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Meet Downtown Los Angeles Design Director: Dan Madden

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dan Madden.

As an East Coast transplant, Dan has a sensibility and passion he lends to the projects and companies he gets involved with. He works in Downtown Los Angeles for the German-based design agency Edenspiekermann, creating digital products and campaigns for some of the world’s most well-known brands, including Red Bull, HelloGiggles and Mozilla. As Design Director, Dan oversees the design of all Red Bull TV platforms. When he’s not thinking about design at Edenspiekermann, you can find him hanging out with his wife and two-year old son under the red umbrella at the beach or re-reading a book from his vast design library.

Dan, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?

I grew up in Whippany, New Jersey, doing two things: playing volleyball and designing t-shirts with magic markers. I went to college at the University of Notre Dame to study “designing t-shirts with magic markers” and in doing so I learned about branding, interactive media, and designing for social good. I was also really interested in reading about design and typography, so when I graduated I went to Chicago to become a famous graphic designer — just like the ones I was always reading about.

Initially, I worked at some cool, niche branding studios and digital agencies. I also spent time designing letterpress posters at the famous Hatch Show Print in Nashville. Then in 2005, I made my move to Los Angeles to pursue a pro beach volleyball career. While I waited for volleyball fame, I supported myself with freelance design work and eventually started an apparel company called Kinda Good, which evolved from a series of silly viral videos to become one of the biggest brands in beach volleyball.

Eventually, I left that world to further my graphic design career, and now I focus on the visual design and user experience of digital products. I’ve worked on big-ticket websites and apps for clients such as Disney, FX, and Microsoft. I was drawn to work at Edenspiekermann in part because of their bold design philosophies, but also because our founder Erik Spiekermann’s book Stop Stealing Sheep and Find Out How Type Works was required reading in college. I love working in an agency that focuses on building digital products. Currently, I oversee the design of all Red Bull TV platforms.

Has it been a smooth road?

I don’t think I’ve followed a typical career trajectory relative to many of my colleagues. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit, and have spent a lot of time outside of a typical agency model building relationships with my own clients. Initially, it was challenging to get back into a typical agency role with large teams and many stakeholders. But that’s why Edenspiekermann is such a great fit for me. We work in smaller teams, hand-in-hand with our clients on a daily basis. By limiting team sizes, we’re able to communicate efficiently and work quickly to solve problems. It’s a great blend of design, technology and creativity.

So, what should we be on the lookout for, what’s next in store for you?

I enjoy pushing our clients to think beyond what they’ve seen before. I want our work to be bold. Just as a great movie is a perfect blend of truth and spectacle, great design is the perfect combination of the familiar and extraordinary. While the medium may change — from a poster to a mixed-reality interface — the problem-solving will always rely on core design principles.

I look forward to continued collaboration with clients who challenge us to learn and push the envelope to bring our crazy ideas to life. No matter what, I want the products I design to be used and loved.

Let’s dig a little deeper into your story. What was the hardest time you’ve had?

While my work is incredibly rewarding, it comes with the usual challenges of agency life such as making the right decisions, even when unpopular, and sticking to your principles while managing differing perspectives and opinions.

I found myself in a particularly sticky situation a few years ago when I believed a team member from a different discipline was creating unnecessary work for the team and making questionable decisions on behalf of the company without guidance.

This is something that cannot happen. When working in a small team, everyone has a stake in the work. It’s necessary to frame the problem and solution so the team understands the common goal we’re working towards. Without full transparency, communication breaks down and eventually erodes the foundation of knowledge the team needs to work most efficiently. In this scenario, we eventually created a solution as a team that was effective internally and externally for the client.

What about “Wow-moments” – any moments that stick out? Any moments when you felt like you had made it?

My career trajectory hasn’t been linear, but that is also what has made it so rewarding. One of the more exciting moments in my career happened when—fresh out of college—I received a call from my alma mater asking me to redesign a website for their innovation-research department. And working for the agency founded by one of my design heroes is something that was never even on my radar until it happened. They say you should never meet your heroes, but meeting Erik lived up to the hype; he’s a brilliant designer and a genuine, thoughtful guy who works tirelessly to create groundbreaking work.

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