Sean Eno, creative director at Chimney NY, talks about being a design and animation outsider and why that spurred him on even more
As the dad of two ‘dynamic’ daughters, Chimney NY’s creative director Sean Eno compares fatherhood to work-hood, highlighting the skills of patient listening, conflict resolution and logistic management as important tenets of what he brings to the role.
A value-focused leader, Sean shares why ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ will only get you so far, his design obsessions, and why the best piece of advice he ever received is cheesy but fundamentally true.
Sean Eno/Creative Director, Chimney NY
Q> What brought you to Chimney and how has it measured up to your expectations?
Sean Eno> I came to Chimney last spring and, as with any new relationship, I was cautiously optimistic. The company wanted to expand its design and animation offerings in NY, and the group I came aboard with was a great fit. My guiding principle is: keep an open mind, focus on values, and the right doors will open. I saw a lot of opportunities: access to new capabilities, a global pool of talent, a gifted sales team. Of course, Chimney welcomed us and I’m feeling very much a part of the scene now.
Q> You come from a design background – how do you find this complements your role as creative director and your understanding of the creative process?
Sean> My formal education was in architecture, and my informal one was in film. I’m in a creative leadership role, but when I started out, I was a bit of an outsider to design and animation. In the early years, some of my creative directors liked to remind me of my lack of training in those areas. There’s nothing like a pinch of humiliation for motivation. So, I learned those things on my own because I knew that I wanted to climb that mountain. I strongly believe there’s a practical difference between ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ versus challenging myself to grow while I’m in the middle of a project. I tend toward the latter approach.
Like a lot of designers, I used to think that being a good creative director is just about having superior design sensibilities, or a strong urge to command and control. I guess that works for some creative directors, but I learned quickly that clear communication, getting your ideas across to your teams and clients, and promoting a friction-free work environment for our clients, producers, and creatives are all just as important as being a capable designer. Honestly, my ‘background’ as the dad of two dynamic daughters (patient listening, conflict resolution, logistics) is just as important as any of my other assets.
Q> What’s a project that you’re most proud of?
Sean> This past spring we delivered a project for Instagram, ‘Shop From Creators’ that drew on all our strengths – a complex shoot, carefully coordinated edit, colour grading, VFX, cleanup, CGI, UI work – the whole ball of wax. On that project, I helped out by guiding the 2D animation and finishing stage, including design, UI, and delivery. It was a great opportunity to collaborate across multiple disciplines within Chimney.
Another example of this integrated, cross-discipline approach is a series of Spectrum spots we’re working on. My role was creating plausible user interfaces for the home of the not-too-distant future.
These aren’t out in the world yet, but we recently delivered a pair of films for Doha Debates, through TED Partnerships. The pieces each hinged on a theme or ‘ethic.’ One was ‘Trust’ and the other ‘Accountability’. Because the briefs called for a certain sense of abstraction and worked at a high conceptual level, my role was to reassess some of our assumptions and habits to create really powerful pieces, and then help our talented team translate that into living animation.
Q> Any work that’s caught your eye recently?
Sean> This month, I’m completely fixated on DIA Studio’s 2018 work for Squarespace. Pure typography and animation, black and white, spot-on branding. In general, there are always good projects coming from NY studios Gretel and Trollbäck + Co. I often look to them for inspiration.
Q> What’s going on in the industry right now that’s inspiring you?
Sean> I’m really interested in direct-to-brand work. I think if we’re doing it right, we sidestep some of the friction, expense, and misgivings that can happen in the classic pitch-for-free scenario. Working directly with a client partner, you also have the chance to become an integral part of a company’s voice. It’s not a new idea, though. I think about Charles and Ray Eames and the work they created in direct collaboration with IBM CEO Thomas J. Watson Jr. and IBM’s design consultant Eliot Noyes – designers plugged into the highest decision-making level of a global company – yet creating hand-made, beautiful, modern work across multiple media. This was in the 1950s and ‘60s. My dream is to bring back that kind of direct collaboration.
Q> And what’s happening outside of the industry that excites and inspires you?
Sean> I love photography, illustration, and abstract painting. I’m always looking for inspiration in those disciplines. I saw an amazing exhibit of Garry Winogrand photos at the Brooklyn Museum this summer. It’s crucial to disconnect from the screen and the internet on a regular basis, to spend some time with unmediated artwork, to stay fresh. Sometimes just taking a ten-minute walk in the city helps me re-imagine a design problem from an entirely new angle. I have to unplug, stay human, and be perceptive.
Q> What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Sean> I’m not sure where I heard this, but I recite it to myself and innocent bystanders often: “There are many paths to the top of the mountain but the view is always the same.” It may be a little corny, but it works for me. Put another way, part of my job is to provoke my teams to come up with the best possible work they can. I think a smart creative director knows when to let that process unfold, unencumbered by ego or willfulness.
Another version of this idea comes from Andrew Carnegie. Apparently he once said he wanted his tombstone to read, “Here lies a man who knew how to enlist in his service better men than himself.” Funerary and gender issues notwithstanding, that’s a powerful concept for creatives.
Q> What are you most looking forward to as Chimney’s Creative Director?
Sean> Projects are moving so quickly now that it’s more important than ever for me to stay centered on values. I want to keep cultivating relationships with creatives on the client side of the table and keep getting better at bringing in new work for Chimney. Maybe most importantly, I want to find talented new voices to add to our design team. Having direct access to great talent is the linchpin of everything I want to do here.