The Edge: Shawn McConnell – Design Director at Skidmore Studio

October 28, 2014 4 min read


Novedge: Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do 

Shawn McConnell: Shawn McConnell, Design Director at Skidmore Studio. 36 years old.

I joined the studio after 7 years of freelancing. My role at the studio is to pull the best creative out of my team and push it forward, but I'm no stranger to getting my hands dirty and jumping in on concepts and executions. 


Novedge: Skidmore Studio is Detroit's oldest design firm and it embraces its history by being actively engaged with the community. Can you share with us how being in Detroit has shaped Skidmore Studio? 

Shawn McConnell: Skidmore started in Detroit in 1959, and after a time in the suburbs, moved back downtown in 2011. It was a sort of homecoming for us, but I think Detroit has always been an influence on the studio. Skidmore and Detroit have a lot in common: we’re bold, industrious, original. 

There is a palpable energy in the air downtown and it's hard not to be affected by it. We try to reciprocate that energy every chance we get. Whether it's through a MerryMen project like the rebranding of the Detroit Public School system, participating in events like the Detroit Design Festival, or promoting Detroit’s design ethos to our national clients, we revel in making this city great.


Skidmore Studio Reel 2014 from Skidmore Studio on Vimeo.

Novedge: The team at Skidmore Studio emphasizes being a studio and not an agency: why? What's the difference? 

Shawn McConnell: At Skidmore, creatives rule. It’s a feeling that’s reflected in our roster and in the way we approach client work. A studio is a place for craft. A place to make art. Which is why we are artist heavy, not account heavy. When I leave home for the day, I don't say, "I'm heading to the office." I say, "I'm heading to the studio." It just carries a different weight with different implications.

Novedge: How do you collaborate with clients during the design process? 

Shawn McConnell: We have a team of researchers and strategist who pull as much information as possible from the client. And then they pull a little more. After we compile the research and identify our goals, we brainstorm. We draw and write on every available surface, we laugh. A lot. Then we break into smaller teams to firm up our ideas with words and sketches. 

Shawn_McConnell_Skidmore_Studio_Final Coaster Comp

We love the idea of a big reveal, but we find that having checkpoints along the way leads to less surprises and better results. 

When we’ve internally locked in a direction, we share our ideas with the client. They bring their particular expertise to the table and together we tweak the strategy based on their expert knowledge. Back at the studio, we work through these challenges and get every concept to a solid place. 

When we’re satisfied that we have created something extraordinary, we present the finished concepts to the client, usually with a strong recommendation. Tweaks happen at this stage, of course, but thanks to a solid foundation of collaboration they tend to be minimal.


Novedge: What is a recent project that you worked on?

Shawn McConnell: Dave and Buster's, one of our clients, asked us to help them celebrate their recent IPO. We were given the task of taking over the Times Square Nasdaq and Reuters video boards. Dave and Buster’s stock symbol is PLAY, and they are all about fun. So we knew we had to do something that captured that.

If you've never seen these boards in Times Square, they are full of oddities. The Nasdaq board is curved and full of windows. The Reuters board is very tall, and very skinny. Underneath that, there are boards in various sizes placed at different angles. Right away we knew we wanted to use these features as an asset, make it all feel intentional.

We holed up in a room together and brainstormed for an hour or two with photos of this area in Times Square. The more we looked at the video wall, the more obvious it became: We needed to make it a game. 

We used the Nasdaq wall covered in windows as a giant Plinko board. And we used the tall skinny Reuters board to launch objects onto the Nasdaq board.

To be front and center in a place like Times Square is thrilling, maybe even a little fretful at times, but to see it all come together is such a huge payoff. We were super happy with the results, more importantly so was the client.

Shawn_McConnell_Skidmore_Studio_Screen Shot 2014-10-21 at 2.20.45 PM

Shawn_McConnell_Skidmore_Studio_Screen Shot 2014-10-21 at 2.22.22 PM

Novedge: What software do you use? 

Shawn McConnell: Initial concepts were mocked up in marker then refined in Illustrator. The final project was fully realized with a little bit of Maya and a lot of After Effects.

Novedge: How did you discover Novedge?

Shawn McConnell: Why it all started with research of course! 

Novedge: You recently unveiled the MerryMen Project, "a new program that promotes a philosophy of designing for good". Can you tell us what it all about? 

Thomas Watson Jr. once said of his relationship with Paul Rand, "Good design is good business". That is absolutely correct, but I'd take it a step further. Good design can empower people and improve lives if implemented correctly. That is what we are striving for with the MerryMen project. We provide pro bono design services to non-profits and small business in Detroit who can't otherwise afford the formal design process.

Novedge: What is the best advice you have ever received?

Shawn McConnell: Know when to put down the crayons.  


Looking for more? Check out Skidmore Studio's website and follow them on Twitter.

And don't forget to follow Novedge on Facebook!

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