Insights / digital

Get to Know Neil Johnson, Creative Director, Digital

You’re the Digital Creative Director here at Mason. What was your career path like?

I’ve always been interested in art from a young age. In high school, I planned on being an architect. I loved architecture and interior design, and still do. However, I decided it wasn’t the right career path for me. 

My path changed when my family purchased our first computer. While taking classes at The University of Connecticut, I was a freelance web designer and developer in the heyday when web design was just starting. While this period may have been the wild west of the internet age due to the complete lack of rules and standards, it also made everything an experiment. It felt like being a pioneer.

I became entranced by the advent of the use of computers in movies, games and TV while working on web projects. Shortly after completing my time at UConn, I enrolled in the Savannah College of Art and Design as a 3D and design major. Upon graduating, my path led back to interactive development, working with several companies developing digital assets, interactive applications and websites for product rollouts.

Joining Mason has kept me on the web path, but I have become more focused on product user experience rather than just pure design and technology. This has helped us to develop more usable and accessible products for clients and provided the opportunity to explore other avenues of design and user behavior.

 

In your opinion, what makes for good creative?

Good creative in the digital world always starts by understanding who will be using the product. Our digital projects are typically interactive, so they must satisfy the needs of those using the product. This means that the product is highly useful, usable and provides value, while at the same time being desirable.

At the same time, good creative also must be successful creative. What I mean by that is it should satisfy the core goals and objectives of the project, ultimately pleasing the client and end-user.  Happy users, happy client, happy agency.

 

These days, it seems everything is digital. Are there any tricks to standout?

I believe the key to standing out comes down to understanding user behavior and building a solution that taps more deeply than your competitors into human emotions that make people react. To put this into perspective, think about the most memorable commercials or YouTube videos – they often tie into an emotion sparked by humor, nostalgia or awe.

The same is true for digital. The most shared apps make us crave more by using surprise, excitement, anticipation and satisfaction. The same applies to websites based on how they are structured – the aesthetics and content voice work together to spark interest and build trust when compared one-on-one with competitors.

Even with a great emotional connection you sometimes need pure luck on your side which could be as simple as the right person sharing it. This is one reason why it’s so hard to engineer viral videos.

 

What is the biggest challenge in the creative process?

I would say fighting perfectionism. With large amounts of data, high competition and both internal and client goals, you want the end-product to be as incredible as possible. However, nothing is perfect, and it’s easy to get bogged down in the details which can stifle creativity and hinder the process.

In digital, projects can and often should be fluid and experimental, allowing for changes based on observations. Constant iteration keeps a product from becoming stale, builds trust and provides better client results while not having to worry about building a single perfect solution.

 

Outside of the 9-to-5 life, what do you do for fun?

The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to enjoy the time you have on this planet, filling it with the people and experiences that make you happy.

I have an amazing family, including two small children and love spending time with them. Pre-COVID, we loved to travel and are hoping that we can go on family adventures again soon.

I’m also an avid cyclist. You’ll find me on gravel trails in-season and on the trainer in the off-season burning through those digital miles.

On the creative side, photography has been a hobby of mine for around fifteen years. I started with landscape photography and about eight years ago moved into commercial product photography and digital art.