Smashing Spotlight: Kevin Wick, Executive Creative Director
Wonder what makes Smashing Ideas so smashing? Our people! We sat down with Kevin Wick, Executive Creative Director, to talk shop, how ‘social impact’ work resonates with him personally and professionally, the top 7 tips he gives to UX newbies, and the correlation between Metallica, Plato, and design.
You’ve recently joined Smashing after having spent the past several years at frog. What was it about Smashing that made you feel that this was the next step in your career path?
Ok, strap in for a moment as I get all serious-like. Everyone has personal hardships and trajectories. After shining for a decade in her struggle with cancer, my mother died a couple years ago. My father wants to stay independent and in his house, but he struggles with advanced Parkinson’s and his own cancer. Over the last several years I’ve increasingly considered what I’m doing with the limited minutes I have.
So when frog surprisingly decided to shut down the Seattle studio, my priority was to join an organization that pushed my ability to have positive impact. Frog allowed me and my colleagues to nudge and shape projects to have impact. I wanted to find a place that went further, where just by being a part of the organization I’d have impact by default. Smashing is that place.
Other firms use ‘social impact’ projects as marketing loss leaders to attract talent, but then take on projects that are ambiguous or antithetical to real positive social change. They separate “Social Impact” as a separate service or offering. At Smashing, making things that matter permeates all of our work and relationships, whether for specific audiences like:
- veterans struggling with lasting ramifications from war or
- severely mentally challenged smokers
or broad audiences like:
- partnering with Phillips to improve oral health for kids and adults
- teaching mindfulness techniques to kids to help them focus and be calm
- exploring how to leverage emerging technology like AR, machine learning, ubiquitous sensing, and voice input, or
- seeking a partner to implement our self-funded research insights into the longevity economy and supporting seniors to age in place. (Yes, we are actively seeking the right partner.)
I couldn’t be happier to have found and be accepted by Smashing Ideas. <super serious>
As an instructor at the School of Visual Concepts, educating the user experience designers of tomorrow is clearly a passion of yours. What tips do you give UX newbies as they’re entering the digital world?
- User Centered Design is what it sounds like – basing all design and strategy decisions on what’s best for the people – a.k.a. the users – that will use the product or service. It doesn’t matter what I like or you like, it’s what’s best for the user.
- Portfolio sites…if you going to have one, know that the design of the site will be more telling of your abilities than any content or example on the site. I.e., make the site great – engaging, interesting, useful, easy, memorable – or don’t make one at all.
- Be prepared to articulate and discuss your rationale and intent for your design decisions. Successfully interviewing, presenting to clients, and working with teammates depends on it.
- Understand the entire process of getting a product or service into people’s hands. Good design is not being pixel perfect in every detail; it’s getting the best possible product or service through strategy, marketing, manufacturing, operations, distribution, support, and into people’s lives.
- More drawing, less talking. ‘Nuff said.
- No idea is precious. Designers have to love an idea as if it’s your newborn one moment and then change or discard that idea the next minute. Over and over. You have to like emotional roller coasters.
- Mobile is dead. Meaning, don’t focus on building your ability to design for mobile. It’s necessary, just like web design skills, but we should all be focusing on new tech – voice, gesture, AR/MR/VR, bots, etc. – because that tech is just about ready for massive distribution, but not enough designers know how to design for it.
What is your favorite thing about living in the Pacific Northwest?
Just one thing? Moderate temperature and weather, mountains and water, magical golden light strafing over the water, trees and houses under a brooding blue-gray mass of clouds, neighborhoods over suburbs and super high density, literate and thoughtful people, and progressiveness.
And the temperate rain forest. omg. Only one in the world.
Executive Creative Director is a broad title and can mean many things to many people. How would you describe your job to people that don’t understand what you do?
First, it’s in digital product and service design. I’m not a Don Draper ad-man.
I, and everyone at Smashing, is accountable to create the most positive impact possible over many years. I spend my time figuring out where our design chops need to be in the future and planning how to get from now to then through; selecting, shaping, and pitching projects; curating our portfolio and clients; growing and honing our capabilities; hiring wicked talented people; finding the best fits between our designers’ talents and passions, project needs, and company needs; fanning the flames of our culture; and representing Smashing to anyone and everyone.
What was your last truly smashing idea?
Joining Smashing. 😉
How do you see UX evolving over, say, the next 5 years?
It feels like we’re at an inflection point…and not just in politics.
Major technical changes are becoming a reality; voice input, AR, MR, VR; ubiquitous computing and sensors; big data, AI, machine learning; wearables and IoT; connected houses, buildings, and cities; interactions anywhere, in any context; ecosystems of technologies.
Design is established as a differentiator. Reliable, useable, and useful design will continue to be parity plays, pushing differentiation into emotional resonance and meaningfulness.
As enterprises continue to follow consumer trends in product design, they will continue to put pressure on in-house and consulting designers to hit the parity plays faster and leaner. But, they and consumer-oriented companies will struggle to find people who can design products that produce real emotional resonance and provide purpose.
Designer skillsets have been broadening, extending into coding, research, and strategy. I don’t expect this trend to abate, but it has to be infused with designing for emotion and purpose.
One skill that we absolutely need to understand and master is generative design, as it has potential to become a designer’s most powerful tool, or to become the robot that replaces us all. (Insert doom music here.)
Executive Creative Directors are known to have incredibly interesting hobbies and side-projects. Care to share any of yours with us?
Perhaps not hobbies per se, but certainly enjoyable for me: I get to vicariously play D&D and Call of Cthhulu through my elder son, boulder and goof around with my younger son, be aghast at the latest political bombshells with my wife, go to concerts and shows, slowly piece together my audiophile-wannabe components, and listen to and disuss music with friends at Metal Kommand. As a good friend at frog once said, “All metal, all the time.”
What is the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received?
Fake it until you… realize you actually know what you’re doing.
Lose the “Aw, shucks” disposition when it stops me from sharing my 2 cents.
And last, but certainty not least, what is your favorite ‘90’s jam?
I didn’t know it at the time, as I was riding the grunge wave, but the 90’s were a fertile time for black and death metal after the thrash (and glam/hair) metal of the 80’s.
Instead of a 90’s jam, I’ll dial it back to the 80’s. I got asked to spin a song on my high school’s radio and I immediately knew the track: Seek and Destroy by Metallica. Their first three albums were mind-blowing. Nowadays, that same music is not extreme at all, it’s mainstream. It reminds me of what Plato was getting in the play, Protagoras: people’s unique qualities are adaptation and dissatisfaction. The novel becomes commonplace and then we seek the new novel. There are straightforward implications to design from this, of course.
More interesting to me is what it means to each of us as we desire contentment and happiness. How do we imbue our products to help us achieve happiness and meaning? We’re trying to answer that in our designs at Smashing.