The Creatives Behind the Ad

Written by Tim Edmundson

To shine a spotlight on the creatives who imagine, design, and launch the stunning creative that grabs consumers’ attention, we sat down with some of SteelHouse’s creative core to see what inspires the beautiful imagery that not only catches the eye, but drives performance.

Kicking off our Creative Series, we sat down with SteelHouse Art Director Liz Martindale, who leads the client-facing side of the Creative Team. In over 3 years at SteelHouse, she has managed both the creation and review of countless client creative pieces. We asked Liz  about her work, influences, and what she believes is important in the industry today to be successfully creative, and creatively successful.


Liz, let’s start with the basics: why did you become a designer? Was it always your dream job growing up?

Funny enough, I never really had a dream job. Art always compelled me from a young age, though; I was very involved with my school’s performing arts programs and spent my free time painting, pasting, and crafting. In high school I made a scrapbook as a passion project and poured my heart into it – so there was plenty of art going on, but I never specifically envisioned a career in digital design.

Up until college, a creative career never seemed realistic. It was only because my parents recognized my genuine interest in art that they suggested graphic design as a career path – they literally suggested I submit my scrapbook as a portfolio! So becoming an Art Director unfolded naturally – I’d say my natural inclination to creativity, exploration, and intuition has led me here and I’m endlessly grateful for the people that supported me.

Everyone has their idols, whether professional or not. Who or what are your biggest influences?

I’ve always been into exploring things that excite me, so I never really idolized any one person as an inspiration. Instead, it’s been the things around me that I’ve drawn inspiration from and made me into the designer I am today. That’s not to say I’ve done it all on my own – when I was at Carnegie Mellon, my design professors were incredibly influential. They were very direct, critical, and real with all of their students’ work, and being able to get honest opinions of my progress was crucial.

But now, of course, I’m inspired everyday by the people I work with. We’re more of a family than a team – everyone contributes and collaborates, and there isn’t really a strong hierarchical presence – we’re all equal, and we love to feed ideas and criticisms off each other.

Liz_Work_1 (1 of 1)Since we’re on the topic of influence and inspiration, how would you describe your personal aesthetic? How do you apply it to your work?

In a word, pretty. I would say any sort of work that invokes feelings of elegance and natural beauty speaks to me the most. I love flowers – like really love them. My Instagram feed is filled with beautiful arrangements and gorgeous palettes. Anything floral and soft, with a stylish color space.

But my personal aesthetic preferences can sometimes be misaligned with what our clients want to see. Instinctual choices aren’t always the right ones, so it’s important to be able to step back with objective eyes and ask “what are we trying to accomplish, and what visuals support that goal?” It’s also important to be able to talk about your work and command the aesthetic language that will bring you and your client into alignment. It’s so rewarding to find that balance.

Do you think the ability to create in the physical realm is still important for digital advertising? If so, how do you integrate that into your process?

Absolutely, 100%. They really drove that point home in college – during our first year, we weren’t allowed to use a computer at all. We would start with the basics – drawing inches, lines, squares, circles, etc. until we perfected it. For any sort of design, whether digital or physical, you must have a foundation in the physical world.

My best work usually starts with a sketch. Never underestimate the power of a pen and paper! I tend to get stuck if I dive too deeply into an idea too quickly. It helps to flesh out a layout of what to work towards. I like to write down trigger words, concepts or themes to shape the creative process, and I love using Pinterest to create inspiration boards. It’s a lot easier than creating a scrapbook for every project!

cannes_splash_devicesWhat advice would you give someone who is just starting their design career?

My best piece of advice would be to just keep making things – as often as you can, in as many media as you can. When you first start out, you may find yourself stuck or disappointed by what you create; that’s normal. You have to embrace the discomfort and push through roadblocks. You WILL get stuck – it’s all part of the process.

And even when you do work you’re proud of, you can always expect to be critiqued – it’s part of the job! Submitting creative work for evaluation can feel very personal and vulnerable, and you may even disagree with the feedback you get. You have to take it on the chin. Honest feedback is incredibly important for any designer, though, and I’m grateful for all the awesome individuals that have helped shaped both myself and my portfolio.

What’s your next step, both creatively and professionally?

I’d like to spend more time enjoying other creative outlets – calligraphy and watercolor classes are at the top of my list. This summer I’m also getting back to my performing arts roots singing in a cabaret put on by some friends from college! I’m really looking forward to it.

Professionally, I think I’d want my next gig to have the same variety and fast pace we enjoy here at SteelHouse. I love how there are so many moving pieces and types of projects to get done in a day. I love the fast pace of startup life and relish the challenge every time I step foot into the office.

m_gemiName three artists, designers, or creatives you would love to have dinner with.

Does Taylor Swift count? I think she is completely irresistible and brilliant. Plus, I think we would be best friends. Is this an embarrassing answer?

Next is Ira Glass – ever since I heard him speak about the frustration and confusion that can come with creative work, I’ve wanted to pick his brain and soak up some wisdom.

Lastly, I’m going to have to lump together Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones (of Hoefler & Frere-Jones type foundry) – they’re responsible for some of the most beautiful typefaces (in my opinion) of our time, and ones we use every day. I’d be curious if they knew what an unbelievable impact they’d have on communication design.

Thanks to Liz for taking time to discuss her story, inspiration, and work here as a creative professional at SteelHouse.

Our next installment will feature Keith Raucy, lead of the development team for Creative, who will discuss what it’s like to develop creative ideas and apply them to a web experience. See you then!

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