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Creative Director Highlight: Matthew N.

September 27, 2023
min read
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One of the great things about Designity is that talent knows no boundaries. Especially physical ones.

Since Designity is 100% remote, location means nothing, and our talented creative community comes from cities all over the country and beyond!

Even as far away as Japan.

If you’re wondering what we mean by that, then we’ll happily explain! Today’s blog is dedicated to Kyoto resident, Matthew N, one of our very own Creative Directors, and his inspiring journey from New York sock designer to Designity superstar!

Whether you’re an aspiring Creative Director or just curious to learn a little more about Matthew, it’s time to dive into a story as unique as the artist himself!

It’s time for a one-on-one interview with Matthew!

How did you get into design? What’s your origin story?

So, it’s kind of funny because I started in architecture. I did my undergrad in architecture and I wanted to be an architect because I really liked the idea of building crazy buildings.

But I quickly found out that there’s a thing called an engineer and that engineer stops you from doing almost anything! I was always getting a slap on the wrist from the studio teacher for being a little too crazy.

What I realized from this experience, though, was that I really liked conceptualization. I would come up with these super weird concepts like a building floating upside down with a garden growing underneath it and you can rotate around the building and pick vegetables throughout the day.

My teacher would ask, “But how are you going to build this?”

And it was like, I don’t care about building it, I just like the idea of it! Who cares how you build it?

So, from there I really got into conceptualization and then that's when I started going more into creative direction and kind of leading and guiding projects through the overall concepts and then directing the designers or designing the weird ideas I’d come up with myself.

So, you didn’t go to school for design at all?

A sample of Matthew's work, a lookbook design for Flooret

My undergrad is actually in landscape architecture at Syracuse University and my master’s is in design engineering.

Architecture really led me down a strange path because, even though architecture didn't work out, the main reason for me doing it was that they had a mandatory semester abroad. And for my semester abroad, I went to Japan and I still live here.

So, it’s kind of interesting that even though the architecture thing didn’t work out, having to go to Japan as part of the semester abroad really changed my whole life.

See the full Flooret ad here!

How did you end up living in Japan?

My major was landscape architecture, so I wrote my thesis on the intersection of landscape and architecture in traditional Japanese settings, so, for example, how does a zen garden bleed into a city street?

I really looked at specific case studies of that and it deepened my love for Japan. The second I came back to America to finish my degree and graduate, I realized I missed it so much and I was looking for ways to go back to Japan. Then I graduated and decided one of the easiest ways to get back there was to become an English teacher there. I did that for 4 years!

What was it like teaching English in Japan?

A sample of Matthew's work. Brochure design from ADU Geeks, a tiny home builder in California.

I was teaching elementary school students and middle school students.

It’s kind of interesting now, because it’s kind of come full circle because us, as Creative Directors at Designity, are meant to mentor the designers so I’m glad I have the teaching background.

What was your first design job?

My first design job was as a sock designer.

Hold up. A sock designer??

A sample of Matthew's work, sock Design for the Fall 2016 Collection - Silk & Circuits

Yeah, no one’s ever heard that one before. People would always be like, “Wait, you’re a sock designer? I didn’t even know that was a real position!”

But yes, I did 25-30 styles of both men’s and women’s styles for Spring and Fall collections for a sock company.

And speaking of conceptualization, my boss was an eccentric, so I’d say, “Hey, I have an idea, let’s design a whole sock collection based kimono patterns and circuitry! I really like the streets of Akihabara in Tokyo and all the neon lights and power lines, but I want to juxtapose it with the ancient kimono patterns found on the streets of Kyoto!

And she’d just say, “Okay … do it!”

So then I’d make these crazy weird collections for her. It was fun while it lasted, but yeah, that was my first main design job.

How did you go from sock designer to working at Designity?

I just decided it was time to move on from sock designing. I wanted to get my master’s degree and explore education again, because I went to school for architecture but I never used architecture, so I felt kind of cheated through my educational process.

I was thinking, I want to go back to Japan and I want to get my master’s. So, I found a traditional craft school in Kyoto, Japan, which is the cultural capital, where they focus on specific traditional Japanese craft through design engineering.

So, for example, I built a ceramic urn using a traditional Japanese technique called Shippo Yaki, which is where you put colored sand inside petite wire containers and then fire it in a high-temperature kiln and the sand melts and turns into glass. I used that technique to design engineer a watch faceplate out of shippo yaki and used these very traditional Japanese arts to complete my coursework and graduate with a Master’s in Design Engineering.

A sample of Matthew's work, watch faceplates created using Shippo Yaki technique.

That was sort of the first step out of being a sock designer in New York to getting my degree in design engineering. Then after I had my degree, I really looked for the next step, which was creative direction.

I also worked as a communications specialist, which is somewhere in between a creative director and a designer, and my agency helped Japanese brands who wanted to globalize.

So, for example, a skincare line that wanted to spread their brand to France or Europe, they would come to our agency and ask for help with their branding campaign to help them hit their new target market. 

What is your favorite kind of project to take on?

A lookbook created for Flooret, a sample of Matthew W's amazing creative work.

Conceptualization is definitely still my favorite thing to do, to build out the “brand DNA,” is what I call it.

The best is when a company comes to me and says, “We don’t know anything, we don’t know what to do!”

And that’s perfect, because you get to interview them, find out what they like, and get an idea to build out the whole brand DNA.

Do you have a favorite example of that?

One of the things I did for the Japanese skincare line. They came to us with nothing, and we came up with the idea of “wa”, which in Japanese means balance and “phyto”, which obviously means of plants or relating to plants.

So, it was skincare made of plants that achieved a balance to your skin, so that’s how we came up with the name Waphyto. And that sounds nice in Japanese.

Those kinds of conceptualization projects are the best part for me, anything that’s part of the brand DNA-building.

What is your favorite thing about being a Creative Director?

A sample of Matthew's work, digital ads for Cardlytics, a marketing analysis company.

I do like the creative mentorship, and I like that Designity has a huge pool of Creatives.

Every other design job I’ve ever worked at, it’s like you only had two in-house designers to choose from, whereas now … if a client asks for a 3D graphic designed in Blender? I don’t know how to use Blender, but I know I could find someone who does and could teach me. So, there’s a lot of cross-pollination that happens around the community and that keeps things fresh.

What do you like to do when you’re not working/designing?


I’m actually in Thailand right now! I love traveling and being in Japan is great for traveling around Asia. The cool thing about Designity is that it’s remote, so as long as you have a good WiFi connection you can travel anywhere.

I love traveling and eating delicious Thai food or the food in whatever country I’m in.

Are there any other interesting facts we should know about you?

I’m a makeup artist! 

While I was doing sock designing in New York, I was also a makeup artist, and really got heavily into it.

I did one magazine cover, some fashion shows, just a bunch of different makeup projects.

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Do you have any words of inspiration for new Creatives?

I have a favorite designer. Have you ever seen the movie, The Cell? The costumes in that are so crazy.

The woman who made the costumes is a Japanese woman named Eiko Ishioka. She has a quote, “Everywhere on Earth is my studio.”

And I’ve always loved that quote and I always went by that quote.

For my thesis at my master’s level, I wrote on “ugly beauty.” I basically ended up doing fabric printing of typically ugly motifs and trying to turn them into beautiful garments.

One of them was of a praying mantis that had been run over, it was yellow and green and looked disgusting, but I collaged it and printed it out into this really cool green and yellow neon fabric.

So, I remembered that quote, “Everywhere on Earth is my studio.”

How could you imagine you would be walking along the street, see a crushed praying mantis, take a picture of it, turn it into a fabric, sew it into a garment and make it look beautiful?

I really like the idea that you can find beauty in anything.

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