Interview: Brad MacDonald

Up until recently it never occured to me to submit to one of my own interviews. Thanks to Francy for calling me on this and writing up some special questions for the occasion. Francy, I'm stealing some of your questions for future interviews!

You are a writer, teacher, lecturer, event coordinator, musician, artist.  How would YOU describe what you do?

I've been trying to find a catch-all phrase that covers everything and, frankly, I'm stumped. Recently I was designing a new business card and I asked some close friends for suggestions of job titles. My friend Pete suggested Practical Design Philosopher. It’s a little silly, broad enough to encompass different disciplines, touches on my obsession with studying and sharing what I learn about the creative process. And the word 'practical' suggests that I'm actually making stuff and not just interested in theory.

Any sugggetions?

Describe a day in the life of juggling all of your artistic tasks?

I'm a shitty multitasker. Actually, most people are shitty multitaskers but do it anyway because it makes them feel busy. There's so much pressure in professional settings to multitask that it took me years to realize being busy and being productive are two very different things. And that sometimes being busy can be counter-productive.

Because I’m doing so many things I keep all of my projects visible, currently using Google Docs, and I’m constantly adjusted their priorities based on the following criteria:

  1. Personal projects that have potential to make money.
  2. Contract work that interests me.
  3. Personal projects that are satisfying but don’t have an financial upside.
  4. Contract work that pays the bills but isn’t so interesting to me personally. 

My day has just changed pretty radically because Large Animal Games, the amazing place I’ve worked at for 13 years, has recently closed its doors. So I’ll share what I did while I had and office and what I’m doing now that I’m working from home.


  • Coffee, a workout and a fresh juice.
  • Morning is meetings, email and organization.
  • After lunch, when the monkey chatter in my brain is calmed, focus on creative tasks.
  • After work choose one personal project to develop then relax.


  • Coffee, a workout and a fresh juice.
  • Email and Facebook. Promote events.
  • Sort thoughts for the day and create a game plan.
  • Fake a commute. Step out to a cafe to write.
  • Come home and practice music.
  • Work on a personal project.

What is the most challenging thing about practicing your craft? How do you deal with that challenge?

Making the time.

Do you still practice? If so, what do your practice sessions look like?

For music I practice 15-30 minutes a day. Writing is a daily practice and I’m constantly finding inspiration for design but practice it when I have work to do.

Do you consider yourself an artist and/or creative person?  

I am a very creative person but I don't describe myself as an artist. I think of myself as more of a designer.

What's your definition of creativity?

Very broadly I think it’s the ability to see/make connections that other people don’t see.

When you were five, what did you aspire to be?  Why? And how has that impacted your career if at all?

I wanted to be a stunt man. That never really impacted my career though I was in one movie, years ago, doing stunt work for a fight scene. At various points in my life I’ve been more, or less, or a risk taker.

Who or what inspires you in your most creative state?

Reading, music and travel are the things that spark the most ideas for me.

Would you say you have a distinctive style?

My work has distinctive qualities but I don’t think someone would see one of my designs and say, “That’s quintessential MacDonald, right there”. I enjoy working in different styles and most of my professional career has been built around my ability to do exactly that. As I work on my own personal projects distinct qualities are beginning to emerge but I don’t force it. I’m drawn towards projects that have humor and just a hint of darkness.

What is the most challenging thing about practicing your craft?

Time management. The greatest ideas in the world don’t matter if you don’t, or can’t, make the time for them.

Where do you find inspiration?

Everywhere. I’m always reading, consuming media and discussing it with my friends and colleagues. I find a ton of inspiration while traveling. Experiencing new foods, languages, and cultures always reminds me how much there is to learn.

Where are you when you have your most a-ha moments:)

No question, I get most of my ideas while walking. I spend time feeding my brain with information then I take a walk. It’s while I’m walking that I begin to connect ideas and my destination is usually a place where I can write those ideas down.

What do you do to maintain a creative flow?

Coffee, music with no vocals, and I turn off my phone.

What is your greatest obstacle to creativity?

Myself. I can try blaming outside circumstances but if I'm blocked it's usually because of some limitation within myself. I didn't budget enough time and I'm stressed or I'm attached to an idea and not willing to let it go even though I haven't figured out how it fits into the larger picture.

What keeps you motivated on your personal projects?

If my projects are prompting discussion and growth or inspiring users than I’m happy to continue working on them.

What keeps you motivated even if you don’t connect personally with the project?

Finding the challenge that appeals to me. This varies from project to project but there’s almost always something to be learned from every project. Even the projects that don’t have surface appeal have something to offer. A new tool or process. A communication challenge. A new aesthetic.

How much do you rely on feedback from other to help shape your ideas?

I rely on feedback quite a bit. It isn’t always easy on the ego but I regularly ‘gutcheck’ my work with other people to surface my assumptions. I keep the gutchecks simple and focused by asking specific questions like, “What do you think is the most important piece of information?” or “Is this funny?”. Other times I’ll ask something like, “What is your first impression?” Generally I keep these conversations short and avoid lengthy discussion, it’s just about identifying issues.

When you complete a project, how often does it resemble your initial concept or conceived idea? How important is this for you?


How do you know when you’re done?

When I’ve met the goals I’ve outlined at the beginning of the project. It’s easy to keep adjusting and tweaking details indefinitely but, at some point, it’s time to move on.

How do you resolve creative differences with clients or creative partners?

I usually use the 5 Whys to draw out subjective opinions then use those to focus on describing goals.

What do you do when you are stuck and have some sort of deadline or other pressure?

I take a walk and/or talk to other people about it. Very often hearing outside perspective helps make connections that I hadn’t seen or was aware of but didn’t act on it because I wasn’t prepared to let go of other ideas. Taking a walk just greases the creative wheels.

How do you achieve your creative vision with a limited budget?

I focus on what can be done within the budget and leverage support from friends and family. Sometimes a limited budget helps to focus the goals and prevent feature creep.

What are your three most precious tools and why?

  1. Myself. Tools are dispensable. They run out of ink, they become outdated, they run out of power, etc. Investing in, and understanding, myself through learning and introspection is the single greatest tool I have.

  2. My friends because they are my sounding board for ideas.

  3. My computer because it’s where I do most of my work.

What are the top 3 creative habits that have been most useful to you in your career?

  1. Communication

  2. Time management

  3. Knowing where my ideas come from and how to make that happen.

What advice would you give a budding creative professional?

The thing that you love to do (illustration, graphic design, writing, baking, dancing, etc) is important but the ability to communicate clearly, manage your time and understand your process are just as important. Develop all of those skills and don’t assume you natural talent is enough.