little bit of time talking about work. You should treat each other like people — I want to know who the people I’m working with are, what they care about. I want the people on my team to feel good, to be happy, to be seen. If the work at hand is in a good spot, if we don’t need to talk about that, we take the time to chat.

You should be able to be comfortable at work. We spend so much of our time at work — even working from home, you’re still “at work” — and you should be able to be yourself. Personally, I find it too difficult to maintain a “work self” and an “outside of work self.” It’s not sustainable. You have to care for the whole person.

What are three things you see as absolutely crucial to how you approach your job?

Three things: an open mind, intention, and music. 

By “open mind,” I mean patience: taking the time to understand my team members and my clients. Where are they coming from? What are the challenges they’re facing? What can I do to help them as best as I can?

With “intention,” it’s just about going back to the why behind what we’re doing, never losing sight of that. Everything we’re acting on should have a purpose behind it. Maybe someone has said they want a video, for example. You need to take the time to listen to what they’re actually trying to accomplish and you realize what they really need is a series of animated social posts, not a full-blown video shoot. Intention is what enables you to solve creative problems efficiently and effectively.

Lastly, music because that is what I predicate all my creative action on.

Without getting overly existential, music is how I make sense of and process the world. I grew up playing music and writing songs. As a kid, I thought I’d be a full-time musician. That’s not what happened, but it’s still core to who I am. My understanding of composition, arrangement, and pacing comes from learning music but is equally applicable to the work I do as a creative director. 

Music gave me an understanding of the way individual pieces unite to form a stronger whole. 

(Editor’s note: You can check out Quinn’s music on his website here.)

What's the best piece of advice you have ever received?

I have this note on my phone, synced to all my Apple devices, that's just quotes. I’m constantly collecting quotes in there and re-reading them.

One quote that's always resonated with me, that I share often with people who aren't even in the creative space, is from Tinker Hatfield, the legendary Nike designer. It's one of those things that makes so much sense, it's so obvious, but it's so profound. 

open quote

When you sit down to design something — it can be anything, a car, a toaster, a house, a tall building or a shoe — what you draw or what you design is really a culmination of everything that you've seen and done in your life previous to that point.

close quote

What I take from that is: everything I’ve experienced up until this moment in time not only gives me the confidence to keep moving forward but also reminds me that I still have so far to go, so much to learn.

It’s a reminder to always be hungry to learn, that the only reason I can, for example, write a song in an hour is because I’ve done it so many times over the years whereas it maybe used to take me days. It’s a reminder to keep going, precisely because I’m passionate about it. 

What's a piece of advice you would give to somebody just starting a career in creative?

When Stanley Black & Decker became the jersey sponsor for the FC Barcelona Women's team, there was a friendly match that took place at UCLA's Drake Stadium. I was covering the event, shooting photos.

After the match, this girl came up to me. She was maybe 12, 13 years old. At that moment in my life, I was so frustrated with where I was at, and I wanted more — I was in some ways unhappy with myself and where I was going. So this girl came up to me, and I figured she wanted to meet one of the players or something. But she said, “How do I do what you do?”

She wanted to be where I was at and I wanted to be somewhere else. It was such a profound, humbling moment for me. I was caught off guard. And I remember saying — and this is the advice I would share with anyone — just start doing it. It's that age old saying, the journey of a million miles begins with a single step. There's no shortcut. If you really want to build a strong foundation for a career of any kind, you have to put in the work.

In this day and age we have Amazon one-day shipping and all this instant gratification. We want it all and we want it now. The reality is great things take time and that time is worth it. If you had asked me 20-plus years ago if I’d be where I am now, I wouldn’t have guessed it. Again, I've only gotten here because of everything I've experienced up until this moment in time. And I'm going to keep growing and learning as much as I can.

So, to anyone early in their career: take the jobs, enjoy the experience. I think any experience you have, good or bad, there's something to take away from it. It's just up to you to figure out what that lesson is.

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