Catching Up with Athena’s Creative Manager
By Shawn Gorman, Creative Manager
What inspires you?
I am inspired by my surroundings. Everything is designed. From billboards to packaging on the beer I’m purchasing to an owner’s manual for a new TV. Everything, at some point, is on the desk of a graphic designer. I take inspiration from everything as my job requires me to be adaptable and aware of different trends and outputs.
When did you first realize you were interested in pursuing this career path?
I realized I wanted to work in the design world about eight years into my first career path. I had a great job as a government contractor for the FAA working in computer labs testing air-traffic control systems. Design was my Plan B that became Plan A. I needed something that I could be passionate about, and design just happened to be it.
My curiosity inspired me. I spent a lot of my career working in the printing industry working on various types of print projects, but screen printing was one aspect of the print world in which I had zero experience. So, I spent way too much money on equipment that I had zero idea how to use in the hope of figuring it all out. It’s still very much a work in progress and I’m really enjoying the discovery process!
What was it like for you to move to a remote work environment and then to move back to a hybrid model?
I think I am one of the few individuals who had a relatively seamless transition to remote work and enjoyed it. Coming back in has been more of a transition for many of us than going out was. But we’ve adopted a true flex schedule which is a good balance and, so far, seems to be working well.
What’s one thing you want clients to know when working on creative projects?
I always appreciate a prepared client, a client that brings ideas and thoughts to the table. We (designers) are not always as intimately involved with all the details and behind-the-scenes conversations, and we have to make design choices quickly to create an effective deliverable that satisfies all. With a prepared client that brings as much information to us as possible, we can make better-informed design choices. If you look across the spectrum of our work, you will notice there is not a discernable “Athena style.” That is a point of pride for us. Our aspiration is to manifest the vision of our clients in a way that brings to life their vision. And much of our design work is truly original. While we often take inspiration from existing work, we also have talented artists on the team who hand draw and transcribe into the software that we use. It’s great to bounce ideas off each other and create something from nothing. Then, seeing that vision become something tangible—billboards, brochures, books, event signage, commercials—and knowing that your vision has touched just a few people and sometimes thousands—if not millions—of people is incredibly satisfying.
It’s Day 1 of a new creative campaign. Where do you begin?
Research, research, research. I tend to build mood boards and gather fonts and color inspirations. – anything that helps my brain come up with visuals.
While we often fly under the radar in Philadelphia, we have the good fortune to work for brands that are well known nationally and internationally. Within Athena, I feel everyone is aware of the work we do. One truly unique thing about the Athena agency is the way we work. We take what is known around here as the “Athena Machine” mentality. It’s not super easy to define the Athena Machine, but once you’ve been here for a while, you know what it means. As simply as I can describe, it is a very adaptable and unflappable mentality steeped in candor and trust—it allows us to collaborate across siloes internally with often beautiful results. A data analyst or a project manager might come up with something we incorporate. It’s a real right brain/left brain mish mash. And in our department, it can allow us to get serious and crank out high-quality original work at an amazing pace.
What are some of your favorite projects that you’ve worked on during your time at Athena?
The NFL’s Huddle for 100 campaign. This project was an amazing experience because it was a national campaign that also had a good cause attached to it. The campaign required me to be sharp and able to pivot between several different projects with very quick turnarounds.
The other project was the Philadelphia Awards 100th anniversary coffee table book. The awards book was a project that we do not always see in the agency. It was a full-team creative effort that required editorial, research, and design. The book featured several images from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania that required a lot of digital restoration. I took creative liberty with the restoration process by colorizing a select few photos in the book. These were two very different projects for Athena’s agency.
Ninety percent of my day is spent on Spotify, listening to Four Year Strong and podcasts like The Bonfire and YMH. It stimulates the creative process for me.
Advice to other aspiring creatives/designers?
Never stop learning! Become obsessed and learn everything you can. Ask questions, watch YouTube tutorials, learn production tricks that may seem silly, but that one day will pay off during some design project that hasn’t even been thought of yet.
What didn’t I ask you that I should have and what is the answer to my unasked question?
What is my favorite beverage? That would be Narragansett Lager. And six packs are solid ways to bribe your friendly designer.