Jenna Navitsky: Finding Creative Fulfillment in Building New Brands
Jenna Navitsky is Executive Creative Director at Red Antler, a Brooklyn-based brand company that works with startups. She’s been with Red Antler for 4 years, previously working as a designer and art director in Philadelphia. This is her story.
What led you into your current career path?
My design career started at a small branding studio in Philadelphia. We were a really tight knit group and it was my first true foray into branding. I found a lot of excitement and curiosity in our work building smaller brands from the ground up. Things really clicked for me there and that’s where I really felt like I got some clarity around what I wanted to do with my career, longterm.
Four years in, I hit a wall. I had the designer’s version of writer’s block. Creative block I guess. I felt uninspired and questioned every piece of work I made. It became exhausting and I wasn’t quite sure how to get myself out of it. I stayed on for another year and did my best to push through it. The problem was that I couldn’t distinguish between whether I was making bad work or if I just wasn’t satisfied with the work I was making. It was clear I had to force a change of both scenery and pace. I knew ultimately I needed to be challenged in a different way, so I took a job at an ad agency as an Art Director, working for big companies that were launching national campaigns. Compared to branding, this felt like I was on the other side of the world and that was exactly what I needed.
Almost immediately, I began working 80 hour weeks and that lasted for 6-months straight. Creatively, I felt unfulfilled and working in those conditions wasn’t sustainable for me — no matter how cool the clients or projects. I had taken a leap of faith and pretty quickly in knew it wasn’t right, so I left. I took a few weeks to catch up on sleep and to figure out what my next move was going to be. It felt risky at the time, but now it’s clear to me that when you know something isn’t right and you give it enough of a chance, there’s nothing wrong with giving up on something. I eventually applied for a job at Red Antler during that period of limbo, and have been here ever since.
How do you keep in touch with the creative world and community and how does the creative scene look like in your city?
Fortunately in NYC, keeping in touch with the creative world is such an easy thing to do — but it’s constantly evolving and growing. There are so many resources at our fingertips: panels, lectures, events, galleries, and exhibits, etc. It’s hard to keep up. AIGA is still an incredible resource for our community here. They host some really inspiring events that cover a vast range of really cool subjects.
Coming from Philadelphia, I used to think that the creative world in that city felt really small. I had a lot of friends that worked at, what felt like, every agency or studio in the entire city. When I moved to New York, the design community felt infinitely larger and more diverse. But after four years here I’ve realized that it is in some ways just as small and intimate. Everyone is so connected and shares a lot of similar or related experiences. It’s comforting and exciting to know that there is this whole world of people you share common ground with. I’m fortunate to have a lot of great friends who are also part of the creative community in New York. They are designers or founders or some combination of the two and I’m constantly inspired by their work and drive. We swap stories and give one another advice.
The beauty of New York is that it’s always bursting at the seams with creativity and inspiration that extends well beyond the design community. I live in the East Village and am constantly inspired by just walking around the neighborhood -- the fashion, murals, record stores, restaurants, and bookstores and magazine stands. It’s one of the most creative neighborhoods in the city.
04.05.2019 | Share — Twitter Facebook Copy link
Red Antler’s digital design work for Rowan, a ear piercing subscription for young girls.
Bottle design for Henry Rose, the first-ever fine fragrance line with 100% ingredient transparency.
Jenna reviews work on “The Green” Red Antler’s designated space for creative reviews.
What creative(s) do you admire for their work? Have you collaborated or thought of collaborating with other like-minds?
@devapardue: I moderated a panel at The Wing that featured really incredible women in the design community. Among them was Deva Pardue — the founder of For Womankind, a design initiative committed to helping advance women’s rights and equality. I admire any designer who is using their skills and platform to inspire change.
@rachellevit: I worked with Rachel on a client project last year. Her illustrations are so impassioned and there’s a rawness to her work that I am such a fan of. Working with her was such a treat and our team was inspired by her work every step.
What’s your favorite hack to get work done?
My days are pretty busy; meetings, work reviews, clients, etc. My hack, which may seem pretty obvious, is alone time. If I’ve got something on my plate that I haven’t had time for, or something urgent I need to get to, I will come into the office early before the chaos of the day kicks in. I’m most productive when I can put on my headphones and feel like I’ve gotten a jumpstart on the day. It’s also when I feel most energized and inspired. I used to be such a procrastinator and would force myself to be super productive in the evenings and into the night, but the busier my days get the harder it is to be productive late at night. I’m much more aware now that I hit a point during the night where I’m no longer being productive and am much better off getting a good night’s sleep and getting right to it in the morning.
Picking the right soundtrack also goes a long way for productivity and can be really motivating. I usually gravitate towards something familiar and upbeat. The Buzzcocks “Singles Going Steady” is one I go back to a lot.
What are your 5 favorite work tools/apps and how do use them?
I’m the type of person that likes to write things down on paper, so when it comes to apps and tools, I’m a purist. I wish I had a tried and true method when it comes to organization and process, but I have a hard time adopting tools that don’t intuitively fit into my day to day. The right notebook and the right pen go a long way for me. I’m oddly particular about each of those things. Pilot Precise V5 pens. I’m not that particular with much else, but pens are my thing and I’ve been using this type of pen for many years. They come with this tiny blue wax ball that protects the needle point tip. There is something so satisfying about pulling it off. Hopefully, someone reading this has experienced this! If not, buy a pack and your written life will be changed forever. Paper is ideally gridded — it brings an underlying sense of organization even when my thoughts are all over the place.
Slack is a given and is pretty much our team’s go-to form of communicating- I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with it. Some people are really great at ignoring that red notification circle and I am very much not that person; I find it very distracting. I make it a point to get up and talk to people...nothing can (or should!) replace a face-to-face conversation.
- Grid Paper
- Google Slides
Walk us through your workspace setup
I’ve been told that my desk looks “lived-in”, which I know is just a nice way of saying it’s messy — and it usually is. I’m a bit of a collector of stuff. It’s always some combination of things that inspire me, things that make me smile, and things that are meant to remind me to do something.
The crystal is Amazonite and it was a gift from a coworker before a panel I was moderating. It’s known for helping deliver words with feeling instead of fear and for confidence and intuition.
I have no idea where the dinosaur came from, but I’ve had it for years and it’s followed me from job to job and desk to desk for a few years now.
And hand lotion. It smells great and sits on the desks of at least 5 of my coworkers.
“Some people are really great at ignoring that red Slack notification circle and I am very much not that person; I find it very distracting.”
“I’ve been told that my desk looks “lived-in”, which I know is just a nice way of saying it’s messy
— and it usually is.”
“The crystal is Amazonite and it was a gift from a coworker before a panel I was moderating. I have no idea where the dinosaur came from, but I’ve had it for years and it’s followed me from job to job and desk to desk for a few years now.”
The right notebook and the right pen go a long way for me. I’m oddly particular about each of those things. Pilot Precise V5 pens. Paper is ideally gridded — it brings an underlying sense of organization even when my thoughts are all over the place.
What creative or non-creative challenges do you face at work?
My experience at Red Antler has been interesting because I have occupied each role on our design team. I started as a Freelance Designer four years ago and have been here ever since. The Executive Creative Director title is still new, so it’s sometimes difficult to not let my personal experience as a designer influence someone else’s. Everyone learns and creates in different ways. It’s easy for me to think about what I would’ve done or what I did at that stage in my career, but keeping in mind that everyone’s path and experience is unique is something I am constantly reminding myself of.
Creatively, I think the biggest challenge I face is not always having the answer. There is a common workplace misconception that if you are at a certain level or have a certain amount of experience, you just have all of the answers — to everything! I have plenty of opinions, but not always the answer. For so long I relied on having my hands deep in the work to get to an answer. Now, it’s a bit different. The answer is something we arrive at together and navigating that path can be challenging, but I love it. There is a real shift in thinking and mindset when you go from making the work to directing the work and I think it will always be something I’m learning and getting better at, but always thoroughly enjoy.
What projects are you most proud of and excited about? Are there any side-projects you work or worked on?
We recently launched a clean fragrance brand with Michelle Pfeiffer. Fragrance is such an intriguing and mysterious thing and I was really excited by the opportunity to create something new in the space. It was also a mission and product I really believed in. When those two things collide it’s a really magical thing.
Another brand that I was really excited to be apart of is called Rowan. Rowan celebrates different milestones of a girls’ life starting with ear piercing. They provide different symbols and conversation starters, along with a pair of earrings, to subscribers each month. Channeling my inner tween made this one really fun to work on.
Then I Met You is a skincare line founded by Charlotte Cho, who was an incredible partner and client. We created a brand and identity that I am really proud of. Charlotte and her team were so passionate about what they were creating and it was contagious. I think any time there is such a shared vision and passion it is always comes through in the work.
It’s always exciting to work on a brand or product that is already a part of your life. I had been a fan of Ursa Major products well before we partnered with them to refresh their brand and working with them was really rewarding. We worked on the identity, redesigned the packaging and website, and art direction. We shot in Big Bear Lake, CA. The founders are such wonderful people and were great partners that challenged us to make really great work we were both proud of.
“Then I Met You is a skincare line founded by Charlotte Cho, who was an incredible partner and client. Charlotte and her team were so passionate about what they were creating and it was contagious. I think any time there is such a shared vision and passion it always comes through in the work.”
“Fragrance is such an intriguing and mysterious thing and I was really excited by the opportunity to create something new in the space for Henry Rose.”
“Channeling my inner tween made Rowan really fun to work on.”
What’s your morning or evening routine and habit after work?
I’m the type of person that always aspires to have a regimented routine throughout the week, but I find it pretty unrealistic to have consistency in my morning and evening routines. They are constantly evolving and changing based on the day. There are, however, certain things I turn to each day that help me unwind, de-stress, and stay grounded.
My morning routines vary depending on the day and depending on how much sleep I’ve gotten. I’m a 7-8 hours a night type of person and there’s no way around it. If it’s any less, those lost minutes are definitely felt the next day. So, I adjust my routine accordingly to make sure I’m getting those hours. If it’s a gym morning, which happens twice a week, I’m up at 6:30am and there’s no looking back! If it’s the morning after a late night working, Monday night bowling league, or dinner with friends, I’m sleeping in and snoozing my alarm until the very last possible minute and dragging myself out of bed, usually around 8:00am. Those mornings I’m getting up and making coffee and digging into email and Slack pretty immediately before heading to the office around 9:00am.
My evening routine is even less of a routine. I’m usually working pretty late, but I always look to unwind every night. I find cooking to be incredibly meditative and a great way for me to turn off, even if it means eating dinner at 10pm. It’s usually that, putting on a record, and hanging out catching up on the day with my partner. I also really love putting on the TV and turning my mind off completely.
Regardless of the day or week, knowing consistency and routines are sometimes hard for me to maintain, I like having a structure around things I’ve committed to. There are certain commitments I make to myself, like working out certain mornings, and to others, like plans with my partner or friends, and I try very hard to honor those things and not let work get in the way of them.
What does a typical day look like?
[8:00AM]: "In the morning I make coffee, and dig into email. I’ve been trying not to check email too close to bed at night, so reserve it for the morning once I’m caffeinated."
[9:10AM]: “I’m lucky to have a really quick commute to work -- it’s only three stops on the subway and I can make it to the office in under 20 minutes.”
[10:00AM]: “Most days are made up of some combination of internal meetings like new business or staffing.”
[12:00PM]: “Or reviewing work with the team, and client conversations and presentations.”
[1:00PM]: “It’s easy to get stuck on auto-pilot sometimes. Whether it’s a change of scenery or sharing the work with someone on another team, those things help break us out of routine.”
[3:30PM]: “Working in DUMBO, we have such amazing views of the city and are right on the water. It’s a great way to quickly be brought back down to earth.”
[7:00PM]: “I moderated a panel at The Wing that featured really incredible women in the design community.”
[8:00AM]: I’m back home, making coffee, and digging into email. I’ve been trying not to check email too close to bed at night, so reserve it for the morning once I’m caffeinated.
[9:10AM] “I’m lucky to have a really quick commute to work -- it’s only three stops on the subway and I can make it to the office in under 20 minutes.”
“Most days are made up of some combination of internal meetings like new business or staffing.”
“Or reviewing work with the team, and client conversations and presentations.”
“It’s easy to get stuck on auto-pilot sometimes. Whether it’s a change of scenery or sharing the work with someone on another team, those things help break us out of routine.”
Working in DUMBO, we have such amazing views of the city and are right on the water. It’s a great way to quickly be brought back down to earth.
I moderated a panel at The Wing that featured really incredible women in the design community.
Among them was Deva Pardue — the founder of For Womankind, a design initiative committed to helping advance women’s rights and equality. I admire any designer who is using their skills and platform to inspire change.
Any advice for ambitious creatives starting out?
Something that helped me early on was identifying a mentor. This could be anyone in the field — a boss, a colleague, someone willing to answer your random LinkedIn message. I had a boss early on in my career who I really admired. She ran a small successful studio and had some really wonderful clients and trusted me with more than I was prepared to handle. I made it my mission to learn as much as possible from her; about business, design, life, etc. Ask a lot of questions, be curious, and be open to making mistakes. Be observant of everything.
I was also lucky to have spent time in big cities like New York and Philadelphia early on in my career, where there was inspiration at every turn: museums, galleries, live music, etc. Regardless of where you live, try and make it a point to absorb as much as you can, whatever you are doing. Art, music, design, food – whatever inspires you. Read about it, experience it, however you are able to access it.
Also, be resilient! That’s probably the toughest thing that no one really teaches you. You’re going to reach out to people and not hear back, you’re going to apply for jobs and not get them. You’re going to potentially even question why you chose the career path you chose and you will question your skills and abilities. Know that you aren’t the only one that feels this way! It’s somewhat of a right of passage. I’m also a big fan of self-help books. If there’s a particular challenge or roadblock you’ve come across, chances are someone has written a book or published something about it. I always find it helpful to turn to other people’s words for advice and support. Sometimes just knowing someone has experienced a similar thing or had similar questions in life is really motivating and reassuring.
Anything you want to promote or plug?
Follow Red Antler on Instagram! @redantler
You can also follow my personal account: @jennavitsky
"As a leader, it’s okay to not have the answer. I have plenty of opinions, but the answer should be something we all arrive at together."
Quote by Jenna Navitsky