We had the good fortune of connecting with Jess Dang and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jess, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
This question is interesting to me because I have a split answer about addressing the topic of risk. In my personal life, I need a bit more order. In my work life, I enjoy challenges and understanding the needs of the brands/people I collaborate with on a daily basis.
Risk is something that was scary to me when I was younger because I was more focused on the things that would go wrong versus the idea of looking at the topic of risk as an opportunity to grow and adapt into new spaces. As I’ve gotten older, and hopefully wiser, I think that there’s a certain amount of risk to be a full-time creative because there’s no linear path to success or whatever that even means.
Over the years, I have realized my most rewarding creative opportunities have been met with the most risk and some of my decisions are never going to make sense to anyone but me. For example, at the end of 2018, I decided to move back to New York City even though my core clients were based in LA. There was a part of me that was really itching for a new environment to root myself in and I moved to NYC with no set plans. A few months after settling in, I was hired as an Adjunct Professor at Parsons The New School of Design (my alma mater) and started a Creative Director gig at Audible. It still makes me laugh because life is truly surprising.
I have a personality that thrives with structure and room for spontaneity; I really believe that I’m constantly collecting visual information and I really enjoy being involved with projects that allow me to be challenged, creating a dialogue rooted in discovery.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am currently a Creative Director at Audible and Founder of Long Lunch Break, LLC. I honestly get inspired by long lunch breaks so it made the most sense for my company to embody that type of creative inspiration.
I’m really proud that my doodles/paintings/art classes have actually steered me into a professional Creative Director. As an Asian American, I feel super fortunate to be creative every single day because it is a real privilege. When I was younger, I felt a shift in myself — I really started owning and telling people that I was going to work in the creative industry. It was somehow and someday type of mentality, but fast forward and here I am. I really hope I’m making my family proud because I feel that being a CD allows me to work across mediums and express who I am.
I’m most excited about how much I’ve expanded and learned about over the years. I started off my career as a Jr. Art Director in advertising at McCann Erickson in NYC. This all happened after I met Bill Oberlander at an Art Directors Club Advertising portfolio review, two days before graduating at Parsons The New School for Design. Bill took a leap of faith when he hired me because I didn’t have any real advertising experience but was eager to learn.
At McCann Erickson, I supported creative campaigns for Intel; I learned so many invaluable lessons on the job that still impact my work today. My curiosity peaked when I started to see commercials come together and I soon realized that I no longer wanted to be the person behind a computer screen for 8+ hours a day. I was more interested in the collaborative process of storytelling, which led me to pursue a Masters degree in Film at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts.
After USC, I freelanced for a few years and worked with a number of clients and agencies. It was not all a breeze; I was learning how to manage multiple projects on moving deadlines with sometimes little or no budget, and spending night hours googling how to locate the right terminology for invoicing. I found myself to be overwhelmed at times, and was also wrestling with some personal things that were put on the back burner. A lot of me not having work/life balance eventually led me to burnout.
Over the years, I realize that I’m not good if I don’t carve out intentional time to creative recharge. For me, I recharge my kayaking, painting, cooking, hiking, randomly walking around the grocery store and looking at every new food package. It’s sort of the time to be offline. This helps me bring fresh ideas into my work and take a break from an actual screen.
In a very saturated design/content world, I believe that my work today sits at the intersection of design and film and I’ve learned two important lessons along the way:
1) Being creative is not about making things look good. It’s about translating your point of view in a visual way to create effective communication and align with a larger purpose/intention.
2) Kill your ego. Nobody wants to work with a stubborn person.
I know that there is a deep responsibility to understand the needs of those I work with and I really value each creative opportunity. As far as closing notes, I’d say that most of my close peers and friends would probably say that my visual style is bright, fun and playful. And if you’re on a production set with me, it’s safe to expect a lot of laughter.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I float between LA and NYC so here are two very brief recommended itineraries:
Kayaking at Marina Del Rey
Oysters at Water Grill in Santa Monica
Pacific Coast Highway drive to Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara Museum of Art
The Whitney Museum of American Art
Levain Bakery for a sweet treat
Biking in Central Park
Dinner at Sushi of Gari
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I’m dedicating this to my mentors — Brenda Goodman, Steve Kennedy, Julia Gorton, Bill Oberlander, Sasha Shor, and Megan Skelly. And of course, my mother, who made this art path possible and always provided a safe space for me to create.
I certify that I own the permissions to the images.