San Francisco creative director Matt Luckhurst has a clear-eyed take on some of the seismic shifts happening in design right now. Which is precisely why we sought him out for an interview (even though he claims to not like talking about this stuff). Luckhurst did stints at Airbnb and COLLINS before co-founding his own design and marketing agency, The New Company, last year. Already, the boutique firm, which describes itself to be "in pursuit of the novel and extraordinary" has racked up a string of projects with Nike. Below Luckhurst reflects on his career path, his inspirations, and the pros and cons of design in the digital age.
You’re wearing a lot of hats these days but you started as a graphic designer?
Well, I started as a graffiti artist while I was in business school. A teacher said, "You do graffiti, that means you like typography. You should do this." Finding design, it just was incredible. It was like this thing I could do and love. It made sense. Eventually, I dropped out of business school and went to design school instead.
It’s funny, I love being a designer but I don’t really like talking about it. I don't go to design talks or listen to podcasts either. I find the whole thing really self-congratulatory and kind of boring.
Ha glad we’re on the subject.
[laughs] It’s ok. I’ll make an exception. Look, for me, ultimately, design has come to mean the opportunity to make something interesting. You don't do it every time, but it's an opportunity to go create something that could have value. It's really easy to end up in the world of just selling I think. But people want to see things that are novel and meaningful. That’s what we try to tell our clients.
Do you mean “meaningful” in terms of social good?
Not every design project is a change-the-world project. In fact, I'd argue none of them are. When I lived in New York, I was around a lot of people that were like, "Design changes the world," and it's like, fuck man, does it? If our goal is to change the world, we probably shouldn't be designers. We should probably go volunteer to save the oceans or something.
So you don’t suffer from a creative savior complex?
Oh my God, no. No, I think if you make a good design or tell a good story, you can inspire someone. But I don't think design—especially in advertising—that's not the thing that changes the world, right? The gurus in this industry that act like that, it's bullshit. When we create work, it's mainly for aesthetic value. And then sometimes, we get lucky and it can actually have some effect on how people see things.