It’s not unusual for art directors to be eccentric dressers, but when rising star Michael Kushner let us in on the outfit he wore to his interview for the DDB Launchpad intern scheme, well, we didn’t know where to look. Thankfully, since progressing through the agency’s internship program and being picked up as a full time junior art director, Kushner has started wearing trousers. Unlike many art directors, Kushner’s background also contains a fair bit of science, but after studying psychology and working in pharmaceuticals, he found his true calling lay in the world of art, typography and pop culture. We caught up with the bowtie-loving art director to find out more.
LBB> Where are you from originally? What was your background and did you grow up in a particularly artistic household? What kind of child were you?
MK> I’m from Pittsburgh born and raised. I think I was a charming little tot. I laughed constantly and I played sports all the time; baseball, basketball and football. When I wasn’t playing sports I was building tree houses with my buddies or making sketches and playing the piano. I was interested in pretty much everything and I loved showing off my card tricks (which are still pretty awesome, if you ask me). My brother and mom were both musical and they could both draw, so I suppose I grew up in an artistic household, but it was definitely never the focus.
LBB> Your BA was in psychology and communication - do you think that insight has had any sort of influence on your work as an art director?
MK> Definitely. I’m very interested in human behaviour and I think that this leads more towards human truths. If you can communicate a real human truth in a fresh way, you’ll be successful. That’s what I’m striving towards. That, and having a full head of white hair when I’m 60. Looking at my family, it’s probably not going to happen.
LBB> What first drew you to advertising as a career?
MK> I’ve always been very interested in how society is shaped on a pop culture level. I would come across an advertising innovation or campaign and think it was such an amazing idea. I wanted to be a part of that and come up with ideas that would somehow shape culture.
LBB> How would you characterize your work?
MK> I’d like to think my style is humour mixed with intelligence and unexpectedness. My creative partners bring out different sides of that which shape my style. Speaking of which - big shout out to Oscar Muller and Hedvig Astrom, you Swedish angels, you.
LBB> Looking around your website [http://michaelpkushner.com/
] there are lots of projects from your time at Miami ad school. Which of these pieces of work are you proudest of?
MK> I’m most proud of a project called Facebook Yearbook because unlike the rest of my book which is all designed on the computer, we actually hand-made everything and then filmed it. There are always lots of obstacles to overcome when you do that. It’s definitely the most time I put into a project and it taught me a lot about collaboration and teamwork.
LBB> There’s a real sense of humour to a lot of the work on your site - is comedy something that's important to you?
MK> Personally, I know that if a brand entertains me and actually makes me laugh, I’ll like it more. I definitely don’t want to only do work that contains humour. There’s a lot of room for serious stuff and smart stuff too - I’d like to have a little bit of everything.
MK> The experience was unreal, it’s the best internship experience I’ve ever had. Matt Eastwood and Menno Kluin made sure we worked on the best briefs at the agency and didn’t want us spending time on typical intern work. I think that’s why the program is so successful – they realize that a good idea can come from an intern and give them the same shot as someone who’s employed full time. I remember when we got the news that they picked my partner and I; we literally tackled each other in the middle of school. It’s a coveted internship at Miami Ad School and we knew we were lucky to get a shot at it.
As to how I got involved, that’s a funny story. My partner Oscar and I applied through school and got a Skype interview. We were so nervous that we took our pants off and set up for the interview in our underwear, which would be off screen. We only interviewed for a couple of minutes before Menno told us to come stop by the office, but we still got a kick out of it. They don’t know this story. Until right now, of course.
LBB> Since getting involved with DDB, which projects have you particularly enjoyed working on and why?
MK> New York Lottery is a lot of fun to work on. It was the first time my partner Oscar and I had ever worked on TV, and we couldn’t believe it. Ten weeks prior to the internship, we had been filming our own terrible commercials, and now we had a budget and real directors to work with. It was crazy. We ended up selling a script to the client and even though it wasn’t produced, it was a cool experience. The CDs on that client, Rich Sharp and Mike Sullivan, have incredible senses of humour. They are teaching me a lot about scriptwriting.
I’m also working on a couple of other projects right now that I can’t talk about. It’s secret information (I’ve always wanted to say that).
LBB> How do you see the role of art director evolving?
MK> I think that it will always be about the big idea. Having said that, I think the role is shifting from someone who knows a little about design, motion graphics, new technology, directing film, photography and writing scripts, to someone who can dive a little deeper into those things. The more you know, the more you can apply to the big idea and make it a lot better.