Meet SketchDeck’s Executive Creative Director: Dan Youmans

Headshot of Dan Youmans, SketchDeck's new Executive Creative Director, with two bullet points about his career that say "20+ years in the design industry" and "7 years at Meta leading executive communications design"

At SketchDeck, we understand the value a Creative Director brings to a creative agency. That’s why we’re thrilled to announce the hiring of our Executive Creative Director, Dan Youmans. Dan brings over 20 years of creative industry experience to the team, including the past 7 years working at Meta.

With Dan at the helm, we can provide our clients with an even more exceptional design experience. Dan will work closely with our design teams to elevate our work to new heights. Through Dan’s vision and creative leadership, SketchDeck will continue to grow and innovate, furthering our mission to democratize design and become the go-to design solution for industry-leading companies.

SketchDeck’s Marketing Manager, Ivy Croteau, sat down with Dan to learn more about his career, his thoughts on the current design landscape, and his vision for SketchDeck’s future.

An overview of Dan’s 20-year design career

Ivy: First, I’d love to hear your backstory, how you came to creative direction, what your career has been to date. I know that you worked with Meta for seven years, which is an amazing tenure. So, in your own words, just tell me about you.

Dan: I started in design more than 20 years ago. I started in graphic design with a branding background. Most of the early work that I started out on was brand identity work, so building identities and brand guidelines. That was the foundation for everything I did from that point on. 

Over the years, I went to different design agencies, spent time at interactive shops doing websites for consumer brands. There was work with snowboard brands and clothing brands and T-Pain. T-Pain was fun. We did a lot of consumer entry points when websites were the big thing. Mobile was still in its early stages. 

Then, I got into advertising for a little while, spent some time doing a lot of conceptual work and building out creative campaigns for all different kinds of clients. I worked with a lot of tech clients because I was in the San Francisco area.

I also did a lot of interesting work in the biopharma and medical device space. You might think biopharma isn’t interesting, but it’s fascinating once you get into it. These tiny, little instruments go into people’s bodies and heal them in different ways. It’s incredible and it was a good creative challenge. How do you make that minuscule product look interesting? That was our job.

For the last seven years, I was at Meta (formerly Facebook) and spent time on the communications side of things. Our team was the creative arm of the communications and public policy department.

We worked with all the executive team members on a fairly regular basis. Most of that work was directly designing their creative presentations. Facebook had 2-3 major tent pole events each year that our team fully supported.

Aside from that, we were working on their social channels. We worked on a lot of social media posts and newsroom posts, the creative that goes along with communication stories, press releases and things like that.

What is your favorite project to date?

Collection of images showing advertisements for the Exploratorium's "Science of Sharing" exhibit, including a dog sniffing fake dog poop with a flag that says "No one's around, scoop the poop or ignore the chore?", an advertisement on the back of a pedicab, an advertisement in the subway, and a street advertisement that says "why just sightsee when you can hear, smell, and touch?".

Ivy: That’s amazing! What is your favorite project you worked on?

Dan: Gosh, I don’t know! That’s a tough one.

I think a lot of my favorite projects had to do with working with executives. I really enjoyed that. 

I worked hand in hand with many execs developing their storylines and creative content for talks. It was always a pleasure to collaborate with them and see how much they valued good design solutions. I actually had one executive tell me, “literally it’s your job to tell me which is the best option” when I presented two creative solutions to their presentation. I really got a kick out of that and it was humbling that an exec was looking to ME for my professional opinion.

Ivy: It’s so cool that you were able to take this branding experience and apply it to high level individuals, which are essentially brands unto themselves. I never assumed that those are actually roles designers occupy, but of course, it makes sense.

Dan: Actually, there’s one other project that was a highlight as far as how much fun it was. Before I was at Meta, I was at an advertising agency, and one of our main clients was The Exploratorium in San Francisco. They were one of our main clients, and they had this exhibit called The Science of Sharing. The whole idea was to showcase prominent behavioral science, things like the prisoner’s dilemma. The prisoners’ dilemma is, when you separate two people, will one person rat the other one out? Will they make a decision that benefits themselves or the group? That type of thing. 

We put together this campaign based on fundamental, interesting questions. We put them all around the city. So, if you’re on the subway, we might ask, “Do you eat your stinky lunch on the subway or do you wait till you get home?” or “Do you sit down on the open seat, or do you allow someone else to sit there?”. One of my favorite ones was, “If no one’s looking, do you pick up your dog’s poop?”. We actually got a whole bunch of fake dog poop, put these little flags with the question on them, and stuck them throughout the city. That campaign was a lot of fun. We got a lot of interesting PR out of that.

What are your all time favorite brands and why?

Collection of branded images, top left from Cotopaxi (a woman and man take a break on their hike, wearing colorful activewear), top right is an Apple iPhone ad (left side grey with words "your phone", right side colorful with framed pictures of cats and people playing with words "iPhone"), bottom left is a Nike ad, a collage of pictures of hands holding up pairs of Nike AirMax sneakers, bottom right is a Liquid Death ad with the tagline "Don't be scared. It's just water."

Ivy: Oh, I’m sure that made some waves in such a dog-friendly city. That’s a perfect example of how brands are getting so creative with out-of-home advertising. So, I’ve got some other questions for you. I hope that they’re not quite as hard as your favorite project ever, but this one probably is. What are your all time favorite brands and why?

Dan: Oh, man, it’s going to be so cliche. I feel like everyone says Apple and Nike because they are iconic brands. I’ll give more of a reason.

Apple, for me, their attention to detail is unmatched. I worked for Apple as a contractor years ago, and their attention to detail is just insane. They paid attention to stuff no one else would pay attention to. That changed my trajectory as far as my craft and how I paid attention to and appreciated the details of design work. I carried that with me throughout my entire career.

I include Nike because they adapt their brand so well. They have a core set of values and not everyone agrees with them, but they stand by them. They take a stand on a lot of stuff. They don’t really care about whether or not this upsets people or not. They’re taking a stand for what they believe in.

I also love how the Nike brand is adaptable to any type of person. They have the lifestyle stuff. They have the sneaker head stuff. They have the high-level athletics stuff. Their brand goes across so many different subcultures. That’s what makes Nike super interesting to me.

Those are the brands that come to mind immediately, but there are other fun brands that I’ve seen recently, like Cotopaxi. Maybe it’s the color palette or the way they display certain products. It’s just fun and interesting. It always makes me turn my head.

Ivy: Yeah, Cotopaxi tapped into that nostalgia color palette. It makes you happy to look at their products and they’re definitely going through a big growth push.

Dan: You recognize it immediately when you walk into an REI, like, oh, there’s a Cotopaxi section. I admire brands that stand out, especially in a space where everything kind of looks the same.

I also admire Liquid Death. Who would have thought you could brand water in such an effective way? I love brands that can make fun of themselves and be completely absurd. It seems like Liquid Death thought, “What have we got to lose? We have such a small part of the market. We have nowhere to go but up. People either like us or they hate us, and we’re just going to do it”. That’s the place that you need to come from. If you’re just doing safe things and not risking anything, you’re not going to connect with people, which is the whole point.

Ivy: I love Liquid Death, that’s such a great example. Next question is another big one. In your opinion, what are the biggest creative challenges that brands are facing today?

Dan: I think one of the biggest struggles is everyone trying to be too careful. Everyone is so afraid to offend that they don’t do anything original, or they don’t do anything that’s a little bit out of the box. It’s just like, gosh, take a chance. Everyone’s too worried about what people will think that a lot of the creative gets watered down. 

I’m not saying that people aren’t putting good creative ideas out there. I feel like brands have gotten too safe, and I feel like that’s a big challenge for creatives, because everything starts really big, then gets whittled down to a really watered down idea.

Another big challenge is this whole movement into AI and what that means. I feel like so many people are threatened by it. I’m looking at it thinking, “This isn’t going away anytime soon. How can we adapt?”.

The people who find the most effective ways to use AI will come out on top. There’s some really interesting stuff that I’ve seen from a creative perspective. I’ve seen people post mood boards on LinkedIn that they created in a minute based on five or six prompts in Midjourney. It just spits out this beautiful, creative mood board. I would have spent hours scouring the Internet trying to find the right images. When I saw that use case, I thought, “Wow, they’re not coming for our jobs. They’re helping us do our jobs better”.

If we learn how to use AI effectively, it just becomes another design tool. It becomes another drop down that you use. Think about Photoshop. Before Photoshop, people were taking photos of things, and layering stuff on top in a very analog way. Then, they learned to use a computer to do that work. Now, AI does it all on its own. It doesn’t take away the creative process. It just allows you to work quicker and do things that you couldn’t do before, things that were next to impossible before.

What was the biggest creative challenge of your career?

Ivy: So, AI opens up creative potential. That’s a great way to look at it. You talked about creative challenges facing brands, but what was a challenge that you’ve experienced in your career and how did you overcome it? What was your biggest creative challenge to date?

Dan: One of the hardest things for me in my time at Facebook was designing for multiple audiences and making extremely complex things approachable. A lot of my time was spent with the tech communications group. We were working on communications for teams that were engineering infrastructure, working on AI and other really complex technology. 

You had to take those ideas, these incredibly complex data sets or whatever it was, and distill it down for general consumers. You couldn’t offend the researchers by simplifying it to a point where it looked too easy. You had to find a middle ground. There was a lot of back and forth. It was a constant struggle to take a very complex piece of technology and distill it into something a normal person like myself could actually understand and think “okay, I get it”.

We knew the technology was far from simple, but you made it simple enough so a majority of people can understand it. That was one of the biggest challenges for us as a creative team. We wanted to do something extremely creative, but you had to make sure it still told the right story in a compelling way.

You have all these different pieces to put together. Then, you start moving these creative levers up and down. You ask yourself, do we need to be more technical? Does the creative need to have less flourish? Are we telling a compelling story in an interesting way? Are people going to sit through a two minute video because we made the story compelling enough?

Another one of my favorite projects was about AI shopping. We created this three-section film set. We set up three different areas so the camera could pan through them and each one would tell a different story about your shopping experience in fashion or your shopping experience on Marketplace or your shopping experience somewhere else. It allowed the researchers to talk about how complex this technology was, but told the story in a creative setting that was interesting and applicable to consumers.

The technology itself is really interesting. They talked through how the technology takes a 2D photograph on an Instagram feed and automatically identifies products. The AI actually goes through and determines what’s a couch, what’s a rug, what’s a plant, for whatever is featured in the image. They wanted you to be able to tap on something in the image and it shows you that jacket is on H&M for $50, or that plant in the background is at your local greenhouse.

Ivy: It’s such cool technology that we all know and use now. You were first explaining it to people back then, and now it’s just normal technology that we all engage with.

The focus on communicating ideas clearly really hits home. Back in the day, graphic design was called communications design, because its main goal was to clearly communicate ideas through design. It’s a great question. How do you do that in a way that also creates that emotional connection with the audience?

Dan: Another key question is, how do you realistically bring the idea to life? My original idea for the AI shopping project was to emulate scrolling through your phone. I wanted to have a three-level, vertical set, and have the camera pan down, as if you’re scrolling. Then, we realize we don’t have enough budget to build a set that’s three stories high. You adjust and say, “fine, we’ll go sideways”.

How would you describe the business value of design?

Ivy: I guess this leads me to my next question, which is, how would you describe the business value of design? What value does design bring to a business?

Dan: Well, I think it’s always undervalued. People always think about design as the last thing. You see the strongest brands out there, some of the strongest companies, are always well designed. They always have a strong brand behind them. Still, most companies don’t prioritize design. A lot of people say, I want a logo just like Nike. They don’t realize they like the Nike logo because it has 40 years of strong brand recognition powered by great design across all aspects of their company. That’s what boosted the brand and the logo to prominence.

I feel like design needs to be pushed to the forefront. People don’t realize the value of it until they see it done badly or they see how it changes the trajectory of their business.UI and UX design are a great example. I think that’s incredibly undervalued.

Look at how intuitively someone uses an Apple product, look at Keynote versus PowerPoint. Powerpoint just kept adding stuff constantly. It became too complex and clunky. Apple thought, “hey, let’s talk to some designers and see what elements they would want to put into a presentation product”. Then, they just added one feature at a time and every feature made sense, added value.

You open up most Apple products and you can pretty much start designing right away because they’ve made it simple and easy to understand. Because it’s nicely designed.

How will your role at SketchDeck improve the way our clients get design done?

Ivy: My last question. I would love for you to tell me how your role at SketchDeck will improve the way that our clients get design done?

Dan: My grand vision is to really elevate the design that we’re doing as a company. I want to prove our value with bigger branding projects for bigger clients, because our teams have the talent. I’ve seen the work. It’s just a matter of getting more exposure with our clients and showing our worth.

I want to get in front of clients we already have really good relationships with and show them how SketchDeck is the right choice for all their design. We can handle all of their production work, but we can also take their design to the next level with premium projects.

SketchDeck can and should be an agency that’s known for doing it all, because a lot of agencies think they’re above doing production work. That’s not ideal for the client. A lot of agencies create a brand and then leave the client to figure out how to get the day-to-day design work done.

I feel there’s a lot of added value when you have one team controlling all design from start to finish. You don’t want to create a brand you love, then hand it off to someone who executes it poorly. That’s the worst feeling in the world. There’s a lot of opportunity to build brands from the ground up and see them all the way through to final execution.

That holistic approach to design builds a lot more trust with clients. The clients get it. They want an agency that can go from highly conceptual all the way down to print production or digital production without a lot of hand holding. SketchDeck is that kind of agency.

My dream is to carve out a niche where we really impact our clients’ businesses in a positive way through high-level design. We can do more and we will. From what I’ve seen, we have incredibly talented people at SketchDeck. That’s why I’m here, because there’s great potential and I know we can reach it.

Join the future of design at SketchDeck

If you’re as excited to work with Dan as we are, we’re ready to support any and all of your design needs. Book a consultation today to start the next chapter of your design journey with Dan and SketchDeck.

Ivy Croteau

Ivy Croteau

Redefine what's possible with SketchDeck.

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