While at Adobe MAX in Los Angeles I had the great opportunity to interview Chevon Hicks, a creative professional who is Founder, Creative Director and President at the highly regarded digital ad agency Heavenspot. Heavenspot gained a niche producing websites for motion pictures and Adobe is now their largest client. Creative Suite users will recognize their work: Heavenspot produced the demo materials for CS4 (“Double Identity”) and CS5, and helped develop Photoshop.com as well as Adobe’s “Brilliant” site that recently won a People’s Choice Webby.
I wanted to distill some of Chevon’s ideas and comments into tips you can easily remember and apply to your own creative work or life.
Look for the best learning experiences when starting out.
Chevon started interning at a creative agency when he was 15 years old, and he credits that experience as a big help when starting Heavenspot. Interning is not a glamourous start to a career but if it provides an awesome learning experience and lots of “learning by observation” then it can be worth it in the long run. My own first job was as an ad designer at a daily newspaper, which set me up to be a very productive designer for the rest of my career.
Be a big fish in a small pond.
Chevon said running an agency is Los Angeles is tough—there are more high-profile clients but also a lot more talent in the city. It’s a lot more easier to be an expert in a smaller market, and while that might also mean smaller and less prestigious clients Chevon says overall it is easier to be successful in the smaller markets. Even where someone gets their start is not necessarily a big factor: Chevon hails from Gary, Indiana and came to Los Angeles later.
Be creative in other ways.
Chevon is a musician, DJ and animator as well as a designer. He used to play in a band with Amanda Ghost, now president of Epic Records. Chevon’s point is that great designers and creative professionals are often creative in more than one way and can leverage that experience in different ways that make their work better.
Find a niche—and stick to it.
Chevon says success often depends on gaining a specific niche for your work or business. Heavenspot started out as a website to showcase Chevon’s artistic work but eventually the firm gained a niche for developing websites for movies. Being at the top of that niche gives them a strong brand presence. Some creative professionals—including myself—will also say that a successful designer can generalize instead of specialize if the final product is solid.
Designers are sometimes tempted to take projects that don’t quite fit their niche, and Chevon says at least a few projects should not be taken if they don’t fit. “If you don’t say no now and then, your yeses are meaningless,” he says.
Be cool and be good.
Of all the factors for success, it’s not surprising that simply producing great work that turns heads is the largest. Chevon and Heavenspot produce very striking, sometimes Flash-intensive work and it always looks cool. It would be hard to judge whether their work is the best on the Internet but it’s definitely good and the combination of good and cool is a winning one.