Unleashing Creativity with Lou Maxon: Transforming Brands & Risk-Taking
From small beginnings to playing side-by-side with Wayne Gretzky, Lou Maxon has forged a remarkable journey of risk-taking and exploration that has led him to become one of the most sought-after brand transformers in the world. But what will the next twist in Lou Maxon's story be?
I think my career in design was more of a happy accident, but it was more of a detour because of different ambitions. - Lou Maxon
My special guest is Lou Maxon
Lou Maxon, a Seattle-area designer with a passion for risk-taking and unique creative approaches, has been transforming brands throughout his career. From humble beginnings as a self-taught skater and hockey enthusiast, Lou forged a path in the design world that led him to work with major brands like Lexus. With an ability to immerse himself in a world that was entirely new to him, Lou's experiences at Wayne Gretzky's hockey camp and his work as a writer and editor for Lexus' magazine only fueled his creative fire, making him an expert in thinking outside the box.
This is Lou Maxon's story:
Lou Maxon's journey began with a fascination for hockey and lacrosse as a young boy, fueled by the passion for these unusual sports in Seattle. The thrill of discovering something new and different led him to a career path that was more of a detour than a happy accident. Lou's journey wound through college, where he played hockey and interned at KGB magazine, that offered him a taste of magazine life. This experience ignited a passion in him to transform brands through creative design and risk-taking.
Timestamped summary of this episode:
00:00:05 - Introduction: Host Scott Cowan welcomes listeners to the Exploring Washington State podcast and introduces guest Lou Maxon.
00:02:05 - Early Life and Sports: Lou talks about growing up in Seattle and his passion for hockey, which led him to play collegiate hockey and lacrosse at Gonzaga University.
00:08:39 - Playing Hockey with Wayne Gretzky: Lou shares his experience playing hockey with Wayne Gretzky at a fantasy camp and how he got to write about the experience for a magazine.
00:11:14 - Career in Design: Lou discusses how he stumbled into a career in design through his journalism degree and how he ended up running creative and design for Lexus.
00:16:47 - Meeting the Handler of the Stanley Cup: Lou shares his experience of meeting the handler of the Stanley Cup at a hockey camp he attended with his roommate from Gonzaga. He even got to lift the cup above his head, which is a rare privilege.
00:18:48 - From Gonzaga to Lexus: Lou talks about how he transitioned from being a journalism major at Gonzaga to working in advertising and media. He talks about his various internships and jobs, including working for the Village Voice, Timeout New York, and YM magazine.
00:22:27 - Meeting His Wife: Lou recounts the chance encounter at a bar in Seattle that led him to meet his future wife. He talks about how they moved to New York together, and he pursued his dream of working in magazines.
00:29:18 - Working at TIMEOUT Magazine: Lou discusses his experience working at TIMEOUT Magazine, which was known for its iconic covers and listings of cultural events in the city. He talks about how he started out as an editorial designer and eventually moved up to being a director.
00:32:51 - Working at YM Magazine: Lou talks about his time working at YM Magazine, which was a mass consumer magazine targeted at teenage girls. He shares some of the projects he worked on, including complex infographics and celebrity-driven covers.
00:34:17 - From National Consumer Magazine to Metropolitan Living: Maxon talks about his journey from working at a national consumer magazine to creating a prototype for Metropolitan Living, a new city magazine in Seattle. He also shares how he got the job at Seattle Magazine by creating a set of values that made the magazine stand out.
00:39:35 - No Space Needle Rule at Seattle Magazine: Lou Maxon talks about his three-year tenure at Seattle Magazine, where he implemented a no Space Needle rule and redesigned the magazine. He also shares how he won an award for Best Editorial Design for City Magazine without entering the contest.
00:41:52 - Moving to Lexus Brand Management Magazine: Lou talks about his transition to Lexus Brand Management Magazine and how it transformed his career. He also shares how he was initially a contractor for six months before getting a full-time offer.
00:47:37 - The Job that Transformed His Career: Lou Maxon talks about how his job at Lexus Brand Management Magazine changed everything for him creatively and for his family. He also emphasizes the importance of looking for opportunities and being aware of where they can lead you.
00:51:16 - Talent Development in Minor Leagues: Lou talks about his experience at Seattle Magazine, where he was limited in hiring but focused on developing talent instead. He emphasizes the importance of giving young photographers and illustrators great pieces to help build their portfolios.
00:53:27 - Finding Nuances in Creative Teams: Maxon shares a story of how he directed a photographer over the phone to shoot a food picture, which led to more food assignments for the photographer. He talks about the importance of finding nuance in creative teams and observing what makes individuals stand out.
00:57:00 - Aesthetics at Lexus: Maxon recalls his time at Lexus, where he fell in love with Japanese aesthetic and design. He talks about how his design aesthetic evolved from analog to digital and how his experience at Lexus helped him learn the importance of clarity and simplicity in design.
01:01:19 - Creating from Scratch: Maxon talks about his experience working at a startup that focused on health and wellness programs for companies. He highlights the challenge of creating something from scratch, but also the freedom that comes with it. Maxon also reveals how he worked with Starbucks to create the smoothie that became the Vivano at Starbucks.
01:03:10 - Relaunching Run Happy: Lou talks about his time at Brooks, where he was tasked with relaunching their position called Run Happy. He discusses the importance of creating a way of life rather than just a short-term campaign and how he had to unlearn some of his corporate design experiences to adapt to the more fun and unorthodox marketing approach at Brooks.
01:08:14 - The Importance of Illustration in Branding: Lou Maxon explains the importance of illustration in branding and how it allows for imagination and the creation of a unique brand identity. He highlights the need to create a defensible moat around the brand and shares hisexperience working on sustainable packaging for Brooks.
01:10:03 - Boomeranging Back to a Startup: Lou shares his experience of returning to a startup he had previously worked with and how it was different from what he had imagined. Lou discusses his transition back into agencies and the challenges of pitching and managing clients.
01:12:04 - Working on the Acer and Star Trek Campaign: Lou talks about his work on a campaign for Acer, Microsoft, and Star Trek, and how she had to create two storylines inspired by the movie. He shares the challenge of integrating Acer's new product into the campaign and how they had to use b-roll from the trailer to create CGI moments.
01:15:38 - Starting Lou's Agency: Lou discusses his decision to start his own agency and the risks involved, especially since they were already working on building their house. He shares his vision for his agency and how he had enough pieces of the puzzle to make it work.
01:15:48 - Conclusion: The conversation wraps up with Lou reflecting on the detours in his career and how they led him to where he is now, and thanking host Scott Cowan for having him on the podcast.
01:16:58 - Outro: Scott concludes the episode and invites listeners to visit the Explore Washington State website and share the show with others. He also encourages listeners to reach out to him on Twitter with their comments and feedback.
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