Big Ideas from Dave Watson, the Award-Winning Creative Director of TAXI

I’m a bit nervous to meet the award-winning Creative Director of TAXI, Dave Watson. If I’ve seen anything on Mad Men, ad execs are apparently no walk in the park in an interview. (To my delight, I discover it is a show we both watch.)

We start off the conversation with his favourite moments from high school to TAXI. He replies with “Well, there was one girl in college…” and then laughs and hastily adds, “Just kidding.”

That’s when I remember it’s a very different time from Mad Men, and this conversation is going to be interesting.

A WORD TO YOUNG DESIGNERS

Dave Watson started off his career in creative at Sheridan College, and credits his graphic design course in high school for pushing him in the direction of design. As we were on the topic, I ask him, where does he recommend that young designers get feedback from?

He points to the internet, ripe with social services like Half Bakery, but with a word of advice: “The problem with the internet is both positive and negative. If you don’t have the strong will and you have a very thin skin, you could be eaten up and chewed out pretty quickly. There are some pretty harsh critics on the internet. But if you stay the course, and you know you have something, I would say just make it. Do it. And if it doesn’t work the first time, just keep trying.”

I ask him for advice that he’d pass on to young designers, and he says, “If you have good ideas, we can teach you the rest. We can teach you anything; you can teach a person how to be a good typographer, you can teach them how to draw; it’s very difficult for you to teach a person how to think.

“A person has to do that on their own. Sometimes you can help them, but being a good thinker and a good problem solver is the key to being a good designer, regardless of what discipline of design you’re in.”

In case you’re an aspiring designer who wants to refine and improve your work, try exploring activities that enhance your problem-solving capabilities, and exposing yourself to new, creative types of solutions.

PROBLEM SOLVING IN DESIGN

When I challenge the point of graphic design in problem solving, Watson is quick to point out that aesthetics is a problem. “People like pretty things,” he says, citing services like FFFFound, Tumblr, and Instagram as examples.

Graphic designers are paid to communicate on behalf of the client, and this constraint actually enhances their artistic ability. This is a finding similar to what Stephen Shapiro demonstrated at The Art of Leadership a few weeks ago.

However, while aesthetics are a layer of the problem, Watson advises on finding the concept behind an aesthetic. When I ask him to elaborate, Watson says, “It starts to become this living thing, where you know that it’s not just an execution. It’s something that can work on different platforms, different pieces of technology. It could work lowbrow, low-tech. It could work high-tech. And that’s when I get really excited about those things; it’s not an execution, it’s a big idea.”

WHY CONCEPTION IS CRUCIAL

If there’s anything I take from my conversation with Watson, it is his emphasis on the big idea behind every piece of design and work.

“You take a look at some places like Pentagram, their stuff is as good today as it was 40 years ago. Why is that? Because they are more conceptually-driven. They have more of a classic look. Any firm that is conceptually driven are the ones that I aspire to be. Pentagram; Stefan Sagmeister is a big one, he is conceptually driven,” Watson explains.

As I reminisce on the importance of big ideas and concepts, I think back to what Watson mentioned earlier about concepts, and how good ideas take on a life of their own and can work well on any medium or piece of technology.

It was great having the chance to chat with a creative wiz like Dave Watson. Thanks for the advice and the ideas, Dave!

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