Lee Gullet joined team LaFleur in July as the creative director, focusing on bringing cohesion and a streamlined process to creative projects. Lee sat down with LaFleur over video chat to talk about the design process, discovering your true calling, and what life is like as an empty nester.
LaFleur: Thanks for sitting down with me! Can you tell me about what you do at LaFleur?
Lee Gullet: As the creative director at LaFleur, my main job is to ensure that creative deliverables are being completed at the highest level that we can achieve as a team. It’s also my job to mentor the designers. I’ve managed writers and designers in previous positions because it’s such a collaborative effort between the two disciplines. There will even be a lead copy person in some agencies, which we have here, which is awesome. I’ve also done a ton of writing because people don’t always have the luxury of having a writer on staff. They either hire someone for the heavy lifting, or they write it themselves and cross their fingers.
LF: I feel like it can be pretty easy to fudge having a copywriter or designer, depending on what you have access to. If you have Photoshop, you’re a designer, and if you have a keyboard, you’re a writer. But it is helpful to have both.
LG: Yeah, I often tell designers ‘we’re playing a different game these days, because you can go on the internet and get a great template. Our clients expect a high level of quality, because they can get designs themselves, too. We need to design even better than that.
LF: Do you suddenly have a different relationship with clients when you both know they can just get a slick-looking, cookie-cutter template?
LG: Not as much as I thought it would be. Most of the clients we work with need creative strategy, which you just don’t get from a template. They also tend to be larger clients as well. They chose to work with an agency, so you know they respect the process. They want something really customized.
LF: What do you wish folks knew about working with a designer that they might not be mindful of?
LG: That there is a lot of strategy behind design. We’re not just designing for design’s sake. We need to meet their goals and objectives, so we can go back to the customer and say, “we talked about achieving A, B, and C,” and then show them how we’re designing to meet their specific goals.
LF: Without a concrete design strategy, it sometimes seems like folks just wanted things to look good. They’re not considering how the design could help them achieve their goals.
LG: Sure. You always have those clients who say, “I’ll know it when I see it.” You have to get as much information out of them as you can. Clients can make better choices based on your rationale, and it really takes away a lot of the editing and feedback process. And it helps those strategic decision-makers do their jobs even better.
LF: Do you ever give people options that you know they won’t like, so that you can help them figure out what they don’t want?
LG: Well, it depends on your process. But if there’s something you don’t like, don’t include it, because more often than not, that’s the one your client will choose! We try and give them three outstanding options with a different flavor and flair based on our rationale.
LF: How do you help teams stay focused on those goals?
LG: I’ve had a few positions where there was a lot of re-work and not getting it done right, but they weren’t using a creative brief to help achieve a deliverable. Every designer catches themselves going on tangents because we have creative brains. So, I tell the designers I work with to put the objectives on sticky notes next to them, just to keep them focused and from going down those bunny trails. We can keep those out-there creative ideas in our back pockets.
LF: Did you ever consider going the fine art route so you could follow your intuition, or was it always design for you?
LG: I didn’t know what graphic design was for a long time. I took a lot of art classes in high school because I gravitated in that direction, and then when I got to college, I was an art major. When I realized what graphic design was, it was like, “this is it.”
LF: I think so many people have that moment in college where they’re finally exposed to the opportunities that make sense for them.
LG: I grew up in a tiny town, so I wasn’t aware of a lot of things, especially stuff that the big city brings, especially when it comes to design. Getting to college helped me be aware of a lot of things.
LF: Sounds like you learned a lot very quickly.
LG: I actually left a job once because I wasn’t learning anymore. People were like, “what are you doing?” But people were looking at me as the expert, and I knew I wasn’t. For example, I didn’t know a ton about branding. But I had just helped launch an incredibly successful pharmaceutical branding project through Walmart. That gave me the a-ha moment that I needed to get out of there and learn more about branding so I could justify all my choices.
LF: That’s a bold move! What did you do after you quit?
LG: I met someone from Toronto, and he became an incredible mentor and boss for me in that area.
LF: Mentors are so important. I always feel a little uncomfortable when I’m the smartest person in the room. I want to be surrounded by experts.
LG: Some people can really command a room, too. You can learn a lot from different people, but you can’t get the magic they have in commanding a room. And that was Paul. He would call me every day to teach me.
LF: When you’re not developing creative assets and coaching creative team members here at LaFleur, what can we find you doing?
LG: Well, life has changed quite a bit because raising my kids was a big part of my life. Now that they’re moved out, it’s been a big shift. My wife and I have time for each other.
LF: What new adventures have you gone on as an empty-nester?
LG: My wife and I bought a camper, and we’ve been doing a lot of camping. It’s been beneficial during COVID because we can take the camper to Grand Haven or Holland and get on the beach 50 yards away from everybody else. We soak up the sun and watch the parents do what we had to do when our kids were little.
LF: That’s nice. Everything is coming full circle.
LG: I also used to golf a lot. I want to get back to doing that next summer.
LF: You should talk to Eric about that; he’s a big golfer.
LG: My other goal is to organize our basement. My son pulled a bedframe out of storage when he moved out, and it started a domino effect of organization that we haven’t quite finished yet.
LF: Sounds like if anyone’s up for that kind of job, it’s you!
LG: Let’s hope so!