“There are three responses to a piece of design – yes, no, and WOW!
Milton Glaser

To begin with, Philip VanDusen is a Strategic Brand Expert, who specializes in Graphic Design and Product Development. With a vast experience of over 20 years, previously, Philip held the position of Vice President, Head of Design for Global Snacks at PepsiCo. and currently, He is the Principal of Verhaal Brand Design, a strategic design & brand consultancy.

It is always a difficult task to define creativity in plain words. Similar is the case with creative individuals. You can Read more about him on the Verhaal Brand Design – About Us Section.

A creative or artistic inspiration:

By Definition-

“Inspiration (from the Latin inspire, meaning “to breathe into”). Refers to an unconscious burst of creativity. In a literary, musical, or artistic endeavor”. Moreover, there is something unique about sharing an expert opinion. It may reflect on your outlook. Here is one of my favorite videos from Philip –

Here is a link to his YouTube channel-

An interview with Philip VanDusen-

Philip VanDusen
Principal + CCO, Verhaal Brand Design

How did you start out in your career?

The one thing that has been very formative for me in my career is that I don’t actually have a degree in design. I went to school for fine art and I have a masters degree in painting. So I have a looser, more aesthetically driven and less academically informed or structured view of design. I began my professional career teaching drawing and photography. After a gig at The Lacoste School of Art in France, I came back to the United States and moved to New York City in the early 90’s. I started my own T-shirt company and was putting my art on T’s and selling them at boutiques. And walked the entire island of Manhattan with my sample case selling them to any store that would carry them. I learned two things doing that: One, I loved seeing my work on products out in the world – in this case literally walking around on peoples chests. And: Two, I learned that having the ability to sell and an understanding of business and finance was important in becoming successful as a professional designer. Sure you have to create great designs, but if you can’t sell your work through to the customer, to a client, to your manager, then you’re not going to go anywhere.

What came after that?

I moved on to a series of licensed apparel companies working my way up from designer to Creative Director. I eventually landed at Old Navy and over 11 years there worked my way up to VP of Graphics, CAD, Color, Trend, and Packaging – managing 5 divisions and overseeing 65 full-time employees and freelancers. After I left Old Navy I worked at a couple global strategic design agencies, including Landor Associates the agency that basically invented a consumer-centric design. As an Executive Creative Director, I was deeply involved in new business pitches, client management, brand strategy as well as overseeing and managing the design group and the creative product. After working on the agency-side I joined Pepsico as the VP of Design for Global Snacks, overseeing all of Pepsi’s snack brands, Lay’s Potato Chips (fun fact: the biggest food brand in the world), Doritos, Sun Chips, Frito’s, Cheetos all the snacks we know and love!  Well, I love anyway.
Philip VanDusen

What are you doing now?

After leaving Pepsico I started my own agency, Verhaal Brand Design. When I was at Landor and Pepsico I noticed that clients were using smaller and smaller agencies to control costs and to get work done faster. So I decided to surf that wave of change and strike out on my own. I use a broad group of very senior partners who I draw on to work projects – scaling up and down as the work requires. It’s the clear direction the industry is moving. And all the big agencies are freaking out.

How do people describe you?

Well, the headhunters who I’ve worked with have always characterized me the perfect left/right brain mix of creative expertise and strategic business sense. I’ve always been a creative thinker and doer, but I have always been unusually organized, analytical, adept at finances coupled with strong emotional intelligence – which is what has allowed me to be so successful in my career as a creative executive leading designers. I’ve always been passionate about learning new things and seeking out inspiration to keep my creative fires burning. Folks say I’m basically a good guy, down to earth and that I care about helping people grow and learn – which is true.

What are your greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses?

I think my greatest strength is my ability to communicate. I can communicate with designers in the way that they understand and take in information and I can communicate with clients in a way they feel heard, cared for and that I will help them solve their problems. My dad was a journalist and I learned to write well and to present ideas well from a very early age. That has been essential in my career and in my agency business. It’s also a skill I stress heavily with all the creative professionals I coach.

My greatest weakness? 

I’d probably say that I’m kind of a workaholic. I know, it’s a classic “job interview” response, but in my case, it’s really true. I love what I do so much and I have so many goals and plans that I find it hard to turn off. It’s gotten even harder since I’ve become more of an entrepreneur. Finding that ever-elusive work/life balance is the struggle of almost every entrepreneur I know.

How do you stay creatively inspired?

I am a voracious consumer of inspiration. I gather imagery, ideas, and ideas from a huge range of sources. When I was Old Navy I traveled the world a couple times a year. I would go to Tokyo, Milan, Paris, London, Berlin, Antwerp shopping hundreds of stores looking for graphic inspiration for apparel. But I was also looking at the industrial design, print design, digital design, retail design, architecture, signage. I learned how to trend hunt. It was part of my job. That experience helped me grow a strong “observation muscle” that has served me in well throughout my career.

What advice do you have for creative professionals today?

I spent the majority of my career working for large agencies and corporations. I was well compensated and I had a ton of resources at my disposal: human resources, technical resources, financial resources. It was comfortable. But the work environment for designers is changing. There isn’t the same security in the workplace as there used to be. My strongest advice is to start building an independent personal brand that you own. Don’t put all your eggs in the basket of your employer. You can be dropped at any time.

Build a brand, a website, a social media presence, a content presence, a portfolio that is only yours. Statistics show that by 2025 over 50% of workers in the USA will be independent contractors. Think about that for a minute! They will be on their own, responsible for their own success, their own business development, their own client base, their own finances, their own marketing. My advice is if you haven’t started building the brand of you, then start now, even if you are employed. Especially if you are employed – because then you have a financial cushion as you are doing it. And it takes time and lots of courage and work.

What is your ultimate message besides ‘never giving up’?

My ultimate message is this: yes, become the absolute best designer you can. Learn to create beautiful and effective work. But it shouldn’t stop there. Be sure to learn the methodologies that make up true strategic design and branding. Pure design chops and aesthetics will only get you so far in the world today. Your strategic and business brain in combination with your design skills is what is going to give you a competitive advantage. Never stop learning. Learn finances, budgets, project planning, people management, social skills, business development, presentation skills, how to pitch clients. Don’t let yourself get pigeonholed as a one-trick-pony. Become bulletproof and recession-proof.
Philip VanDusen
And lastly, Have Fun! Everyone wants to be a designer. Working with designers is the best part of every clients day – and you are lucky enough to be that person. Enjoy it.
You can visit his website by clicking Here

2 thoughts on “An Interview with The Brand Expert Himself- Philip VanDusen”

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