Interview with Duncan Mitchell, Co-Founder, CEO, and Art Director at SomeecardsInterviews March 26, 2013
How do you start your day?
I mostly start by returning the ten or 20 emails that have built up overnight. Then I work on a lot of the advertising programs and I look over what our writers do for our advertising card partnerships. I work with our ad sales person and come up with concepts for working with our sales partners. I talk to our tech people and make sure our projects are moving. It’s different every day.
What do you specialize in?
Well, I was a graphic designer and an art director. Eventually a creative director. Originally, package design years and years ago, but in recent history all online advertising. We have worked on tons of different brands—on everything from Intel® to José Cuervo.
Did you attend or finish a program in design?
I did not. I came up through working in companies and design departments, learning the computer programs, and those kind of things. My educational background was psychology and communications.
Do you think that has had an impact on the way you look at design?
Yeah, I think what I end up doing is more creative kind of concept-driven design rather than strategy. Generally, in terms of actual design, we have other people who can do that kind of stuff, in my former career and did my current company.
So you don’t do any designing anymore?
I do some from time to time. I’ll mock something up if it needs to be done quickly, and it’s not important how it looks. But I’m not a day-to-day a graphic designer.
What kind of creative processes are you involved in?
Before Someecards, Brook Lundy and I were partners in advertising. He was a copywriter and I was actually an art director. In later years, we were both creative directors. Now, we’ll meet to discuss things in terms of creative, but day-to-day he’s handling the writers, who work on Someecards and some of our blogs, Happy Place and Jockular. I handle the business stuff, all the strategy, all contracts, all the tech, hiring, and things like that. I manage the branded stuff. So any kind of advertising we do comes to me. I’ll either adjust them for the writers or give them feedback on what we need to do to make it work.
Do you ever run into a creative block?
I think you run into challenges, of course, like any other creative process. I wouldn’t say things never get blocked. The great thing about our business is we have a lot of really talented people, so you can always ask for help. We’re also always producing a lot of new content. So let’s say we’re doing an advertising program that requires 10 cards. We’ll do 20, and then the clients can pick their favorite 10. If you get stuck on one path there’s always going to be another path. There’s always room for finding a new angle that will work.
Do you ever procrastinate?
Sure, I’ll spend an hour or two reading the New York Times and checking out Mac Rumors, you know, nonsense on the web, of course. When you’re running your own business like this, you’re often answering e-mails and catching calls and answering the phone all day and night and on weekends. So you have to give yourself a little bit of procrastinating when you have the time for it.
You guys do partnerships with other companies to make e-cards for advertisements. What is your favorite and least favorite aspect of that?
There are lots of favorites: one, it pays the bills, which is really helpful. I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish in the branded content area. A lot of people try it and don’t succeed… (I’m) really happy where we got into in terms of being able to create content that serves as humorous content, but advertisers…feel supports their brand. I just got an email from our ad sales guy about a card we made for Cougar Town. They had posted one of the cards we made on their Facebook page and it had 64,000 likes when I looked at it. That’s an amazing thing to see. We create this one little piece of content, and they put on their Facebook page and get 64,000 likes. That’s a great feeling.
The downside to this stuff is the difficulty trying to get it right and make the client happy. It’s the same as any other creative services industry. When you’re working on design for someone else and you’re coming at it from different perspectives, you know there’s going to be some friction there. That’s probably one of my least favorite parts of the processes, where you run into that friction and you’re not coming up with a good solution to get through that.
What elements of the design process captivates you the most?
For me, what we want to work on a lot more is the user experience in the product. I think there are two big aspects to what we do: there’s a creative concept, which Someecards has—a look and feel that’s very consistent, so there’s really not a whole lot of thought that goes into that. We pick a color, we pick an image, and we write the copy. I think the heavy lifting there is writing the copy. We look at new products from time to time and ways to do different types of cards, which can be really exciting. Then, when you’re doing a website, the most important part is how it actually functions. How that functionality can give a good look and feel returns a good user experience, in terms of a lot of engagement. I think that’s something we’re going to try to keep improving and redesigning. That’s one of the most rewarding things is to be able to work on—the user experience.
What is one thing you wish more people understood about design?
For the general public, I wish they understood how much time it takes to make something look simple. I think, with Photoshop® and these amazing programs, a lot of people think they can do graphic design and that it’s very throwaway and easy. I think great graphic design can often be really simple and takes a lot of time to get right. If you have a lot of competing elements that have a hierarchy to them, you’re trying to lay them out in a beautiful way, so everybody gets them at the right time and they don’t compete. They’re all balanced and they also communicate what you want to communicate. I think that’s an incredibly difficult thing to do. And it takes a really talented person to do. I don’t think most people understand that. I don’t think that people appreciate good design. That applies to user experience it’s a different practice but it’s the same conceptually.
The same thing for designers. We’re moving from traditional design where everything was just there to interactive design where there are many layers. Everything has to have a functionality to it as well as a piece of communication. That is very difficult thing to master, and we’re still in the infancy of interactive design. People are still figuring it out.
Given the chance, what famous logo or advertisement or artwork would you like to redesign?
I have no idea. I would like all of our government sites to be redone by people who have formal training in design. I live in New York and every time I go to like the NYC.gov, I’m just blown away at how horrible it is. The low levels of usability, visual design, and functionality are really appalling. I don’t want to do it, but I wish someone would. I heard on the radio the other day, someone was talking to a famous designer about how horrible the design was for the national ballots. Someone should take a look at the design for all our government communications and websites and make them look good.