BBDO art director on making work that matters
Lego has a lot to answer for. Clicking together bricks to build an elaborate city gave the young James Kuczynski a moreish taste for the joys of creativity that has never quite left him. Fast-forward a couple of decades, plastic bricks are no longer his medium of choice – now projects his talents as an award-winning art director at BBDO New York. His most recent work including ‘EveryBeatMatters’ for Save The Children.
LBB> How would you describe your work?
JK> Unfinished. Every time I look back at my projects, there's always something I want to change or make better. It's an unhealthy habit but it helps me improve as a creative.
I strive to create work that is more than just 'traditional advertising'. Times have changed. Now you need to involve consumers with brands; it's about creating a conversation between a brand and its consumer. Today there's still a need for more user engagement and big ideas that can be extended into any medium. I don't think there's enough integrated work coming out.
LBB> What kind of child were you, and what were your childhood dreams?
JK> Oh man, I was a crazy hyperactive child. I was always getting into trouble, learning my lesson and getting back into trouble. I was so into Lego and anything that involved creating something new. I had a Lego city that was roughly 4 feet by 8 feet. My brother and I would build and play with it every day.
My parents were both Polish immigrants who came to America seeking a better life. I guess my childhood dream was to make them proud - although I did want to be a policeman at one point. I always knew I wanted to do something creative but my brother got the 'artist' genes. All I had left was my computer and I used it to develop my talents.
LBB> You studied at SVA in New York – what was that like and what are your lasting memories of that experience?
JK> When I first applied to the school, I was rejected because I was no good at drawing. So I went back home, sharpened my pencils, and a few traced self-portraits later and I was in.
I always thought I wanted to be a graphic designer, but I later discovered that I wanted to be the guy who came up with the ideas. I was really impressed by the instructors at the school and loved the fact that they were all working professionals in their field. If you were talented, instructors were happy to reach out to you if they needed help for a project they were working on. I got my first internship at a small Brooklyn based studio called Part & Parcel through my sophomore instructor Scott Bushkuhl. After a summer there I ended up working with him at his own multidisciplinary studio, Hinterland.
The class that really made me enjoy advertising was ‘Unconventional Advertising’ led by Frank Anselmo. It made me I realize the potential power that an idea can have. The class pushed me to strive to create award-calibre work. Anything that was 'good' wasn't 'great'. I remember going into the school's studio at 11am and not getting out until about 8am the next day because of a One Show deadline. The amount of work I did that day helped me win four pencils that year.
LBB> You’ve already won multiple awards for the campaigns that you’ve worked on, particularly for your work on Gillette – are awards important to you?
JK> After graduating, a lot of my friends were trying to get work visas while others were trying to get sponsored by an agency. In a situation like that, awards can only help. They can help put your name out there, and I think that everyone coming out of school wants and needs that these days.
Winning my first awards really pushed me harder. Awards can also give you confidence, which is important in this business. They also give you a feeling of recognition; that you're doing something right. However every year there are just a handful of ideas that are recognized, which reminds me of how subjective this industry can be.
LBB> You recently worked on Save the Children's ‘Every Beat Matters’ – a campaign that ended up with a song in the top ten. In terms of art direction, what were the key challenges?
JK> Well, I will say I never expected the campaign to see the light of day. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say everything was a challenge. When working within the right budgets that come with a PSA, art direction can be pretty tricky. For the print and outdoor portion of the campaign my partner and I ended up having to create the illustrations ourselves instead of hiring illustrators - so as an art director, knowing what you're capable of is definitely important.
With this campaign we thought of the simplest, most effective way to bring the idea to life. A beating heart is a symbol of life, and an EKG line on a heart monitor is something everyone understands. For print and online we had to convert hundreds of the heartbeats we recorded into an EKG-like cardiogram. It was an arduous process because we wanted to keep every heartbeat 100 per cent real.
LBB> You’ve spent most of your time since graduating at BBDO NY – what is it about the agency that makes it such a unique place to work?
JK> I started as an intern while I was still in school and continued working there when I graduated a year later. During that time I have had the opportunity to work on numerous clients and work with a really diverse group of people. It's a great place to showcase your creative chops.
My copywriter, David Martin and I have also had the chance to develop a good amount of proactive ideas. It's easy to send an email with a write-up of a concept to a creative director or to set up an appointment with them. If they like an idea and think it's great they'll find a way to get it in front of the client. It’s really up to you to make your own opportunities to create great work.
The sense of community within the agency is also amazing. I've met a really good group of people… especially after a long day of work at the agency bar.
LBB> Which pieces of work are you proudest of and why?
JK> Well, the recent ‘EveryBeatMatters’ campaign for Save The Children is definitely the project that I'm most proud of. Working on something that will actually help to save lives gives you such a high. Having one team work on a fully integrated campaign with so many components is such a daunting task, but we're getting preliminary results, and the impact it's already made is fantastic. It's also amazing to hear a song on the radio that you know you've helped create.
The book 'The Man with a Million Faces' is also one of my favourites. My copywriter and I were extremely happy when it was awarded a D&AD nomination this year, the first ever for Gillette.
LBB> Where do you want to be in ten years’ time?
JK> This question always baffles me because my mind is always changing. Ever since I graduated I've actually longed to go back to SVA, although this time I'd like to go back as an instructor. The ideas of giving back to the same community that helped me get on this path is something that keeps me really motivated. In the end, we're all students and teachers in one aspect or another.
They say my generation, 'the millennial's', don't like to stay in the same field for too long. When asked, most want to a change profession every four-to-six years. I’m not sure where I fit in that statistic, but I'm enjoying to the fullest what I do right now. Someday I would like to have my own creative shop and try out new creative methods of problem solving. Having your own side-projects is also something that I think is necessary. I've put my personal art projects on hold to focus on other things, but I guess that might be a hint that I’d like to try mixing them with my paid work in a creative shop.