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A city of contrasts: Seattle creatives weigh in on why it is essential for creativity

Seattle welcomes creativity in all its many guises, throwing people together to produce incredible results. The Drum asks those who live and work in the city to define its appeal.

Seattle is one of those cities that’s difficult to pin down. It’s wildly independent but also home to some of the biggest names in business, including the behemoths Microsoft, Starbucks and Amazon. The people who are molding the creative industry are a mix of corporate-trained business people and free-thinking independents, which makes for a vibrant mix and one that has the Emerald City leading the way in the Northwest and beyond. Some of Seattle’s best creatives weigh in on why being in this corner of the world is essential for their work/life balance and creativity.

WHY IS SEATTLE AN IMPORTANT PLACE TO LIVE AND CREATE?

Jason Black, executive creative director, Cole & Weber

Seattle is a city full of world-class agencies, design firms and businesses that have changed entire industries. There is an energy and vibrancy to this town that you can feel by just walking down the street. However, despite our reputation as a creative hot spot, there’s a misperception by many clients that the Seattle ad community is not a viable option when it comes to driving national and global brands forward.

Hart Rusen, creative director, Cole & Weber

Seattle is different than other West Coast creative cities and possibly any other creative city in the world. No matter which agency you work at here, there is water in every direction – and not just the stuff that falls from the sky. There’s saltwater (Puget Sound), big lakes (Washington and Union) and rivers (Skagit and Skykomish). Sailing, SUPing, kayaking, boating, fly fishing, polar bear plunging – whatever you like to do on the water you can do it here. Since creatives don’t thrive on a 24/7 diet of conference rooms and client meetings, the water proximity thing matters, in my opinion.

Britt Fero, principal, PB&

As fast as this city can move, there’s a real appreciation for the need to get outside, have other interests and not be strapped to a desk. I’ve found that there’s just as strong an appreciation for the environment you need to be creative, as for the work itself. It’s less about being a good place for work/life balance – it’s more about being a place that allows for the space in which to create new ideas. But that also demands you hire people who are self-directed, self-motivated and can manage their own time.

Ray Page, executive vice-president and executive creative director, Possible

We make hundreds of choices every day. Many are benign, but some are really big, like deciding on where to live. Although not everyone has the choice, for those who uproot their lives, it can be the life-defining moment. These moments are also defining our city. More and more, Seattle is booming with people choosing to make the city their home. They are drawn here by values that increasingly define our city: entrepreneurship, innovation, openness, acceptance, sustainable living, social justice and human rights.

Kevin Wick, executive creative director, Smashing Ideas

Working in Seattle is just plain better than working somewhere else. Culturally, it is much more laid back, thoughtful, introspective, literate and communal than other large, tech/creative-minded US cities. Designers tend to make work that is more systematic, detailed and rigorous than wild, emotional and shallow, leading to more product and software design work than advertising and campaign work. Sometimes you have to remind designers that not only are they welcome to voice their opinions, but they need to share.

Stephen Van Dyck, partner, LMN Architects

Seattle is a city of contrasts, and life here is an immersion in duality – urban v nature, high-tech v handmade, established v emerging. That dichotomy is part of how we practice architecture, and fuels a curiosity about how we can do things differently. Living here instills in us all an entrepreneurial, ‘we can do anything’ spirit.

WHAT IS AGENCY LIFE LIKE IN SEATTLE?

Ray Page, executive vice-president and executive creative director, Possible

We live in a thriving city full of conscious, empowered creatives. People from all over the world are pouring their talents and passions into their chosen home as well as their work. And where creative ideas are shaped by our shared values, the work has the potential to not only be great but also important. The ideas are bold, but also worthy.

Hart Rusen, creative director, Mekanism

Do a survey at any Seattle agency and you’ll quickly learn it’s filled with transplants. Big-brained people with big agency experience who moved to Seattle and brought their hustle with them. More than half the people in our office are from out of state. It’s the same at most shops here. In part, the transplants lead to a more welcoming creative culture. The community itself is also smaller than, say, SF or LA, and that creates a greater sense of camaraderie. We also don’t have any behemoth agencies in town that dwarf the other shops, so everyone is in the same boat.

Britt Fero, principal, PB&

Seattle doesn’t have an advertising community, but rather, a true creative community: from technologists to chefs to musicians to, yes, advertising folk, who want to collaborate and share ideas that shape and build culture. It’s a city full of builders, makers and thinkers, many of whom came from markets like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles in search of a place that isn’t afraid to play by different rules. I’m constantly inspired by the curiosity, the appetite for risk and the ambition that is found in creative people here.

Kevin Wick, executive creative director, Smashing Ideas

There are many huge-scale corporations in town, like Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks and Boeing. Every firm has worked with these clients, and they provide a certain amount of stability. However, clients who don’t have an office in Seattle can still tend to see the city as being far away, up-and-coming, a place they’re more likely to visit than one with which they’ve done business hundreds of times. Attracting international clients is a little harder for Seattle-only firms. Most Seattle firms are mid-sized, which is great for adapting to new talents’ strengths; most teams are large and strong enough to provide the desired levels of mentoring and growth opportunities. With such strong talent running rampant in the city, Seattle is still small enough that everyone’s networks overlap with everyone else’s. It’s great fun to bump into former colleagues at talks, parties or on the sidewalk.

Stephen Van Dyck, partner, LMN Architects

We’re constantly experimenting and prototyping, fabricating and analyzing, making our own tools to do our work. It’s a fun, messy environment that feels uniquely Seattle to us. The convergence of art and technology is part of what attracts people to Seattle, and that story is part of our office’s growth and our DNA.

Jason Black, executive creative director, Cole & Weber

Our creative community is becoming tighter and more supportive of each other and we’re focused on capturing the attention of clients across the country and around the world. It’s my goal to make sure that Cole & Weber is continuing to do its part.

HOW HAS SEATTLE'S GROWTH, PARTICULARLY IN THE TECH SECTOR, AFFECTED ITS CREATIVE NATURE?

Stephen Van Dyck, partner, LMN Architects

Seattle’s current population surge has defined much of our current work and culture, but also brings significant growing pains. We’re seeing rapid escalation in the competition for housing, which affects our staff on a personal level, as well as significant growth in the construction sector, which affects our work and our clients. As a firm and as individuals, we’re committed to this city and to being leaders in our local design culture, as well as advocating for responsible development and quality of life. We see the culture of our office and the culture of the city as indelibly blurred, each supporting and enriching the other – when Seattle thrives, so does LMN.

Hart Rusen, creative director, Mekanism

It’s the creative energy pulsing through the city that makes Seattle so appealing. Companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, Google and Apple are all hiring like crazy and increasing the overall brain power in the Seattle creative community.

Ray Page, executive vice-president and executive creative director, Possible

It’s a privilege to work in the [Seattle] creative world. We get paid to bring subjective ideas to life. And, sure, the demands of the job can sometimes be overwhelming. But when I think about the opportunity we have to change perception or behavior in a way that creates positive change, it’s more than a privilege – it’s a responsibility.

Britt Fero, principal, PB&

I believe the most creative outputs often come from bringing seemingly contradictory inputs or insights together in new ways. Seattle is a hotbed for these intersections. Chefs and music, sports and social issues – whatever it might be. Here, I feel like people don’t think in disciplines but rather collaborations. Given that, big egos don’t often succeed here and there’s definitely a ‘Seattle style’. A big challenge is not just recruiting great creatively minded talent, but creatively minded talent willing to come together to experiment and develop that next new thing.

Kevin Wick, executive creative director, Smashing Ideas

Tech innovation in Seattle is growing seemingly faster than anywhere in the country. The tech giants – Amazon, Google, Facebook and Microsoft – generate a huge wake for small and mid-sized design firms to push into IoT/connected devices, AR/MR/VR, voice control, ubiquitous sensors, and more. Designers here connect product companies to customers through innovation, design and development.

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