Blog > Creative Teams > CD Highlight: Stephen Summerlin

It's Time to Meet Stephen!

January 9, 2023
min read
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Every creative director at Designity experiences a unique creative journey, and all of them find different aspects of their job satisfying. Some love the project management involved, some love client interactions, while others prefer mentoring and guiding their creative teams on the path to success. 

Our creative directors personify who Designity is as a brand. We are transparent, teachable, and always put our best foot forward no matter the project on deck. 

In this highlight, we’d like to introduce you to one of our brightest sparks. Meet Creative Director, Stephen Summerlin!

Q. What is your origin story?

Art rendering of a woman in a mask

A. I loved making videos when I was a kid. I think my first real creative passion was video. We had this Steven Spielberg Lego movie making kit growing up. It was a tiny stop motion camera and we would spend weeks making videos, frame by frame, moving the characters ourselves.

I was so proud of them! If I wasn’t making Lego videos, my brother and I would take our old camera and shoot videos in the yard. At that time, being able to do visual effects on an old home computer didn’t really exist (unless I wanted to wait 30 hours for one frame to render), so I had to learn to get creative with cinematography. 

I would spend hours and hours editing videos and get so lost in creating. The idea of being able to build my own world inspired me. Around that same time, I also started learning about 3D Rendering and 3D Animation

I remember I used this program called Poser– it was an older 3D program (may be updated now) – this was my first experience in the realm of creating 3D worlds and it fascinated me. I spent hours and hours learning how to create my own environments. I remember rendering my first image in the program (it looked terrible) but I was so proud of it because I made it!

Q. What did your creative career path look like?

A. Well, I began to take that passion and learn every little bit that I could. It absolutely fascinated me. I saw a world I wanted to learn about which led me to learning web design, graphic design, video production, and so much more. 

Early on, I began to teach myself the technical parts of design without formal education purely because I had such a desire to understand it. I spent thousands of hours watching tutorial videos, reading magazines, design books, really anything I could find to help me learn.

My passion for creativity progressed over the years into freelancing, which progressed into temp jobs, and that turned into landing career roles in a variety of industries. Even when my specific position wasn’t always creative-oriented, I wound up finding ways to bring creativity into the role.

I think, because I had such a fascination for creativity at an early age, it translated into a lifelong passion. I just absolutely love it. 

Q: What was your path to becoming a CD?

A. Honestly, it was years' worth of opportunities where I got to work in so many different industries. From corporate marketing to freelance to agency work. I gained this accumulation of knowledge and skill sets by being exposed to so many different brands, environments, and projects.

There were definitely pieces that I enjoyed more than others, obviously, but I fell in love with being able to bring out ideas from people and pour into creatives. I absolutely love that part of my job.

I always go back to thinking about how much it meant to me when someone invested in me and helped me, so I try to make an extra effort to do that for my own creatives. 

Q. How did you find Designity?

NFT project for sports company.

A. That’s a really good question. I wound up applying to so many different places and positions. I was still working full-time and I knew that I wanted to step into a full-time Creative Director position instead of partially doing it in my previous role.

I applied to a bunch of different roles/positions and I happened to stumble on Designity. One of the things that fascinated me was that they didn’t ask for a resume. Seriously, y’all (I'm from the South), that is a game changer! 

Soon after applying I had the opportunity to speak with Joy, who is Designity’s Head of HR, and it was such a cool experience. Designity cared about the skills and talents that I could offer and I fell in love with that idea. Let people show their skills!

I was like, “Finally, someone is going to look at what I can do versus how well I pad my resume with keywords.” 

I mean seriously, recruiters, take note. This is an amazing way to hire.

I feel so blessed that I found the opportunity. I adore the process here and the way that we hire. Show us what you can do. Anyone can use “words” as justification. If you say that you can do XYZ, can you show it?

Q. What is your favorite part about working at Designity?

A. The transparency. Seriously, I cannot tell you how in love I am with the fact that we are open, honest, transparent, and that we act on feedback. We have this level of willingness to hear each other out respectfully. It allows people to be themselves, to be honest, truthful, and free to come up with new ideas.

When you feel restricted and like you can’t be yourself, creativity is diminished, people leave, they end up hating their jobs. But Designity is an environment that allows people to be themselves and I love that. 

Whether it’s something positive or negative, you have the freedom to talk about it in a respectful way and I can’t tell you how rare that is.

I want to do everything I can to support that. 

Q. How do you like being a remote creative director?

A. That’s funny, I was just talking to my wife about that. I think there are times that I really do miss the office environment and being able to collaborate in person. You know? Like, you’re sitting on someone’s desk, all of these ideas are just rushing in, you’re back and forth in that bouncing of ideas.

But I think that we’ve got a pretty good model. The way that we do so many video conversations, VR meetings, audio messaging and so on makes you feel very connected. I do miss the in-person sometimes, I really do. I love those good conversations; they recharge me so much. 

For the way that we are working, I think it’s fantastic. 

Q. What is your favorite part about working with the creatives?

A.  Brainstorming sessions! Hearing so many brilliant ideas and how our amazing creatives are so willing to hear and action feedback. There is a real interest in growth and constant improvement. Feedback is actioned. That’s a key thing here that everyone actually does something actionable with feedback. 

I really appreciate the willingness and openness of so many creatives to be like ‘can you help me?’. There is a freedom here to come to people and have those conversations. There’s a real hunger for growth and excellence. This feeds into the whole transparency model of Designity. 

Q. What does the future look like for you at Designity?

Calendy trade show booth design.

A. To me, this isn’t just a role, so I can’t give a title. What I hope to accomplish here is to continue building on our honesty and transparency model and to find ways to better support everyone from our clients to our creatives. I really believe in what we’re doing. 

It is really important to me that everyone here feels like, whether they stay at Designity or not, they got so much value out of the time that they were here.

My future here goes beyond a title; I just want to make a lasting difference. 

Q. What would you say to creative directors who might be on the fence about working/applying here?

A. Great question! As of the current state, one of the things I don’t think everyone applying realizes is that you do have to be willing to do project management. It’s not all creative work. 

There are multiple pieces to the Creative Director puzzle. There’s the client relationship side, there’s a project management side, there is managing the design, and there’s managing the creatives. 

My biggest observation of what makes someone successful as a CD here would be being teachable. Our most successful Creative Directors are the ones that come in with a willingness to hear and action feedback. To me that is the most important thing, if you have a genuine desire to grow you are almost guaranteed to be successful here. 

<div class="c-blog_comp-cta cc-component-2"><div class="c-blog_comp-cta-left"><div class="c-blog_comp-cta-left-wrap"><img src="" loading="lazy" alt="" class="c-blog_comp-cta-left-img"></div></div><div class="c-blog_comp-cta-right cc-dark"><div class="c-blog_comp-content"><div class="c-text-wrapper cc-mb-32"><div class="c-title-4 cc-bold"><strong>Grow with a community that is exclusively inclusive!</strong></div></div><div class="c-text-wrapper"><div class="c-text-2">Get inspiration from creative directors and level up from emerging creative to Chief of Design by collaborating on projects.<br><br></div></div></div><div class="c-blog_comp-wrapper"><a href="" target="_blank" class="c-button w-button"><strong>Discover Your Growth Path</strong></a></div></div></div>

Q. What would you say to the aspiring creative who doesn’t have a strong portfolio and might be looking at Designity as a good place to start?

A. I would say hop on board! Do your best when you’re applying to make sure that your portfolio is cleaned up. You don’t need a ton of projects in your portfolio, especially if you are just starting out, but you do want to make sure that what you do have is well presented. Here is why:

I’ve actually been having this conversation quite a bit with a few people. How are you representing your skills in your portfolio? For example - If you are applying to be a web designer and all you show in your portfolio is paintings then how does a recruiter know you can do web design? 

Q. What do you recommend aspiring creatives do when putting together their portfolio?

A. Something I recommend thinking about when you are putting together your portfolio is to think about how a recruiter might see your portfolio. 

You might think that your portfolio is really cool (and it probably is!), but if a recruiter has to look at a thousand portfolios and they have one minute to look at yours, can they find what they are looking for right away, and does it make sense for what you are applying for?

Once you’re in the door, you need to be hungry to learn, be able to take feedback and action it. Don’t take that feedback personally. If you’re having a hard time feeling like you’re taking it personally, have that necessary conversation instead of just staying silent. 

When you break walls down, you’ll see creativity spike through the roof.

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