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What does a spatial creative director actually do? Let Russell Ashdown explain

By Russell Ashdown, Spatial creative director

December 8, 2023 | 6 min read

As part of our series demystifying industry job roles, Russell Ashdown of design agency Love explains what a spatial creative director does.

Russell Ashdown at Love

My careers advisor told me I couldn’t do architecture because I was rubbish at maths. It’s funny, when someone tells you that you can’t do something you find a way to do it. So, I went and did interior design and now I do architecture by the backdoor.

A lot of my team are the same. They started with an interest in creating buildings but ended up in interiors. And, you know what? It’s much more exciting than architecture because it’s more playful.

The world has been ringfenced by ‘professionals.’ What we often find when meeting a brand is that they may have employed an architect or someone from that world and they’re not getting brilliant ideas and they’re not getting what a marketer really wants: creativity and imagination and a brilliant way to connect with their audience.

We’re trying to bring strategy to life in space.

Spatial design can be anything from the master plan of an entire distillery or a piece of airport retail. Imagine the whiskey shop in whatever airport you fly from regularly – it’s wall bay after wall bay of different brands. Retail is an incredibly transactional space – you’re working within the constraints of that space and marketers themselves perhaps don’t have the sway they’d like to have. It’s a tough environment to work in.

It’s quite hands-on. They say you shouldn’t dive into the details yourself if you’re trying to manage a team, but here, everyone at the senior level will be working on a project.

At the moment, there are five projects whizzing around my head: two nearly out and three live, including the Jim Beam Campus in Kentucky. And there are smaller projects – let’s call them internal collaborations on display, packaging, limited edition launches, that sort of thing. It’s pretty relentless, but there’s a good variety.

We’re working on a pitch at the minute that will end up being a snappy, advertising agency-style deck. We’re throwing the kitchen sink at this one. At the heart of that will be a set of very high-resolution renders of what the space and the building in question will look like and the whole customer journey associated with it.

Even in a pitch stage, we want to create joy and love for a project (it’s not an accident that we’re called Love). And we want to help clients visualize what it will look like in the end. I struggle to read floor plans – they’re incredibly boring. But how you visualize something... that’s how you land the idea.

Sometimes, we’ll end up working with engineers’ drawings. For Jim Beam, we took a building designed for a production brief. We didn’t think the way the building looked worked at all. So we took the engineering plans and reskinned the entire building. But really, it’s about landing a look and feel.

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These days, it’s all about disruption and unexpectedness in the way that a brand shows up. We’re always digging into brand archives or even books written by someone from a brand. For example, I learned Jim Beam used to drive home every day with his specialist yeast in the passenger seat of his Cadillac to make sure that it didn’t get destroyed by fire. Yeast is a really boring thing to talk about – that’s probably the most interesting yeast story I’ve ever heard – but it lets us use a Cadillac to tell a story about distilling. It plays into the American Dream story in a really brilliant way.

I didn’t want to just end up being a retail designer. I think that’s true of everyone here. They’re looking for adventure, which is how I describe most days.

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