“Good design connects people.”

With nearly two decades’ award-winning experience in graphic design, art direction, user experience and strategy, Shane Lukas is the creative solutions specialist leading A Great Idea, an agile empathy-led, content-led agency powering brands for companies and organizations across the country.

Portrait of Shane LukasCreative Processing:

An interview with Shane Lukas, CEO of the graphic design and branding solutions agency, A Great Idea.

Experts say there are four steps in the creative process: preparation, incubation, illumination and implementation. How would you define the steps of your creative process?

Like many of the designers that inspired me over the years, I didn’t study graphic design in college. Today, there is a lot of institutional focus on professionalizing graphic design and when it comes down to it, good design connects people. The process to achieve that connection really depends on the designer or the design philosophy you have.

My process is developed by my experiences and evolves with the changes in technology and introduction of diverse perspectives.

I would call my first stage an act of “Discovery” which is related to that idea of preparation. This is where you spend time researching what your clients want to communicate as well as trends in the market.  You need to analyze the market to see what is missing, what things are not being taken into consideration which could be strong solutions for the project.

As for the second stage, calling it Incubation seems a bit Alien-esque, so I would say that it’s kind of like a post-Discovery or “Brainstorming” period. Think of this as a stage when you can see something else other than the project, like what passions your team has that can be brought to the mix. It is definitely not the sexiest stage, because it’s not like choosing color palettes. Instead, this is the opening up of space for ideas. It relies on thinking and creative problem solving.

As for the rest, I think of it as Delivery and Deployment, which are very self-explanatory so there is no need to dwell on them.

Some studies suggest that coming up with an idea happens at the most inopportune times. For example, you are in the shower and suddenly you realize the color scheme you want to use for a poster. Has this happened to you before? Where do you find your “Eureka” moments?

Of course! This is something that happens all the time. I think the hardest part of creating is being unable to turn your brain off in the sense that many solutions come to mind on the road, at a concert, or in a shower as you suggest. I try to keep note of them as best I can, so that when I have tight deadlines, there are ideas on the table even if new ones don’t start to flow. The epiphanies happen often when I’m traveling. I get inspired by the wilderness while hiking or bringing a culture different from my own into focus and relishing the many flavors, sounds, and ideas they share with me.

How do you deal with those moments?

I definitely take notes. Drafting on napkins and pieces of paper may be considered a thing of the past now, with phones and tablets at our disposal, but I think the action of actually writing something down in a notebook is what helps retain the idea in my mind. If you do not recall something, you can always go back and take a look at your notes.

Are sudden inspirations the ones that make it or break it on the creative process?

Some of the best ideas come from times like the ones I described earlier; I would not call them sudden, although people may perceive them that way. Those ideas are there and something triggers them to be released, like epiphany moments, if you will. And sometimes the ideas come after doing research and focusing on what you have to do. It really depends on the project, task, or initiative.

Portrait of Shane LukasBuilding a strong relationship with a client is very important. Sometimes you can get very straightforward clients that know exactly what they want, and sometimes you can get clients who need a lot of direction and guidance to figure out exactly what they need in order to succeed in their business. How do you deal with these situations?

I think that clients deserve all of the attention you can give them. I love my clients, they are wonderful and aligned with the core philosophy and values of AGI so I am very grateful for that. I love and respect them. As you may know, solutions are often designed by a team effort, where the client gets involved in the process, and with the feedback they provide, we make something…you know… great.

A Great Idea is a proud LGBT Business Enterprise (LGBTBE), and it’s involved with social causes regionally in North Carolina as well as national projects. Do you think this impacts how you create?

I would say that social justice and equity are tremendously important to me. They form my roots, and if you want to connect to people, you have to put people first. Our commitment to ensuring and supporting initiatives that lift up individuals across the spectrum of race, religion, gender, sexual identity, gender expression, ability, immigration status, and heritage means that we also care about the stories that every individual shares. Those stories are what make brands and organizations strong.

We have amazing clients that not only value but also embrace these beliefs, so that is something that can only be categorized as amazing. Nonetheless, when approaching a new creation, I would say that whatever the client is trying to express is going to be our priority—that is the main goal—and we do it in tandem with their team to ensure that it can reach and impact the intended audience by recognizing the humanity of that audience.

By actively supporting social causes, has it become easier to build business connections with a diverse range of companies?

You know, what we stand for as a company in terms of equity and dignity for all people seems obvious to us. In the era we live in, we see even big companies like Bank of America, Apple or others, stepping up to articulate social justice conversations, and I am grateful for that.

I would not feel comfortable having a business relationship with a company that does not share our values. Fortunately, our partners are in a place where they understand and embrace them. We are who we are and we put it out there; we are very proud that we produce creative solutions for a diverse array of companies. We have always been actively making connections regarding equity for all, and we have been able to grow our company, keep our value system intact. and advocate for causes we believe in. Equity is indeed A Great Idea.

Portrait of Shane LukasFinally, for all small entrepreneurs out there who are struggling with coming across the best way to approach the creative process and succeed in what they want to do. What would be the best advice you could give them?

This is an awesome question; I have been thinking about this matter recently. The market is always changing and approaching it can be troublesome when you are starting up. Most of the time you see larger agencies taking most of the big jobs out there, but companies are now opting to bring in smaller agencies because they offer a freer environment to clients, have people with strong skills that work with them side-by-side, and offer diverse solutions; whereas the big names tend to consider the client just another thing to cross out on their to-do list. This can be summed up in one sentence: making a difference with customer service really matters.

Coalitions between smaller agencies are happening a lot more, too, which is very good for the parties involved. When you’re a small company, you simply cannot do everything, and you can find specialized small companies that handle some functions that you do not currently include in services, thus establishing strong business bonds by making them your partners. Lastly, I would advise newcomers to take a look at technological changes and think about which of them are giving the market room for adaptation, hence creating new business opportunities.