Creating Something Out of Nothing

As I took a somewhat unorthodox path to our profession, I never knew what the rules were. I didn't receive the design “manual” as I never studied design in school. I think that allowed me the ignorance to stick my nose in places that some designers didn't usually go—into the business side of the job. I spent time with the sales team, the marketing team, legal and the senior leaders of the companies I worked at. I learned everything I could from them. I wasn't afraid to say, “I don't know much about that, can you teach me?” The result being that design was allowed into places it usually wasn't invited. Design became a partner in the business and not just an executor of creative briefs.

My most memorable and rewarding moments came from being part of a larger team where design was just one of the partners in the overall success of a program. By participating at the design level in a large multi-pronged product launch, it was obvious that although design is many times the most visible part of the launch, it was only successful if all of the other pieces—sales, marketing, PR, etc.—were executed at the same success level.

I never knew what the rules were. I didn't receive the design “manual” as I never studied design in school. I think that allowed me the ignorance to stick my nose in places that some designers didn't usually go.

One of the big rewards has come from creating a culture where the passion for design is allowed to incubate and grow—by holding weekly design sessions, annual design camps, speaker series and, most importantly, fostering a culture that allows for creativity to flourish. I remember going out and buying stereo systems for each of the design pods at Nike and then having them all playing music when the creatives came to work the next morning. Or having a wall of high school photos so that we all appreciated the “creative” paths we have come from. Or having two turntables (and a microphone) and stacks of vinyl for ongoing music listening and impromptu DJ sessions. All these things help to create a place where passion can be freely expressed.

The red Lego brick inspired Hainsworth's design of The Lego Store.

We create something out of nothing. I remember standing in a warehouse space with a small team and saying, OK, we need to design a Lego store. What should it look like, feel like, sound like? And so we started. We taped off a bare concrete floor and stared at it and tried to envision the end result. We went back to the simplicity of the brand and came up with a pure concept using a simple, red, 2x4 stud Lego brick as the foundation to design a store that exuded endless play. I'll never forget the feeling of staring at that taped off floor and then, some months later, watching people pour into the first store in Germany for the opening and interacting with the space in wonder. Now, as those stores are all over the world, and I watch both children and adults play in them, I remember the power that we have as designers: to create visible, wondrous things that have the ability to deliver messages and to move people.

Take advantage of... everything. I am not a graphic designer or a writer or an environmental designer or a retail designer or an interactive designer or an art director or a marketer. I am all of them because I am a creative. I know how to think. I know how to reason out problems. And I know how to tell a story with whatever medium is appropriate to create wondrous results.

About the Author:


Before founding the creative juggernaut known as Tether, Stanley was VP Global Creative of Starbucks where he oversaw all creative aspects of the brand – from new products, packaging systems and seasonal promotions to brand campaigns and advertising.  Stanley also spent twelve years at Nike as a Creative Director working on everything from product launches to the Olympics.  After Nike, he moved to Denmark to join the Lego Company as their Global Creative Director where he directed a total visual overhaul of the brand from top to bottom, including packaging, the web, retail and brand stores.