Q&A WITH CREATIVE DIRECTOR JENNY GROSSBARD
Q&A WITH CREATIVE DIRECTOR
When I made my way to Doha from New York City, Qatar was on the tip of everyone’s tongue all around the world. It was September 2010, when Qatar had just won the World Cup bid. It was a time of promise, opportunity, and new beginnings, and so many organizations were sprouting up to support the country during this moment of tremendous growth. There was a great demand for creative work, as all these new organizations needed to engage their target audiences with a compelling brand platform that would effectively communicate their vision and instill a unified sense of purpose.
It was then that I entered the creative field completely by coincidence.
I arrived in Doha with three oversized suitcases, a Philosophy degree from Columbia University in NYC and a highly obsessed-over CV that landed me a gig as a Creative Strategist at one of the most acclaimed international agencies in Doha at the time. People often wonder how I made it to the creative field with a seemingly irrelevant academic background. For me though, Philosophy is the study of the way ideas are brought to life in words — their journey from abstraction to realization — and how these ideas influence perception and shape social behavior. Then, when I immersed myself in creative work, I discovered how ideas could also be brought to life through color, shape, form, and graphics. I saw typography as the clothes that words wear. I became infatuated with the world of design as a medium of visual communication.
I learned a great deal during my time in the big agency world: how to create and deliver world class work according to international standards, and at TRANSIT we always apply these same rigorous standards to all the work we do. After a few years working at the big agency though, I began to feel stifled by the hyper-departmentalization of our roles and the over-compartmentalization of creative work in general. As a Strategist, I was the face of the agency with clients from day one. I interviewed key stakeholders, uncovered deep seated challenges, and inspired solutions in executive workshops, all of which often served as outlets for internal communication in ways they might never have experienced before as an organization.
"At TRANSIT, all our creatives are strategists, and all our strategists are creatives."
I understood their needs on a deep level, in a way that went beyond logos and brochures, and earned their trust. However, after all my deliverables as Strategist were complete, it was time for the big “Handover” — time to pass the ball to another department. And that was it, my job was done, and my clients never saw me again.
I started TRANSIT because I wanted to be able to contribute to all facets of the creative work, from concept to execution. I also wanted to create a hub for creatives that made it possible for them to also reach the full height of their potential without being encumbered by arbitrary job titles. Instead of a linear handover process (from strategy to design to WeTransfer file to goodbye and thank you), I believe in and train my designers in a more holistic approach: one where every strategy and design decision is always necessarily linked, and where the completion of a set of deliverables does not mean that the relationship between the agency and their client is over. At TRANSIT, all our creatives are strategists, and all our strategists are creatives.
There is something really intoxicating about the power of good design. The quality that we most often associate with good design is the experience of beauty: that moment of magnetism that turns heads and inspires a second look. But if design stopped there, at the point of simply sparking interest, our target audiences would probably just move on and consider nothing further.
Good design speaks to us. It is sometimes bold and sometimes more restrained, but it always earns our trust. It has the power to express, provoke and propagate ideas that move people: to inspire people to do something or think about something in a completely new or different way.
Great design combines all these elements into a broader system that makes the world around us a better place to live in.
We need great design. It is necessary for the world to function as it should. One easy to understand example is highway signage. The design process begins by identifying a particular functional requirement (in our case, legibility) as a priority, and ensures that this requirement is satisfied by putting the tools of design (in our case, typography, color contrast, information hierarchy and proportion) to work. A well-designed signage system enables people to safely go where they need to go, which in turn decreases the occurrence of car accidents. Imagine — design could be the difference between life and death.
"Great design distills the meaning behind the magic and harnesses its hidden influences to carve out, piece by piece, a world that is better — more functional, usable, accessible, beautiful, fun — for people to live in."
Everything we encounter in the world is designed: from our experience of the natural world to the built spaces we inhabit; from our interactions with everyday objects to the way we navigate our surroundings using signs and iconography; from the clothes we choose to construct our identities to the characteristic turns of phrase we use when we speak. Great design distills the meaning behind the magic and harnesses its hidden influences to carve out, piece by piece, a world that is better — more functional, usable, accessible, beautiful, fun — for people to live in.
What is truly remarkable about tech is the opportunity it gives us to share and learn new skills as creative professionals. A copywriter can learn to deliver her ideas in presentations created in InDesign; a UX designer can learn how to code and transform her ideas into living prototypes. That is why we encourage our designers to strip themselves of outdated labels and reach for the stars: to learn as much as they can, to try everything.
At TRANSIT, we strive to take this spirit of knowledge sharing forward, beyond our mandate as a client-driven organization: we often hold free workshops for the community on such topics as the fundamentals of marketing strategy for startups and the principles of accessible design, because we truly believe that design can be used to enhance people’s lives.
We called our agency TRANSIT because we are inspired by the energy that arises in those urban public spaces where people of all backgrounds intersect, interact and join together. We want the work we create to possess all the movement and dynamism of public transit: to put ideas into motion, to take things from one place to the next.
We also love the symbology and aesthetics of public transit design: bold, colorful, purposeful and functional. Being from NYC, I personally am very influenced by the grid system, color coding, clean geometric shapes, the yellow cab, Massimo Vignelli’s NYC Subway map, and in general by design as a system of visual logic — and the juxtaposition of all this against the visual dynamism and beautiful chaos of the streets.
Before and after: the original New York Subway map (right) and Massimo Vignelli's acclaimed 1979 redesign (left). (Source)
The streets of New York City are full of rich sights and sounds, of spontaneity, color and excitement. They are also often brutally congested and suffer from a lack of space. You can’t really call them sidewalks; they’re more like pedestrian highways. If you’re walking, and want to slow down or stop, you literally have to pull over.
To make your way in the streets of New York you need to be able to walk confidently and claim your space. This is exactly the spirit I try to instill in my work, and in my own life.
Get ready to put your ideas in motion.