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FWA is a big deal. It’s “best in the world for a day.” The simplicity of that measuring stick is a powerful motivator.

question Please give us a brief bio of yourself.

For the past five years, I’ve been the ECD at Cramer-Krasselt/Milwaukee. I oversee about 30 brands, 30 creatives, as well as digital and broadcast/video production. We are one of the largest independent agencies. And that’s important to me because it means our teams don’t have to fight bureaucracy and different profit silos in order to create truly integrated work. In fact, we have no “digital department.”

I did start my career as a writer. And I’d like to think I’ve never stopped being one despite the changes in my title and job descriptions. I’ve also worked at a few different agencies from NYC to Atlanta, but the most recent was as a creative director at The Martin Agency in Richmond.

In terms of recognition, I’ve been lucky enough to win medals at shows like Cannes, The One Show, ANDYs and the Effies. I’ve also served as a judge for both the Effies and The One Show.

What do you regard as being your biggest achievement?

I’ve picked my bosses very carefully and very well for 20 years. (Specifically, Larry Hampel, Mike Hughes and Marshall Ross). That single achievement is the one that has led to all the other achievements I’ve had.

How many hours do you work each week?

Hard to say since I don’t ever really clock-out completely. But I guess around 60 hours.

How do you relax or unwind?

It’s not easy to click the off switch in my head when I leave the office. But movies do a pretty good job. And I play more than a healthy amount of Call of Duty.

What's your favourite part of your job? What's the hardest part of your job? What do you do when you get stuck?

The best part of my job is getting to recruit great talent. For some ECDs it’s kind of a pain in the ass. And I get why. It’s hard work to do it well.

The hardest part of my job is creating a steady amount of pressure without creating an unhealthy environment. Great work needs some pressure behind it. But managing that balance is tricky and I don’t always get it right.

What's the longest you've ever stayed up working on a project?

I did the all-nighter thing a lot when I was in my twenties. But I don’t think I ever created anything great during one of those nights.

What software could you not live without?

I don’t really get married to any specific software. But I couldn’t function without a pen and paper. And I’m not worried about those becoming obsolete.

In terms of software, is there anything new you have been playing with lately or that has impressed you?

I continue to be amazed at the photo apps that keep coming out. I still like Snapseed the best. My 11 and 13-year-old daughters use these apps to fix the photos they are taking with their iPhones. And all of their young friends are competing with each other on Instagram for “coolest” and even the most beautiful shots. I have the feeling that very young generation of creators is going to ultimately help our industry in a few short years.

What area of web design lacks the most?

Craftsmanship is still lacking in most web design work. But I see signs of it improving. I think there are more true artists in the game these days. And a true artist will bring craftsmanship regardless of whether the clients or industry are asking for it.

Has winning FWA awards helped you in any way?

FWA is a big deal. It’s “best in the world for a day.” The simplicity of that measuring stick is a powerful motivator.

The web is getting out of the web. Do you find that thinking in digital solutions alone hinders you? Do you feel the urge to solve the problem using all mediums necessary?

For the past decade, everyone has preached the “media neutral” approach. I mean creative leaders, agency leaders, and CMO’s have all been talking that game. And it is the right approach. But it’s been tough for a lot of very specialized and talented people to do everything well. All that said, I honestly see real change now. I think the most talented people are no longer afraid to fail in a media that they have not personally perfected. And once the fear goes, then the big, integrated ideas come to life.

Looking 10 years in to the future, how far can websites go?

I’m not sure where websites go. Or if we even call them websites in 10 years. But I am intrigued with whether Google’s site will look the same as it does today in 10 years. I mean can they resist screwing up simplicity over the next decade of innovation? I doubt it.

Of all the websites you/your company have produced, which one are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of the fact that every site we create seems to be better than the last. But I’m also proud of our recent site for the Milwaukee Police Department. It’s not just the design of the MPD site and the awards it’s getting. I’m most proud of how the team made it happen. The extra effort put into crafting every detail of that site was impressive to watch.

There is perhaps a shift in web use these days. We are seeing a decline in the purelyexperiential sites in flash with huge production efforts, to a relationship with clients based on tools and services, that many times have simples interfaces. How do you see that trend developing? Will Flash suffer?

I think both technology and people’s attention spans are beginning to drive design to more simple stories, interfaces and overall design. I think that’s a good thing.

What are your views on design/graphic school. Do you think someone can get into the field without educational experience in a school environment?

If you have talent and a portfolio that proves you can bring that talent to life, then a degree isn’t mandatory. Truth is, this was the case 30 years ago in this business. But I would push any young creative to higher education. There is discipline and basics you learn in that environment that are hard to learn on your own. And I would also push young designers to take classes that step outside the “design curriculum”.

If you were a student entering this industry or an aspiring FWA award submitter, what advice would you give them?

This is a very tough business, especially for young people. I mean it can feel at times like you work in a graveyard with so many ideas dying. But every hour you spend bitching about things is an hour you lose making something great. If you keep the energy positive, you’ll see the difference in your book.

How difficult do you find employing the right people in a world where everyone calls themselves a web designer?

Recruiting has always been the most important thing in this business. It’s a talent-based business, regardless of medium. I think the key is to look for taste. Knowledge and technical skills can be learned. Taste is something that is a bit more DNA based, so that’s what I look for more than anything.

What would be your ultimate vehicle to travel in?

A Ski-doo. I love German cars, but the best ride I’ve ever taken was on a Ski-doo in Montana.

How do you keep your finger on the pulse of the latest web trends?

I scan the daily sites showcasing the best work, including FWA. I also spend a lot of time absorbing the great design and advertising work of the past. But it’s tough to keep up with so much cool stuff coming out every day, especially when you need time to focus and create some of it yourself.

What country excites you the most in terms of innovation?

Over the past decade or two, I still think the highest level of design comes out of Brazil. As for “innovation,” well, I’m not seeing any one particular country dominating. At least not yet.

Any parting shots or pearls of wisdom?

Look for the most talented people around you and find ways to help them in some way. Or just be nice to them. There is a very tangible Karma that exists in the world of great. Leverage it.


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Chris Jacobs
Chris Jacobs

McKenzie and Ansley
McKenzie and Ansley

Milwaukee Police Department Website
Milwaukee Police Department Website

Milwaukee Police Department Website
Milwaukee Police Department Website

Spice Islands Website
Spice Islands Website

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Sea-Doo Print Ad

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Virginia Holocaust Museum Print Ad

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