5 minutes with... in association withAdobe Firefly

5 Minutes With… Dave Snyder

London, UK
Executive Creative Director at digital agency, Firstborn

Dave Snyder has no truck with entitled attitudes and instant gratification – he’s all about learning the ropes and earning your stripes. The thought had been rattling around in his brain for a while and this August he took to Medium to say his piece – and it’s obviously a thought that resonated as it was picked up and syndicated and shared through the webosphere. Having cut his teeth on an e-retail site for a toy company, it allowed him to experience the nitty-gritty of business before joining the rarefied club of creatives. Now at Firstborn, Snyder has been involved in some impressive and award-winning work – Laura Swinton caught up with him to find out more.

LBB> What is so unique about Firstborn right now?

DS> We are working on such a wide variety of clients and projects, from beauty and fashion brands to airline and beverage brands. And these businesses are coming to us for more than digital. We’re being tasked with everything from building websites to launching entirely new brands—from identity and brand positioning through to eCommerce platforms. That is exciting—it keeps things fresh. And because we don’t use a rigid account structure, creatives and strategists get to work on a variety of different accounts and projects. 

LBB> You started out working on toy e-retail sites (we can’t get rid of the image of one of Santa’s elves trying to get his head round Javascript!), learning coding and eventually becoming creative lead. What have you learned from that experience that has stayed with you throughout your career?

DS> I learned a lot about business and how design is so inextricably tied to business. Designers and creatives need an understanding of why businesses do what they do. Their motivations. Their realities. Their bureaucracies. Knowing this will ultimately make the designs better. More importantly it will give the designer the tools they need to sell their ideas...and that’s what we all want as creatives. To sell in our ideas—so we can make them.

I also had some very good mentors in my early career. They let me do and get away with pretty much anything. I’m obsessive and persistent. And I will beat a dead horse until I get what I want. There were a group of people there that let me do my thing and helped me make those things better. Instead of beating the spirit and youthful energy out of me (through an overly PR’d cubicle gauntlet of corporate dos and don’ts) they fostered it.

LBB> I read that you ended up working for Firstborn after emailing them ‘on a whim’. Was that really what happened? What do you think it was about the email that encouraged them to get back in touch?

DS> It was an email and a tweet. I was frustrated where I was, despite the fact that we were doing some great work (I could see under the sheets you see). So I emailed to say I was looking. There was nothing all that special about the email if I recall... I had just launched some cool sites... maybe that had something to do with it.

I had always looked up to Firstborn. They really did define digital. They were the cool kids for such a long time. I was just some dude in Denver. I thought I was sending an email into the void — then I heard back from Michael Ferdman the next day. I was on a plane to NYC the following week and I’ve been here for almost five years.

LBB> A word on the younglings – you wrote a great piece on entitlement among the ad industry’s young. What drove you to write this and what response have you had to it?

DS> Hah, yes...that piece. Well, it had been percolating for a while and came out in a flash. But the straw that broke the proverbial back was reading tweets and blog posts about kids referring to themselves as “Unicorn” designers. Get the fuck out of my face with that shit.

The response to that article was bonkers and a bit shocking to me - most of it very positive. I was most excited to see young people say things like “this is exactly what I needed right now”. It was one of the top articles on Medium that month, got syndicated across a ton of different blogs and drove a ton of conversation. Now I'm afraid to write another article—it’s all downhill from here.

LBB> How do you seek out the young people with the right blend of skills and attitude? And how do you nurture and mentor new talent without pandering?

DS> All I want are people that care. Yes. You need to be a good designer to work here. But most importantly I want self-motivated people. People that are embarrassed if shit work goes out the door. I don’t know if I'm a nurturer...but I rarely ever freak out on my team. Producers and account people...yes. But not my team.

Ogilvy has a quote that I like...if I may:

“Give them challenging opportunities, recognition for achievement, job enrichment and the maximum responsibility. Treat them as grown-ups - and they will grow up.”

LBB> What technological developments are getting you excited right now?

DS> Honestly...nothing. 3D printing is super cool. But I haven’t figured out how that applies to my industry yet.

I think as digital becomes more and more pervasive we crave more analog and tactile things. You can have the best digital touchpoints and campaigns in the world...but when you get the physical object in the mail is it worth tweeting about? Is it worth instagramming the packaging, the unboxing? I feel like some brands (usually bigger brands) have lost sight of these fundamentals and started chasing tech for tech’s sake. All the while the small guys keep stealing market share.

LBB> We loved last year’s desk project so… what does your desk/workspace look like and what does it say about the way you work?



DS> Firstborn’s own Jongmin Kim was the designer and developer on that project. It was great.

My desk is an unorganised disaster and repository of random things. As a glance around I see a catalogue for some fancy Japanese Wagyu beef (I was recently in Japan), a menu from Arzak (in Spain), a book on insults and comebacks, a miniature bottle of Hibiki 17 sans-Hibiki...and piles of paper that I never really needed to print in the first place.

I don’t want to know what this means about the way I work. The thought terrifies me.

LBB> Forbes named last year’s UNIQLO / Dry Mesh Project on Pinterest as one of the most unforgettable ads of 2012. What do you think rendered this particular campaign ‘unforgettable’?

DS> Everyone in the industry was trying to do something with Pinterest. And everyone was sticking to the guardrails of the platform—which was limiting. So we convinced UNIQLO to let us “hack” it on their behalf. We made the visuals beautiful, fun and interactive as to not feel spammy. And we got away with it.

LBB> Which recent projects have you been involved with that have particularly resonated with you and why?

DS> The work we are doing for L’Oreal Luxe right now is very interesting. This year has very much been a foundational and strategic positioning type of year. We are really laying the ground for some innovative work and launches for early 2015. This resonates because we are now controlling a larger part of the overall ecosystem—helping craft that vision and doing the things we need to get there. It’s all a much bigger-picture. Being tasked with managing all of that is stimulating. People already knew we could build great digital “things” but now they’re coming to us for a long term strategic thinking rooted in design. I love that.

To that point, I'm also heavily involved in helping a larger company launch a new, digital first brand (I wish I could share, but can’t yet). We have helped develop the branding, the identity, packaging, business model concepts and of course eCommerce platform. The target market and aesthetic is right in line with my it feels very much like I'm launching my own brand. That is rare. I want to do more things like this, things that don’t feel like work.

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