Droga5's New York office, photograph by Nicholas Prakas

For several years now, Droga5 has topped Working Not Working’s annual survey ranking the companies where creatives most want to work. For many designers, the draw lies in the agency’s access to an incredibly diverse client list. Where else can you get the chance to collaborate with the New York Times on its fight against fake news while also dipping your toe into MailChimp brand hoaxes and crafting national campaigns for Covergirl?

Droga5’s reputation certainly proceeds itself. But what is it actually like to work there, and how does its founder and creative chief recommend designers get their foot in the door? We caught up with David Droga to see what advice he could offer.

What do you look for when hiring new designers at Droga5?

The primary thing we look for are people who are obsessed with things outside of the industry. A lot of designers can be very knowledgable about everything that’s going on in the industry, and it can become really navel-gazing. I want people to be aware of everything from politics and current affairs to pop culture. It makes our industry more relevant and interesting.

A real key for us is that we don’t want to hire the same type of person over and over again. We need a diversity of talent across the board, so that means diversity in background, race, gender, religion—everything. That just makes a more interesting tapestry of creativity. Nobody wants to have 200 of the same people doing things the same way. That’s why so many ads look the same, because people are putting the same type of people on the projects.

When does a portfolio stand out to you?

Assuming the talent is already there—so a great eye and understanding of the principles of design—I always love when they include brands and briefs that I haven’t seen before. I also like when design has a purpose to it and it’s more than just aesthetically pleasing. I like substance and emotional depth. I care about empathy just as much as I care about creativity.

“That’s why so many ads look the same—because people are putting the same type of people on the projects.”

How does Droga5 pair its projects with its creative teams?

We try to make sure that everyone always has something on their table that is a new opportunity. When a team instigates a campaign, they earn the right to stay on it for a while. But we also make sure that everyone can move around and add their take to something. That’s really healthy for the morale of the agency.

What’s your advice for creating an aesthetic that can live across multiple mediums, traversing print, film, and web?

It depends on what the task is. But from a design point of view, it’s often about something that is simple, authentic, and consistent. Something that is restrained and not designed with one medium in mind, so that when you stretch it, it doesn’t become a compromised version of the original intent. Consistency is powerful.

The idea has to be the thing that you start with before you get into all the details. You need to ask, “What do I want people’s reaction to be when they engage with this? Is this something that’s relevant and authentic for the task at hand?” Then, you can create something that is magical and flexible.

Particularly in social media contexts, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to tell when something is an ad. What are the new ethical considerations for creating advertisements within these new media spaces?

With anything new, there always comes a dark underbelly that people will exploit. If your intention is to trick people into thinking that your ad is something that it’s not, you’re off to a bad start. Just because you can advertise somewhere doesn’t mean you should. Instead of creating a “gotcha” moment, it’s important to ask: “Is there a relevant reason for us to be in this place? How can we make it rewarding for someone who’s visiting?”

If your intention is to trick people into thinking that your ad is something that it’s not, you’re off to a bad start

I always rally against the word “disruption.” I don’t think our brief is to disrupt. I want to create stuff that’s engaging and worthwhile. You’ve got to start with whatever brand or message you’re trying to communicate, and ask, “Why would anyone beyond you and your client care?”

When you say just because you can advertise somewhere doesn’t mean you should—where do you draw the line with that?

When your ad is just adding clutter and pollution, and when you’re hoping that someone will just come across it and tolerate it—that 1 in 1,000 people click on it. If you’re going on the metrics, that’s the wrong place to start. If you’re thinking, “There is a reason why this might be helpful, entertaining, or rewarding to someone in this space,” that’s important. I’m in advertising, and I find pop-ups just as annoying as everyone else. The skip button is a godsend. But if you make an ad worth my time, then it’s different. Then there is a mutual respect. 

David Droga will be speaking at Design Indaba 2019 about how advertising and communication is more important than it’s ever been in a time when digital has disrupted the traditional creative landscape.