John Larigakis: ‘Don't be afraid to share your terrible, silly, embarrassing ideas’
Posted on 2020 Aug,19  | By Gijs de Swarte / Nils Adriaans

For our series of talks with ‘The World’s Most Awarded Creative Directors’, we turn to John Larigakis, an illustrator, designer, animation specialist and an award-winning art director at Vancouver-based One Twenty Three West (123w) agency. He is also the Co-Founder of a sustainable cricket protein bar Coast Protein. Larigakis works for the biggest global brands, like Volkswagen, Netflix, Snapchat and McDonald's. He won just about every award available more than once, and in 2018 he joined de D&AD Ten Most Awarded Art Directors list. Larigakis takes the 6.5 interview.

1) What was your biggest fear when you just started?

John Larigakis: ‘That I didn't know what I was doing. I felt a little bit like an impostor for the first few months until I was able to prove myself on a few projects. It helped being surrounded by other creatives who were very talented.’

2) Please describe your key-career break moment…

‘It's hard to pick one on its own so here are a few big moments. It was halfway through my time at DDB, I was working on a campaign for Milk aimed at teens. We were struggling to find a great idea and the night beforehand I stuck a post-it note on my writing partner's computer as a joke. It was a cartoon doodle of a cookie in a doctor's office talking to a carton of milk dressed like a doctor. One of the cookie's chips was engorged and there was some dialogue about him needing to see a specialist. It was a little bit of a dumb comic but my writing partner laughed out loud. And then we both paused for a moment and looked at each other. We realized that this is the kind of content that teens are sharing and consuming. Not high-end video ads but dumb, irreverent cartoons, and gifs. We ended up developing it into an 80 episode cartoon series that ran for three years on YouTube and was nominated at Cannes. It was a moment when I really understood the importance of enjoying the silliness and fun of the brainstorming process. It also reinforced the importance of really thinking about what your target will want and genuinely like at the end of the day.
And my most recent and biggest success was for McDonald's. I proposed flipping the M into a W across the US on signage, uniforms, bags and all touch points of the McDonald's brand to celebrate women on International Women's day. This would involve McDonald's breaking their own brand guidelines rules and doing something a bit shocking for them, so I was sure they wouldn't go for it - but they did. It won 12 One show Pencils, 6 Cannes Lions, and it was even featured on The Colbert Report and Saturday Night live - something I never thought one of my concepts would ever do.’

3) What was the lesson learned from your most loved mistake?

‘Don't try to take on too much at once. There was a time when I was working many late nights in a row on a lot of projects because I wanted to do it all - but after a while, it actually slows down the creative process. Do fewer things and do them well.’

4) Where do you get your inspiration?

‘TV and movies have always been great sources of inspiration. Seinfeld and the early seasons of The Simpsons have so much great misdirection, dry awkward humor, and unexpected ideas within them. Also, fine art and photography are great sources for design inspiration. Particularly when it comes to lesser-known artists.’

5) If you want to get ahead in advertising these days, please, please do not ever…

‘Don't copy what's been done. Not just the ideas but also the way things were executed - a lot of it isn't as relevant these days. Not many people are making traditional 30 second TV ads anymore - you need to think outside of that format. Also, think about what you would pay attention to if you were a consumer today. Think about what your friends or regular non-advertising people might think is great, don't get sucked into an advertising bubble.’

6) If I was a millennial and wanted to start in advertising now, I would…

‘Explore all of the best work that's out there and see what I like. Then start to think about how I can make work at that level. Then apply to a creative advertising or design program. Then start creating fake ads - both for fun and to get experience going through the motions. Share them with people you respect and get their feedback until you piece together a good portfolio - it doesn't matter if it's a portfolio of spec work, people just want to see what you can do. Then start looking around at places that do the kind of work you like, and apply for an internship.’

(6.5) Also, I'd like to state that…

‘Great ideas can only come once you're comfortable sharing your worst ideas. Don't be afraid to share your terrible, silly, embarrassing ideas - it's the first part of the process, and they can lead you to something great.’