Meet Sean

I am  a design school trained idea-generator with 18 years of experience inventing solutions to human problems and bringing them to life through design. As a true design thinker and voracious student, I have frolicked on many playgrounds including branded product development, advertising, experience design, user interface, music and sound design. Desktop, mobile, print…you name it. I’m able to generate consensus from opposing corners of the boardroom, lead design teams, orchestrate cross-departmental collaboration and deliver measurable results under tight timelines.

sean-ross-circle

“A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

– Antoine de Saint Exup’ery

In addition to being a designer, I am a writer, an artist, and a musician. Ideas are what matter most to me, and I enjoy the richness and innovation that occur when ideas cross-pollenate from one discipline to the next.

Approach

Service with a smile. Leonard Nimoy once sold vacuum cleaners. Walt Disney drove an ambulance for a living. I waited tables. What I carried with me into my current approach to design is that the service experience is key. You could be delivering a brilliant piece of creative, but if you unceremoniously dump it into someone’s email inbox and trudge away, then you might as well have spit on it, too for all the good it’s done your reputation. I work hard to make sure that all stakeholders feel well taken care of and that my collaborators feel like partners in the design process.

Idea is king. Craft is servant.

Designers love playing with ideas. But, because of fear, some get sucked into execution mode too soon and miss out on the game-changing ideas that would have come later. I try to take the time to frame the problem first and then stay in the ideation phase as long as a schedule will allow. I create a ton of very rough ideas, ruthlessly kill most, select a few, iterate, hone, and design the right solution.

Writing matters. A lot.

Writing is critical in two respects. First and foremost, it’s usually part of the persuasiveness of a design solution. But equally important is the writing that’s part of the process of bringing a piece to life. Solutions need to be framed. People need to understand the choices that were made and why. Sometimes writing helps to rally large groups of people around a particular project or effort. It takes a certain linguistic ability to communicate the emotional dimensions, artistic nuances and ephemeral nature of a design solution in a way that everyone can understand. I take that role very seriously.

Writing Style

Serious. Analytical. Hilarious. Persuasive. Clear. Descriptive.

Humor is a Trojan horse for your message. Humor is persuasive because it puts the topic into a context that’s more comfortable for the audience. It makes people feel an emotion that opens them up. I try to bring humor into any project where it makes sense. At the very least, I bring it into the process. It keeps things light and fun.

Always be nice. This is my philosophy in three words. Projects are transactions and when I’m orchestrating them, I try to make the transaction as pleasant as possible. I give more than I take and create value where there was none.

Artist first, scientist second. As an art school trained designer I am a sucker for the creative process. But though the years I’ve become a bit of a data dork. Often, the inspiration for my ideas comes directly from the data-backed consumer insights. Maybe it was something that was said in a focus group. Maybe it’s one of those audience stats that just sticks in your craw.

Define the problem AND the system in which the problem resides. As organizational theorist Russell Ackoff once said, “Managers are not confronted with problems that are independent of each other, but with dynamic situations that consist of complex systems of changing problems that interact with each other.” So when I look at a brief, my first question is, “what problem are we trying to solve?” My second through tenth questions are about how that problem is interrelated with other circumstances and problems within the larger system. This is sometimes referred to as “systems thinking.” My doctors called it ADHD and handed my mom a prescription. So there you have it.

Beliefs

Design isn’t a skill or even a trade, it is a way of thinking. A lot of people hire designers for specific skill-sets and experience. You hire a graphic designer for print projects, you hire an interactive designer for online projects, you hire an architectural designer for your remodel. But really, a designer is someone who has the ability to combine empathy, creativity, and rationality to invent new ways of looking at things. It can apply to anything. The difference between kinds of designers is just a question of which problems they’re used to solving and which tools they’re used to playing with.

Creative projects have a life of their own. They have wants and needs. They speak to us about what they want to be and it is our responsibility as designer collaborators to listen to that voice – the voice of the project – and do right by it.

The creative process is not something that we, as designers do alone in a vacuum. It’s a collaborative process that, when executed properly, is more like a group tour to the Pocanos. It should be fun, surprising, and even transformative. It’s the designers job to guide the tour and make sure nobody gets left behind to be eaten by the natives.

Ideate your ass off. I believe that the difference between good designer and great designer is that the good designer comes up with several ideas while the great designer comes up with a hundred of them. It takes longer. But it’s well worth it.

Pushing the envelope is going beyond the known and expected and fixing something that people didn’t realize was broken (but now that you’ve solved it, they do). Answering the brief is what most people do. It’s fine, but pushing the envelope means coming up with the innovation that sets a new standard. And that’s what gets people pitching tents in a line at the mall.

Work culture is critical. Last year, while working for a music-related start-up, I brought a vintage stereo system into the office. It created instant culture that inspired everyone to come to work each day just to hear which new records people would bring in to play. People were happier, more engaged, and It made our product better because the people working on it were happier & more bonded through their love of music.

Beauty and utility are equals. Successful products blend the two so that they become one – this is true “experience” design.
Holistic, empathic, multi-disciplinary thinkers are best suited to drive the brand and the product forward.

CONNECT