An Interview with Seth Guge, Creative Director at Verve – Part 1

Seth joined Verve as Creative Director in 2010. His career has included design leadership roles at Arc Worldwide/Leo Burnett, Euro RSCG, and Burrell Communications where he brought his creative talents to brands such Target Stores, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Verizon, and Proctor & Gamble. Recognition for Seth’s work spans both the digital and print worlds including best-in-class design accolades by for the Crest Whitestrips online storefront pages and being featured in Print Magazine for the design of Michael Jordan’s book, For the Love of the Game. Seth holds a B.A. in Visual Communications from Judson University and was one of forty design leaders selected for Harvard Business School’s Business Perspectives for Design Leaders program. This is the first in a series of blog posts based on interviews with Seth.

Q: Seth, tell us about your background and when you first recognized your love of art.

SG: I grew up in the Fox Valley area of Illinois and have lived there all my life. I’m the oldest of eight kids and my father was an artist – a wood sculptor, and my mother wrote poetry. My parents also collected antiques and art seemed to be around me all the time.

My interest in art began when I started drawing. My parents understood my natural ability, along with being part of an atmosphere that already had art in it. Some of it was my ability and some was part of the woodwork of the house. My parents started art lessons for me through an after-school program. A lot of kids were going home and playing baseball, while my parents once or twice a week drove me to a lady’s house where, with one or two other kids, we did various things, including oil painting.

Q: How has your interest in art and design evolved over time?

SG: When I was young and I drew and painted, I thought I would make money drawing and painting. Then I went off to college, took photography classes and wanted to be a photographer. I took illustration classes and wanted to be an illustrator, then graphic design classes.

As I started to do internships in the graphic design industry, I realized it didn’t necessarily mean I must be the person who took the photos or drew the pictures. I had the ability to manage all aspects of the projects, finding the photographers and other team members and being able to control the whole creative process, looking at design, photography, communication, stepping out into the marketing as well, the strategy behind the project.

Q: You’ve worked on some big brands like Target, McDonald’s and Starbucks. What was something that surprised you as you worked on those projects and what lessons did you learn as a result?

SG: I saw that working on bigger brands doesn’t necessarily mean bigger budgets. It was kind of surprising that we still needed to stay within parameters. What you think might be a big budget project can be small budget and it can be better that way and vice versa. A small project might have a big budget and time requirement.

I’ve learned through the years that it’s about the team and how much energy and people it actually takes to do things efficiently and really well. You need a strong team of people collaborating and also making sure on the other side of that that there aren’t too many people who are filtering out things and watering down what you’re trying to do.

It’s about balancing and making sure there’s enough support and enough heads thinking about it, but making sure there actually are not too many filters. I’ve seen both scenarios where a project failed because there was not enough support behind it or it failed because too many people were trying to voice their own opinions.

It’s the team, the talent and the energy that make a project work.

Watch for more from Seth Guge in Part 2 of this series where he shares his thoughts about the world of design.