Meet the Judges: Justin Peters
For more than 35 years, PRINT’s Regional Design Awards has been honoring excellence across all channels of design. Whether you’re a freelancer, part of a large agency, an in-house creative or even a student, your unique work could reign supreme in this widely celebrated competition.
Behind each RDA is a panel of A-list design experts ready to unearth fresh talent and shine a spotlight on groundbreaking ideas. In this series, we will interview each judge and take a closer look at some of the spectacular work they’ve created during their career.
Justin Peters: Official Bio
Justin has been solving complex branding challenges for top-tier consumer brands, professional services companies, nonprofit organizations, and governments around the globe for over two decades. As CSA’s Executive Creative Director, he leverages deep understanding of global markets, geographies and cultures to breathe fresh and enduring life into brands of all shapes and sizes.
Justin is a legacy member of the CSA family. He began his career here 25 years ago and has grown into the creative leadership role for signature clients, including Assurant Health, Disney, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Sesame Workshop, and The White House Millennium Council. After 15 years at CSA, Justin moved on to travel the world, serving as Global Executive Creative Director for international branding agency, Siegel+Gale. He lived, worked, and spoke across the US, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, while leading engagements with Google/Motorola, Hewlett-Packard, Ingersoll-Rand, Tata Group, Dubai Telecom, GE Real Estate, Aetna, and Rotary International.
In 2015, Justin returned home to CSA with a wealth of experience and an unshakable belief in the power of design to transform businesses, brand experiences, and people’s lives. Since his return, Justin has been integral in keeping CSA’s renowned creative work fresh and focused for clients new and old.
A native New Yorker, Justin is a lifelong member of the American Institute of Graphic Arts, and a design critic at Rhode Island School of Design and The University of the Arts. He has received multiple design awards, internationally and domestically, including the Presidential Design Award for his work with the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum.
How did you get into the design industry?
I studied Graphic Design at the University of the Arts, in Philadelphia. After graduation in 1991, I moved back to NYC. That summer I received a call from Ken Carbone asking me to come in for an interview at Carbone Smolan Agency (CSA). Both Ken and Leslie Smolan had graduated from UArts (formerly Philadelphia College of Art). Turns out that one of my design instructors had recommended Ken reach out to me. It was a great example of the UArts alumni community in action. I worked my way up the ranks at CSA over the next 14 years.
Can you tell us about the most complex branding challenge you’ve faced and how you and your team solved it?
While at Siegel+Gale, I had the distinct privilege of leading the brand development and launch of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST).
Science, engineering and higher education have emerged during the last few decades as the essential tools of diversification for any country competing globally to achieve economic growth and create high-wage jobs. Economic development based on investments in science and higher education has become nothing less than a global race.
KAUST would play a key role in the overall economic development strategy of the country—a strategy designed to address the long-term challenges facing national prosperity, such as an economy that is highly dependent on the export of oil and the fact that about 40% of Saudi Arabia’s population is under the age of 18, which poses the challenge of employment and job creation.
The challenge was to create a holistic branding program that would position KAUST as a unique community of leading scientists and engineers, independent in spirit, but united in their desire to build an unprecedented institution that advances both science and society.
The program was the most comprehensive I had worked on, and it included the following:
Deep cultural immersion
A brand positioning that would engage an international audience of top researchers, staff and students
A verbal and visual identity system that would perform in multiple languages across platforms and touchpoints while resonating with local, regional and global communities
A dual-language naming system that would include all the streets, facilities and features of an entirely new city on the shores of the Red Sea
Recruiting communications and events
Campus environmental branding and wayfinding
A major consideration for success was not only assembling a team of influential people in the education, science and technology space, but also ensuring that cultural concerns and nuances would be addressed through close partnership with local and regional thought-leaders.
True collaboration between all the disciplines and stakeholders throughout the process was essential to meet the client’s high expectations and the incredibly tight deadlines.
In 2010, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology awarded Master’s degrees to 292 pioneering graduates, 15 months after the university opened.
You’ve worked with many big brands, from Disney, Sesame Workshop and Chicago Symphony Orchestra to Google/Motorola, Hewlett-Packard and Dubai Telecom. Does any one client relationship or project stand out as a favorite? Why?
One of my favorite design opportunities was to build and launch the Moto X brand. Google had just acquired Motorola and was poised to release its first product, the Moto X phone.
Googlefying the classic Motorola identity was a really fun study in balancing brand voice, legacy and other equities. The merged brand had to be clear, compelling and credible for a tech-savvy audience that not only knows what they like, but inherently knows “Brand.”
The merger didn’t last long, but when Google sold Motorola to Lenovo, many of the identity moves we made survived.
Having traveled extensively—the U.S., Europe, the Middle East and Asia—and having developed a deep understanding of global markets, geographies and cultures, is there anything you can share that might help other designers and creative directors to breathe new life into an international brand?
If you weren’t living and working in the U.S., where would you choose to live and work?
I loved living and working in London, probably because it has a similar creative energy to New York. It’s also a great walkable city. It’s really important for me to have time and space to think outside the studio, but not quiet space—space full of stimuli. Any city that you can walk around and constantly be inspired, challenged and surprised by works for me.
What’s the biggest example you’ve witnessed of the power of design?
The launch of the refreshed Dale Carnegie Training brand was an amazing experience.
It’s rare moment when a company’s global conference features the Visual Brand Toolkit at the center of the keynote presentation. But in December 2016, that’s exactly what happened at Dale Carnegie’s Biannual Convention.
Dale Carnegie needed a verbal and visual brand refresh that could help their already- proud and deeply connected employees and trainers articulate the company’s value to younger generations around the world.
An entirely reconceived visual toolkit was at the heart of the rebrand … more color applied with purpose, more authentic and engaging photography of actual clients, trainers and training experiences; localized marketing tools and identity assets in local languages … and all of this put into action through motion and video narratives.
The brand was unveiled at the convention and received by the thousands in attendance with a joyful and tearful standing ovation. They finally had the tools to share how they felt about the brand and its role in transforming clients’ lives. It was an incredibly proud moment to be part of. A true testament to the power of design.
During your time as a design critic at Rhode Island School of Design and The University of the Arts, what has surprised you most? (e.g., anything about design education or today’s students?)
I’ve been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to work with design students around the world, but interestingly, my ongoing collaboration with NYU Stern School of Business comes to mind.
I’ve been working closely with adjunct associate professor Fran Gormley, who leads the Branding + Innovation Lab for advanced MBA students seeking real-world consulting experience. The Lab works with clients including MasterCard, Time Inc. and National Geographic on real-world strategic marketing challenges.
Over the past four semesters I’ve consulted with the Lab, including embedding designers from our studio into the student working teams. The designers provide the vital bridge from strategic and conceptual thinking to engaging and actionable visualization.
Not sure if it’s a trend, but it should be. Having design and design thinking as an integrated component of education, regardless of level or focus, would make for much clearer and compelling thinking and output. Starting with MBA student seems like a natural starting place.
What are you most proud of when it comes to your life and/or career?
In 2008 I relocated from Siegel+Gale’s London office to Dubai to help build the agency’s Middle East presence. While based in the Middle East, I was immersed in cultures and business environments that were incredibly educational and inspiring.
After nearly two years working in and around Dubai for clients based in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, and being able to visit amazing countries like Jordan, Syria and Egypt, I returned to New York with incredibly useful international experience and a new role as global executive creative director.