Creative Lives Podcast — Creative director Matt Ipcar talks working on the Obama campaign and inspiring change
Our guest on the podcast this week is Blue State Digital's executive creative director, Matt Ipcar. Sharing pivotal moments and highlights from his career so far, he tells us about studying architecture and his first jobs – designing automotive print ads, to working as a design lead on both Obama campaigns. Originally from New York, we met with Matt after he took to the stage at Design Manchester to find out more about his role, creating work that positively impacts the world – and the email he once sent to Steve Jobs.
Executive Creative Director, Blue State Digital (2009–present)
Design Director, Obama-Biden Transition Project (2008–2009)
Design Team Lead, Obama for America (2008)
Design Director, Fenton Communications (2007–2008)
Principal designer, Frog Design (2003–2006)
BFA, School of Architecture and Planning, University at Buffalo (1989–1993)
In his role at digital strategy and technology firm, Blue State Digital in New York, it’s Matt’s job to find creative ways to help organisations better connect with their audiences. Focused on fostering relationships for the digital world, in the past, Matt has worked on presidential campaigns for Barack Obama and even helped the Labour Party develop their own online strategy.
Matt’s current role as a creative director is very much that of a generalist. “Branding is, more and more, encompassing all different parts of an organisation,” he tells us. Which is why, for Matt, building a team to work on a project is just as important as the work that follows: “On a [political] campaign, we work with designers, digital directors, policy people, and people who are in charge of taking the candidates’ hope and dreams about the way things should be and making them into simple to read policy points and manifestos.”
Asked if he would ever consider doing anything else for a career, for Matt, an underlying desire to positively impact the world is crucial: “I want to make the world a better place, and we all have to do our part in that, I’ve always felt that since I was a kid. That’s really the core reason why I do what I do.”
“In our political climate, it is more important than ever before that we make decisions that impact the world in a positive way.”
Thinking back to his time at school, Matt admits that he wasn’t a great student. Drawn to more creative subject, he later decided to study architecture at university, but felt similarly disenchanted and reluctant to continue on that particular career path, “It just didn’t sound fun to me” he remembers of hearing about the work of local architects in class.
After graduation, early jobs creating local ads for newspapers followed, before he landed a job at Frog Design in New York. But it was while working at Fenton Communications that the opportunity arose to join the design team on the Obama campaign in 2008. “I was sat next to a guy whose friend was on the Obama campaign, and who told him to be on the lookout for designers. He said that as soon as Hilary dropped out of the primaries, that I should give him a call, which I did on the day Hilary announced she wasn’t going to run for president.”
Going on to work on the 2012 re-election campaign, he recalls working on the refresh of the original Obama logo, removing the ethereal glows, and adding serifs to the Gotham Bold font for a more pared back look.
[Left] The Obama 2008 logo designed by Sol Sender; [Right] the simplified 2012 refresh
The original approved logo sheet for the 2012 Obama logo
Matt extols the power of design to help bring about real, tangible change, “In our political climate, it is more important than ever before that we take our jobs seriously, that we know our power and that we make decisions that impact the world in a positive way.
“Doctors have the hippocratic oath, and they’re taught to do no harm, and most of them follow that. I don’t think there are similar ethical situations that you learn in school – especially in architecture. You’re not told that it’s okay not to make Trump posters, if you don’t want to. For the UK and America, there is a work ethic that says, ‘You go to work, you sit down, you do your job. You please your boss.’
“Reach out to people. You’re not going to be annoying if you ask a smart question.”
“There’s not a lot of people who can do what we do, but you have to figure out where your line is. If you do not want to work for certain organisations, you need to take a stand.”
For many, reaching out to people in industry or creatives they admire can be a daunting premise. But for Matt, it’s a worthwhile endeavour, and something he advises: “Reach out to people whose work and ideas you respect and write them a note. Email them directly, or call, or send them a message on Instagram. I still do this. I wrote to Steve Jobs before he died, and he wrote back a one-word answer to me. You’re not going to be annoying if you ask a smart question.”