‘I had an old studio CEO say I was 'too quirky' once’
In a fast-paced industry, Alessandra Lariu isn’t afraid of change. In fact, having moved from her role as Advertising Creative Director at frog design to work as Experience Director for start-up companies, she positively embraces it.
As co-founder of SheSays – aimed at advancing women in digital, with a community of more than 30,000 creatives around the world – she also helps to make change happen.
The President of the Digital Design Jury at the 2017 D&AD Festival tells us about the ‘lonely moments’ in her career – and how she learned to embrace her quirkiness.
Tell us a little about your first steps into the industry.
I was in design, then moved on to advertising, then moved back to design-led innovation, creating new products and services. But I actually started my career as a developer, then became an interaction developer. When I asked for a promotion from senior interaction designer, my boss said ‘so you want to be an Art Director?’ I said ‘YES!’ But I didn’t really know what that was. It just sounded good.
Tell us about your first big project.
It was a CD-ROM tour guide of Paris. I absolutely loved it. How many people, at the beginning of their career, get to spend 15 days wandering around the streets of Paris, all-expenses paid? The second was a website for book publishers Thames & Hudson. And I got to rub shoulders with David Hockney, which is as great as spending 15 days in Paris.
How did you make the move into experience strategy and design, and did it feel like a natural progression?
It was a very difficult move at the start. I was using about five per cent of what I’d learnt in the previous 12 years of my working life. Now, what I love about experience strategy – as opposed to advertising – is that we are more focused on solving real business problems and identifying real human needs. From a work perspective, it’s a very different culture and mindset. There are fewer egos.
How have you observed the role of a creative changing over the years?
The user has more power. Brand interactions are becoming ephemeral experiences. In today’s world, where high-impact communications are being replaced by continuous exchanges, we need to carefully orchestrate how a brand can authentically connect with a person across an entire ecosystem. And that’s no easy feat.
Did you show creative ambitions as a child?
I was always entrepreneurial. Aged seven, I decided to make perfume, which basically consisted of adding my grandma’s lavender flowers to a bottle with alcohol. I also made my own cartoon character. I was always a ‘maker’ and wanted to experience all stages of a project. Even designing really bad labels for the worst perfume ever made…
Describe your workspace.
My workspace is my laptop and my notebook – and that’s it. I work from different spaces, sit at different desks. Even when I had a desk, I didn’t sit at it. I don’t like fixed spaces. I truly believe that no one will have desks in the future.
If you could pick one campaign or idea you wish you had come up with, what would it be?
As a judge at this year’s D&AD Festival, I really liked Trov [an on-demand insurance app]. It’s not only a new, seamless service experience for an area no one likes – insurance. It’s also rethinking the business model for the category. There was only one way to get insurance – now there’s this.
Have you had ideas you’ve been enthusiastic about but have struggled to make happen?
All the time. In my career I’ve had tonnes of ‘lonely moments’ – things I proposed that, at the time, nobody understood. Then, five years later, I see it happening.
What do you think will be some of the big trends in design and marketing in the future?
At this year’s D&AD we’ve seen more virtual reality, but I’d predict that there will be more artificial intelligence, primarily expressed through conversational interfaces.
Tell me about SheSays – what inspired you to set it up?
My co-founder, former D&AD President Laura Jordan-Bambach, and I were always the only two women speaking at conferences and judging awards. We started SheSays to change this ratio. I feel so happy to have helped many women, some of whom are now fellow judges. All the SheSays chapter leads are amazing women who are instrumental to provoking changes in their respective cities.
Do you feel women are underrepresented in your industry?
Yes – worldwide. But in some countries the percentage is super low. We just started a chapter in the Middle East that will hopefully bring some transformation to the industry.
Do you believe the design and marketing industry can, or should, engender change?
It is a responsibility of the design industry to advance the human experience with brands and between humans. I believe it’s possible – and beneficial – to businesses to simultaneously improve the way we live and make money.
Having been born in the Amazon jungle, grown up in Rio, lived in Europe and now based in Brooklyn, how has that immersion in different parts of the world influenced you creatively?
I’m not sure if it’s the country mix but I’ve always had a different perspective on everything. The way I lead is different, the way I present is different, my relationship with clients is different. Sometimes that works in my favour but sometimes it doesn’t.
I had an old studio CEO say I was ‘too quirky’ once. I used to mask some of my personality traits. But I don’t do that anymore. Repressing your true self never works, at least not for me. I see that happen a lot with women in particular. But in all honesty, we should not be changing for the status quo. The status quo should be changing for us.
If you had to pick an alternative career, what would it be?
I have designed and built a house from scratch, so I guess that makes me a frustrated architect! I also designed my own bed when I was 16 and had it made.
What advice would you give to your younger self, just starting out in the industry?
Join SheSays. Get a good mentor. Express your hybridity and exercise multiple skills. Don’t give up. Be generous. Listen to people. Give before you take. Have fun and enjoy your life.