Todd Grinham & Brittany Poole on not losing the plot
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 kind of creative director are each of you?
Brittany Poole: We’ve spent a lot of our background in agency life and then moved into doing our own thing running a branding company, working with startups and mission-driven companies we really believe in.
From there we actually went in-house for this really cool kids’ brand called Kiwico that makes STEAM learning projects for kids. So we’ve kind of done all of it. We've kind of been at every seat at the table and now we're freelance creative directors, working both with agencies and directly with brands.
Do you always work together?
Todd Grinham: Yes and no. Britney's doing a lot of brand coaching now and I'm dabbling more in some art. Then we come back together to work on some brand projects.
BP: It’s like a river with some tributaries.
TG: But for the better part of 10–12 years, we’ve been kind of side by side doing this thing.
What is the most difficult part of shipping great creative work?
TG: Production can be tedious and I think its most difficult part is not losing the plot. Keeping the insight and spark you had at the beginning all the way through the process. Because whether it's design work, editing or writing, we just get burnt out, it's a natural thing.
That creative nugget we all fall in love with at the beginning — you start to shave the edges off with changes and iterations. So it's just really about kind of re-grounding yourself in what that is, and not dropping the ball in the eleventh hour.
BP: Sometimes we call ourselves brand therapists because we end up having to do a lot of really delicate work, supporting that [creative] process emotionally. That maybe sounds a little woo woo but that’s what we bump into along the way.
How do you measure the success of your project?
BP: Mmm….It's a vibe. Is that your answer?
TG: First, I think it’s when the work feels aligned with a team’s goals and personal philosophies. We’re in a world where the lines are blurred between how we live our lives and how we express ourselves creatively. As they should be, because we’re all just humans talking to other humans.
There’s a level of transparency that’s required for any creative work. If a creative isn’t able to express themselves through their work it can just be a drudgery. The energy wanes. I think it’s about maintaining that and letting a personal truth shine through.
The second thing is something someone told us a long time ago: If you make two good things a year, you're doing great.
The content machine is so fast and we live in an age of hyper novelty and things turn around so quickly; but when you look back at a portfolio — especially as an up-and-coming creative — you probably make two things a year that go into your portfolio. If you can maintain that you're, you're doing pretty well.
BP: When we had our little agency, process was really important for us and it was a vibe. We can’t always trust the output because you get so in the weeds. But if the process with a client and with your teams feels energizing and kind and exciting, that’s really where we try to lean in and trust that.
If it feels clunky and painful, usually the work shows that as well.
What are the three tools you could not do your job without?
TG: Mine are pretty practical:
My notes in my phone have become an extension of my own consciousness. I’m afraid to think about how much I’ve offloaded from my brain to there.
Adobe Illustrator is another tool as an art director and designer. It's the quickest way to formulate ideas for me.
We just had a baby. So, we have this new stroller, a travel stroller. If you ever want to figure out if a product is good, try to operate it with a screaming baby.
BP: My answers would be:
Keynote. We build everything in Keynote. We like the way it looks.
Building space into our process for creative rejuvenation either in the process or in between projects. We couldn’t do what we do without the autonomy to set our own deadlines.
I don't know why this comes to mind but we've been self-employed for 10 years and our tax advisor. We couldn't live without her honestly, so she's in our toolkit for sure.
What's your advice to someone who wants to do this job?
BP: Clients are a lot smarter than you think they are.
They live these brands day in and day out. We’ve been a client now too, and we’ve realized that a lot of the creative stuff is 8% of their brainspace and stress, and so really leaning in and trusting clients — being kind — pays off long term.
It’s a lot less suffering when you don’t think that everybody’s an idiot.
The other thing that I learned over the last few years is to be humble enough to lean into what helps the business and what actually performs. When we were at Kiwico, there was this video someone shot on an iPhone that outperformed every creative idea we’ve ever had. At the end of the day, we’re not here to win awards. We’re here to shift business for people. So being mindful of that and swallowing our pride. That’s really important.