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Mike Schnaidt talks editorial design and what makes a great creative leader

“Today, the role of an editorial creative director has evolved from when I first started, and that’s what keeps me excited.”


Fast Company Creative Director Mike Schnaidt is an award-winning designer whose resume includes leading design positions at Men’s Health, Popular Science, Esquire and more. In advance of his presentation at DesignThinkers Toronto, we asked him a few questions about his career in editorial design, creating comprehensive brand ecosystems and what it means to be a strong creative leader.

You’ve worked for a number of prestigious publications during your career. What initially drew you to editorial design? What keeps you there?

As a kid, I loved comic books. X-Men. Batman. Deadpool. When I was a design student, magazines appealed to me because the art of sequential storytelling felt similar to the comics that initially stoked my creativity. Today, the role of an editorial creative director has evolved from when I first started, and that’s what keeps me excited. Magazine pages are only one part of a larger design universe that includes events, awards, podcasts, videos and so much more. My editorial experience built a necessary foundation to extend into branding.

That said, your talk is titled “I Never Had a Plan.” Without giving too much away, what can attendees expect from your session?

Speaking of being a kid, I’m a forever student. I love learning. Throughout my career in publishing, I’ve chased jobs based on what I was curious about: pop culture, fashion, science, health and business. I’ve worked alongside some of the best journalists, and learned a lot in the process. And so, I wanted to try my hand at a book. It’s tough! And it’s fun! So if you want to see someone get excited on stage about writing a book, come watch my session. And even if you don’t want to write a book, you’ll grab some takeaways for building a fulfilling creative life.

Fast Company has a massive brand ecosystem, existing across a number of mediums and platforms. Is there a project or campaign that you’ve worked on that you’re particularly proud of? What is it and why?

Our biggest event is the Innovation Festival, and I love seeing it come to life. It brings together everything I enjoy: branding, typography, animation and environmental design. There’s something so cool about seeing your design system come to life in an event space — especially after staring at it on your tiny laptop screen for months leading up to the event. I can’t wait to experience the event this September.

You’ve worked as a creative director for over five years. What do you think makes a great leader in design?

The ability to admit when you’re wrong. Design is a series of decisions, and I don’t always make the right ones. But I will say, “Hey, my bad. I led you down the wrong path. Let’s try it your way?” Nine out of ten times, the work drastically improves when I say something like that. Now that’s a good decision.

What are you most looking forward to about coming to DesignThinkers in Toronto?

There are so many talented speakers that I’m excited to meet. But I’m equally excited to chat with audience members and learn about their creative journeys. Plus: Canada!


Watch Mike’s talk, “I Never Had a Plan,” on November 3 at 11:30 a.m. EST.

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