Creative Characters Ep. 8: John Norman.

At a certain point, you can’t teach hunger. You can’t teach curiosity. You can’t teach that little voice inside you that says, ‘just do that thing.’ It’ll be cool, you know.

John Norman.

On Creative Characters, we meet the people and personalities behind the brands, campaigns, and designs we love. You can listen to the podcast on AppleSpotifyGoogle Podcasts, and wherever quality podcasts are available.

Our guest in episode eight was John Norman, a celebrated visual storyteller and former Chief Creative Officer of world-renowned creative agencies like Translation, The Martin Agency, and most recently, Havas Chicago.

John began his career in the 1980’s in Dallas, studying under typographic luminary Rob Lawton at East Texas State University, along with other brilliant designers, which informed his decades-long appreciation for the art form. “A lot of the Texas creative industry taught at that school to feed Dallas. There’s a lot of hungry kids, because of where they grew up, and back then there was a lot of tension in the world. When people were going to that school, in particular, they were very hungry. That school gave me a lot to use in my professional life.” 

And his professional life has proven to be rather prolific. Early in his career, John took a role within Nike’s in-house agency, and was instrumental in developing the famed Air Huarache brand. He spent time at other brands like Benneton before entering the advertising industry at Wieden+Kennedy in Amsterdam. 

“A fantastic part of working in Europe was that a lot of designers learned type [in the traditional] way. And so at a young age, art directors and even writers went to fine art school or design school. They didn’t go to advertising school. And it’s a big difference. They got, you know, human truth.”

And during his time there, John worked for iconic brands like Coca-Cola, leading the development of the “Happiness Factory.” He describes the project as “the TV spot launching Coca-Cola’s ‘Coke Side of Life’ global campaign. The 60 second commercial opens with a man putting a coin into a Coca-Cola vending machine and follows the journey of the coin into an animated fantasy land full of wondrous characters and spectacular landscapes. The brand communication for Coke Side of Life positioned Coke to find its voice again and revive the brand as a global icon.”

In our episode, John speaks about another career-defining project that he worked on, Nike’s World Cup spot in 2010, titled “Write the Future.” The team worked with famed director Alejandro González Iñárritu on a campaign that illustrated the big fears and aspirations of football’s elite. 

“The idea was so simple because we said we have these athletes that have incredible ambitions, we have all of these cultural insights, and we’re just going to play them out. Because in a split second, you can be a ‘hero’ or a ‘zero.’”

 

Campaign US did a really lovely interview with John that captures more of the visuals behind some of his favorite work, check that out here. And please listen to our episode below, where Monotype’s Creative Type Director Charles Nix and John dive much deeper into building a career in creative work, telling a brand story, and where design is heading in a hopeful future.