Over the course of his fifteen-year career, Jesse Davison has designed thousands of projects ranging from print magazines to social media campaigns to video graphics. He has harvested a wealth of understanding in his field that can only come from this kind of experience, so we asked him to share some of that wisdom with us.
AM: How long have you been a designer? What brought you to work for Ackerman McQueen?
JESSE: I’ve been working as a designer for 15 years. I began working at a few small boutique shops—and all that I learned in those 5 years about the industry, how things are produced, etc. was invaluable. In 2008, I was approached by a friend and learned that AM was looking to hire an art director.
I’ve been at AM for 10 years and have learned a great deal more than I thought there was to learn. And yet I feel as though I’ve only scratched the surface.
AM: What is your process or approach to a project?
JESSE: It always begins with an annoying amount of questioning. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that nothing can be created in a vacuum. The role I play is only a small piece in a 1,000-piece puzzle. There are long- and short-term strategies to consider, audience, tone, shelf life, the message itself, costs, timing, the medium, distribution method(s), then execution.
People often look at design as the window dressing or a tactic to draw an eye. But true design is a culmination of the aforementioned. Otherwise it’s just art. Art is self-expressive. Design is not. And sometimes that can be a difficult thing for a designer to remember.
From here, the goal is to be sure that what I do doesn’t detract from the message, but that it simplifies it. The goal is always to do more with less.
AM: Is there a kind of project you most enjoy? Why do you like working on that?
JESSE: I’ve been wading knee-deep in the video world more and more, and I’m really enjoying it. Historically, a video is made, then a designer is given the assignment to “make supers” or “graphics” for it with little to no understanding of the history behind the creation of the video itself (in my experience, at least). If the graphics are not met with a matching commitment and level of care that the video was made with, it ultimately results in a poor end product. Great work can quickly become just good work. Getting involved at the beginning of a project—starting with pre-pro—the designer can begin thinking and adjusting as the product evolves. And in some cases, have a level of influence in the storytelling.
With the internet making content distribution accessible to anyone who has it, I truly believe—and I think most would agree—that video is and will be (in one form or another) the most powerful method for mass communication for years to come. It only makes sense for designers to adopt the skills required to make the greatest impact in this space as possible. Adaptation should not be a foreign concept for designers—or writers, or developers, or accountants, etc.
As a communicator in a creative space, my toolset and ability to speak a multidisciplinary language will and MUST increase in order to stay competitive in an industry where change is constant. Historical methodologies have their place in the past. Or the weekends.
AM: Do you have other creative outlets? What are they?
JESSE: I like to build things. It started from a place of wanting to have something that I couldn’t afford … so I’ll make my own … how hard could it be mentality. I’m now a full-fledged DIYer.
Interestingly enough, learning (through failing) how certain physical materials perform under various stresses, finishes, adhesives, fasteners, etc. has taught me to employ a deeper level of interrogation toward everything I do—whether it’s building a physical object, fixing an existing one or even designing a visual experience. EVERY PART HAS A PURPOSE. If it doesn’t have a purpose, it goes away. Most things I build are built out of a need, so the level of aesthetic I’d typically be expected to employ, rarely is. I build things to work. If one of the parts is done in haste and fails, the entirety of the piece is compromised. This logic applies to just about everything in life.
I also enjoy landscaping. It’s expensive and I’m not very good at it, but I’m learning. Mowing isn’t landscaping. I hate mowing.
AM: What product or brand has some of the best-designed media in your opinion?
JESSE: There is a ton out there and this may seem like an obvious one, but in my eyes, Nike can do no wrong. Every single thing that they do is on point with their brand and their chosen narrative. They know how to tell a story well. They know how to inspire well. Everything they do is visually stunning. They own it.
Tell me another brand that can take the most controversial athlete of the decade and inspire even those who despise him. Oh, and increase sales by 31% despite the calls for boycotts.