5 World-Class Creatives Celebrate Good Design

Today is the day that the HOW International Design Awards closes for the year. Not long after, winners from around the world across a multitude of categories will be selected by this year’s world-class judges:

Pum Lefebure, Design Army
Leland Maschmeyer, Chobani
Su Mathews Hale, Lippincott

Vanessa Foley
Brian Collins, COLLINS


To celebrate deadline day, we invited our judges to share with us what surprises them about art and design these days, whose work they’re most enjoying and what they believe is the key to good design.

Celebrate Design: Thoughts from 5 Creative Leaders

HOW: What surprises you most about art and/or design these days?

Lefebure: Art always has the power to surprise me, because I never experience a piece of art the same way. I recently went to The Met and saw a Van Gogh painting I’ve seen a thousand times, but this time I had a completely new experience. The next time, I know I’ll see something completely different again. There’s a reason why art has the power to transcend time—it has the ability to mesmerize and draw viewers in. What surprises me about art is that art surprises me every single time. That’s why I don’t look at design for inspiration; I always look at outside sources. I wish design had that same ability, which is why I’m interested in creating work with an element of surprise. The goal is to make people stop and study, to find new details, and to look at design like it’s a piece of art. At Design Army, we always try to create work that has the same power as a classic piece of art—power to mesmerize, power to engage, power to surprise.

pum lefeburePum Lefebure in her studio among the art she collects, which includes a Massimo Vignelli calendar.

Maschmeyer: I’m enjoying the resurgence of the folk art aesthetic. I see it all over graphic design: Atelier Bingo, Valentine Reinhardt, Jayde Fish, Jacob de Graaf, Nous Vous Collective, Louise Lockhart, Pat Bradbury, etc. It’s beautiful and welcome. I think it’s also part of a larger trend that is rejecting the austerity of techno-driven minimalism. Included in this collected trend is the desire for “authenticity,” the Food Movements return to the dirt, the aesthetic of the Bernie Sanders campaign, domination of street fashion, finstagrams, fetishising fakes/knock-offs as a new kind of subversive craft (see Balenciaga IKEA bags). It’s a lot of fun. 

Mathews Hale: My design team shares weekly inspiration, which includes art, design and just about anything that grabs our attention. I’m often surprised at how few of the things shared are new inspiring designs. Most of the inspiration is art, exhibitions or pop culture. There seems to be a lack of inspiration or things that “surprise” in the world of design these days.

Foley: I think the thing I find most surprising is the constantly fresh ideas I see in the creative community. Like most people, the majority of work I see from other artists, illustrators and designers is via social media. I follow hundreds of incredibly talented, hard-working creatives and get to see new work from them on a weekly basis, and I always find something new and inspirational in the work they produce.

Collins: The damn sameness of everything. In a world of almost limitless possibility, designers are copying each other​ too much.

The growing number of designers who confuse fame for mastery. Having a hundred thousand followers on Instagram is fantastic. But does it mean your work is great? Perhaps. But not necessarily.

So it’s good—and sort of surprising—to see so many young designers seeking out global competitions again. The ADC Young Guns Awards just tripled their entries this year. That’s unheard of.​ ​It’s also a promising trend as it provides our community with some needed agnosticism in judging our creative work.

HOW: Is there a specific piece of art or design you’ve come across recently and thought wow? If so, what was it?

Lefebure: The best exhibition I’ve seen this year is Balenciaga’s installation at the Musée Bourdele in Paris. The exhibition resonates with classic black garments displayed alongside large sculptures and various artistic mediums. The juxtaposition of the garments and the art is incredibly powerful, with the black-on-black dialogue mixed with early 20th century sculpture. The variations of black are so fascinating, and I love this type of design work that has limitations. How many different things can be done with the classic black dress? It’s all about the form, the stitching, the construction—the garment becomes a sculpture within itself. You don’t often see dresses from that perspective, and the contrast created with large art pieces is powerful and stunning.

celebrate designPhotos by Lefebure, @pumlefebure

Maschmeyer: This isn’t a new piece of design. It is from 2011. But I came across it recently. That year, New York City’s American Folk Art Museum held an incredible exhibition called Infinite Variety: Three Centuries of Red and White QuiltsHeld at the Park Avenue Armory, the event design was epic and made a potentially dusty and boring subject feel contemporary and breathtaking. 

Mathews Hale: Woody Pirtle recently started posting archives of his past client work on his Instagram account. The work he did for Amnesty International is as powerful today as it was when he first did it.


One of many images for Amnesty International

A post shared by Woody Pirtle (@woodypirtle) on

Foley: One of my favorite illustrators is my fellow VACVVM member Teagan White. She is a great example of an artist consistently bringing something new to the table. Her work explores every facet of the natural world, from deathly goings-on in the shadowy undergrowth to gorgeously joyful children’s illustrations of little critters romping in the woods, while always keeping to her signature style of illustration and stunning eye for color. 

White’s album artwork for Amber Edgar‘s single “Honey & Sorrow”  | Source: teaganwhite.com/honeyandsorrow.html

Collins: Yes. ​Two places.

The Clam Shack​. It’s a tiny, old, shingle-covered wood shack sitting at the entrance of Falmouth Harbor off the coast of Massachusetts. A slice of 1940s Cape Cod that somehow got trapped in a space-time continuum bubble. Order at the counter, carry a plate of fried clams and french fries upstairs to the roof and watch the boats sail out to Nantucket Bay as a cool wind blows in from the Atlantic. Every single element—the sign, the menu board, the tables, the dock, the sailboats, the music, the s​mell​​​ and the food—is all ruthlessly designed for one function: to make a summer afternoon perfect.

​R/GA. T​he​ design of their massive new office in New York City​ is extraordinary​​. It​ embodies ​one future not only of design, technology and communication, but ​a ​promising, optimistic ​future of working itself.

HOW: Favorite artist and/or designer?

Lefebure: My favorite artist is Willem de Kooning, whose work is a form of abstract expressionism. I think I learned color from studying his work. He creates the most interesting, complex color palettes, and he expresses color so fearlessly. You can see the energy and intention within each of his brush strokes. I also love that it doesn’t matter if it’s a big or small painting you’re looking at. He approaches every piece with the same intensity, and because of that energy, he’s able to create something powerful. That’s our intention at Design Army as well. Whether big small, we approach every project with tremendous care and passion.

Painting by Willem de Kooning

Maschmeyer: This is a hard question because it changes all the time. Currently, Virgil Bloh captures my imagination.


“a handmade headache”

A post shared by @virgilabloh on

Mathews Hale: I’m obsessed with Christoph Niemann. A designer, illustrator, artist—his work is simple, inspiring and clever. It always makes me smile.

celebrate designOne of Niemann’s animations for the Obama Foundation on “Civic Participation at Home and Abroad.” | Source: christophniemann.com/portfolio

Foley: My favorite artist is the New Zealand bird artist Raymond Harris Ching, as I am (primarily) a bird artist also I feel his work feeds and inspires me in a very direct way, and I’m always looking to his work as a yardstick to measure my own. 

There are many artists out there who paint incredibly well and whose work could be mistaken for photos; although I’m in awe of the skill such artists show, I feel their work is more about the considerable skill of the artist and less about the bird. But with Raymond Harris Ching, I feel the secret life of every bird in his paintings. The work is all about the subject’s character and personality, with exaggerated poses, unusual interactions and even occasional speech bubbles that bring life and vibrancy to his unsurpassable work. 

Collins: Corita Kent. Ray Eames. Rebeca Mendez. Jennifer Morla. Robin Day. Mary Blair. Diane Arbus. Nan Goldin. Mary Ellen Mark. Kara Walker. Louise Nevelson.

If you don’t know them, you should.

Jennifer Morla’s Mexican Museum poster, the work of which she is most proud, she told PRINT.

HOW: What’s the key to good design or artwork?

Lefebure: Good design should please the eyes and activate the mind. To me, that’s the main difference between art and design. Art is dependent on your personal experience—I could look at a painting and fall in love, while someone else might feel nothing. The purpose of design is to create some kind of activation. Of course the work has to be visually stimulating, but it also has to have the ability to create a reaction. Good design must have the power to seduce; it has to be strong enough to evoke some kind of emotion.

Maschmeyer: 1) A concept. 2) A thorough knowledge of the design history upon which you’ll inevitably draw.

Mathews Hale: Good design has an idea, with flawless execution.

Foley: I think perhaps for each person it will be slightly different, but for myself I find balance and organization very pleasing. I’m naturally drawn to work that shows great care in composition and a unity of color within the piece. 

Collins: Th​ere are three.

​1. Listening for what people are not saying. They often want, need or hope for something they have no idea how to articulate. You’ll only hear it if you’re paying attention.

​2. Finishing something early. And then changing it. And changing it again. And then again, before a deadline. Make it new. Make it better. And then, make it new, again. Do not stop.

3. Avoid thinking of what you do as “problem solving.” That’s an old, meaningless trope. The future is coming at us so fast now that if all you’re doing is “solving a problem,” then you’re already too late. Push out ahead—look, explore, anticipate. Be a problem seeker. Invent the future. Don’t simply react to it.

HOW: How do you stay confident in your creative decisions?

Lefebure: I’ve always believed that the eyes must travel and constantly experience new things. I study art religiously, because that’s where I draw inspiration. Whether it’s Africa, or Paris, or Greece—when you see new things, you’re able to bring elements of those experiences into your work. As you become more experienced and bolder, you stop giving a shit about other people’s opinions of your work. You realize that you know what you like, and you know what you don’t like, so there’s no reason to follow trends. I’ve developed the vocabulary of Design Army over the years, and I know who we are as an agency. At the same time, we continue to be innovative and constantly move forward. At the end of the day, it’s about trusting your intuition and following your gut feeling, regardless of what other people think. What we’re selling to the client is intangible—it’s not 1+1=2; it’s 1+1=5. To be a successful designer, confidence is absolutely crucial.

photos by pum lefeburePhotos by Lefebure, @pumlefebure

Maschmeyer: I put my head down and work the work from every possible angle until I erase 90% of my dread. But that last 10% sticks around because you never know what’s going to happen when you present the work or make it public. 

Mathews Hale: I try not to read too many design blogs. Most of them are filled with mindless chatter and not real critical critiques. I also surround myself with talented, creative people.

Foley: This is definitely something I do struggle with. Mostly I don’t feel confident at all, and for a long time that was something that was a huge hinderance to my work, as I would discard piece after piece I wasn’t happy with. Over time and with much perseverance, I learned to fix problem-pieces instead of simply starting over. This really is the only way to learn what isn’t working and more importantly why it isn’t working! The confidence and experience gained from completing a painting or drawing you’ve been on such a journey with is absolutely priceless and something that will serve you well in future work.

Collins: By looking backward into the past. And looking forward into the future. But never looking over my shoulder.

And, of course, it helps to be surrounded by the best people I’ve ever worked with in my life. They never fail.

But if I get really rattled, I whistle​. And it’s often ​​this song from Roger & Hammerstein’s The King and I, a musical my ​Aunt Eileen took me to when I was eight​.

Seriously. As corny as that is, I whistle.

About the Judges of the HOW International Design Awards

pum lefeburePum Lefebure is the co-founder and chief creative officer of Design Army in Washington, DC. With an entrepreneurial edge, the Thailand native brings global sensibility to American design. Through distinctive creative direction, she dreams up high-profile campaigns for clients such as the Academy Awards, Bloomingdale’s, The Ritz Carlton and Pepsi. Her creative brilliance sets the agency apart, driving their reputation as leading industry trendsetters.

From Copenhagen to Beijing, Pum speaks and judges design competitions internationally. She uses her entrepreneurial voice to represent women in global campaigns, such as H&M’s She’s A Lady. She’s also been featured in Forbes, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, Elle and recently named Adweek’s Creative100.

Leland maschmeyerLeland Maschmeyer is the chief creative officer of Chobani, which Fast Company ranked as the ninth most innovative company in the world and one of “5 Brands That Matter Now.’”

Previously, he co-founded and led Collins—a design consultancy Forbes praised as defining the future of brand building. Adweek recognized Maschmeyer as a “Young Influential,” Campaign honored him as a “Global 30 Under 30,” and Graphic Design USA selected him as a ‘”Designer to Watch.” He has also served on the AIGA/NY Board of Directors and has taught in the SVA MFA Program since 2009.  

su mathews haleSu Mathews Hale is a senior partner in design based in Lippincott’s San Francisco office.

For more than two decades, she has thrived at the intersection of graphic design and brand strategy. Using the power of design to develop inspiring creations while solving business problems, she has worked with a broad range of notable clients including Chick-fil-A, eBay, Hayneedle, Hershey’s, Hyatt, IHG, Liz Claiborne, New York Public Library, RadioShack, Red Robin, Samsung, Shutterstock, the U.S. Department of State and Walmart.

She currently serves as the president of the AIGA, where she has spearheaded Women Lead, a committee dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women in design, cultivating awareness of gender-related issues, and connecting women both within and beyond the design industry.

Vanessa FoleyVanessa Foley is a professional artist based in Newcastle, England. Having always lived in the city, which she loves, her heart still lies in the wild Northumberland countryside that surrounds her bustling town. Her love of nature and art are inseparable, and she could never imagine one without the other.

Foley regularly shows her work in notable galleries in the UK and America, and has her work in private collections worldwide. In 2017 she was very proud to be invited to be the newest member of The VACVVM, an international cult of illustration co-founded by Aaron Horkey and Mitch Putnam.

brian collinsBrian Collins is chief creative officer of COLLINS, an independent brand & experience design company in New York City and San Francisco, California. Throughout his career, Brian and his team have won every major creative award.

Recently, Fast Company, Wired, and Design Week chose COLLINS’ global redesign of Spotify as the year’s best, and Forbes called their interactive music video for Azealia Banks “the future of music videos.” In January 2017, COLLINS was named by Forbes as one of the companies transforming the future of brand building.

Brian has been a professor in the graduate program of the School of Visual Arts in New York City since 2001. He is also a director of The One Club for Creativity, the world’s foremost nonprofit organization recognizing creative excellence in design and advertising.

Feeling inspired?

The judges of the HOW International Design Awards await your work.

Enter the HOW International Design Awards by 11:59pm EDT on Monday, Sept. 11.