An Interview with the Most Creative Person in Canada

December 16, 2010

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Last week we announced that our colleague Steve Coppola at High Road Communications (a Fleishman-Hillard sister agency) in Ottawa had been named the most creative person in Canada by Marketing magazine in its annual Great Canadian Creative Faceoff of 2010. I had the pleasure of talking with Steve this morning about what this honor means to him professionally and personally.

1. What's it like to be the Most Creative Person in Canada?

It's quite an honor. The nominations, voting and judging wasn't communicated that well, so it was hard to tell to what degree the winner was defined by votes and how much was influenced by judging. That came out the night of the award ceremony. The competition was open for voting, but in the end, the judges selected the winner. That made it more meaningful.

It was an interesting program because it was not just focused on professional achievements and creativity. It had to do with other parts of life as well. All the nominees have creative and inspiring lives. One finalist was a media buyer but was also an amateur painter. For me, it was a mix of my work at High Road and my personal passion of cooking. That was a nice part of the criteria.

2. What's your creative process?

It's not overly glamorous. When I look at some of the best projects or deliverables we've produced, it all starts with listening well to a client or colleague who is relaying some form of a brief or set of objectives and picking up some of the words they're using. You start to make visual connections and get inspired. The brief represents the spark of any start of concepts. For most designers, it's during that discussion when you start to visualize a solution.

After that, traditionally, the next step is taking those concepts and sketching them out. But I can't draw well, so when I start to see a concept, I just want to get to a computer and start to develop it on screen. When that spark happens, I need to work it. It's not that I'm afraid I'll forget it, but I get a rush and want to make it happen.

3. What have been some of your favorite projects?

Most recently, the merger of High Road and iStudio, not in terms of visual identify, but in meshing the two concepts. iStudio had development teams, designers and digital strategists, while High Road was more traditional public relations. But culturally we had a lot of similar interests. We were both into consumer entertainment and technology. The transition is still in progress, but it was definitely interesting and satisfying. As a former iStudio employee, we've gotten tons of satisfaction on the new accounts we're working on and the new sectors we're in.

For non-client facing projects, our Christmas greeting for our clients, suppliers, friends and family is always fun. Every year we do something digital that's meant to showcase what we can do. In 2007, we launched the “Do Not Want Ads.” We kept it running for three years, which is a good testament to the concept itself. It involved all our staff, got great exposure and was a lot of fun.

4. What motivates you?

A love for what I do. I don't think any of us would be successful if we didn't love what we did. The group of people I work with has a similar passion. If the people you're doing it with don't share those same interests, it's going to be challenging.

The clients and the different industries I work in is a big motivation. It doesn't get old. I work with everyone from financial institutions or healthcare to video games. We get so much variety in the types of engagements and the sectors, that three months from now, I could be working on something I've never touched before and that's a good thing.

5. What's the best part about working at High Road?

The relationships we have with our clients and the trust we build. It takes a lot to get there. The best work comes out of relationships with trust and respect. Once you've got that, you've got a good environment.

6. What's your favorite thing about your job?

A few years ago, I might have responded differently. I started out as a visual design person doing websites, digital assets, etc. Over time, the need for a solid grasp on things like usability and user experience became more important. That's the direction I've gone in. Things like usability testing and research, they all feed into what defines a solid user experience. Some of my more recent projects involve connecting with users. I'm fascinated by that kind of work. It excites me.

7. What makes the ultimate user experience?

That's a tough thing to do. There are so many different parts so we've defined a set of criteria – eight facets that contribute to a solid user experience. It's not just about the best processor or the nicest screen. It's a combo of so many elements that's going to make the end product fantastic for the user.

When I look at our design team five years ago versus now, there are countless aspects of deliverables we never looked at before: Performance, interaction design, content, motion design. You have to acknowledge that these are all important factors in what you're delivering.

8. What's your favorite thing to cook?

The food that seems to be more appreciated by guests is sweet potato ravioli with a sage butter sauce. It's one of the most mind blowing things. It has fried shallots, toasted pine nuts and parmesan cheese on top. It’s super rich so I wouldn't eat as a whole plate, but it’s an amazing appetizer or sampler. I found a basic recipe and switched it up. It has been one of my more popular dishes.

9. Anything else about the competition?

They gave value to creativity outside of the job. That's important for everyone to do. If you're stuck on an assignment that's not particularly stimulating, having another creative outlet – whether that's cooking, carpentry or singing – is so important. It keeps your life more interesting and makes you more well-rounded.

Stephanie