Kendall Henderson, on the Current Landscape of the Sports Design Industry
Kendall Henderson is a Creative Director and Designer, currently based in New York. He represents one third of the creative collective, Please Respect Our Neighbors. Working with the likes of many reputable sports/lifestyle brands such as Nike, Jordan, Public School New York, and Where Is Football, Kendall is an expert when it comes to branding and design for sports. We caught up with him to discuss how he found his feet in this competitive market and what he's striving for next.
So, Kendall, you’ve worked with the likes of well-established brands Nike, Jordan, and Public School. Had you always been aiming to get your work in front of these top sports brands and actively approached them, or do these projects come off the back of previous work in your portfolio?
Well, Nike was actually my first job straight out of college as an intern-turned-full-time-employee. I must say that when I started at Nike there seemed to be a funny climate in the design community. From a branding and graphic design perspective, Nike HQ wasn’t super sought after. We were all focused on the prestigious studios and design movements led by certain groups and individuals. So Nike was quite far off my radar, but in 2012-2013 they began focusing small teams on advancing areas of the company, through focused retail experience design. This led to a heavier need for fluent holistic brand designers. That, coupled with the general interest and accessibility to design happening globally, meant that Nike found itself a prime prospect for the current generation of designers.
"As Instagram has somewhat levelled the playing field for authentic and organic interest in specific media, it's opened the door for everyone to put value on their name."
How much creative freedom do you have when working with these high profile sports brands?
From my experience, through conversations with friends, and from what I have seen out in the market, I think these brands are loosening the reigns a bit these days. This could be the result of a number of things. One of my thoughts is that it comes from these brands having something to gain from collaborating with a certain studio or designer. As Instagram has somewhat levelled the playing field for authentic and organic interest in specific media, it's opened the door for everyone to put value on their name. Take Nike’s work with Hort Berlin, for example. When Hort posted conceptual Nike work online the internet ate it up as much as the actual final piece. So as studios and designers have naturally gained eyes due to their own accord over the past few years, Nike’s collaborations have become less and less prescriptive.
For someone trying to get in a foot in the sports design industry, what’s the best piece of advice you can give?
If you want in at a high profile sportswear brand, I'd say design everything else. Brands are looking for designers who have fresh ideas on visuals. The brands will come naturally. The amount of work those high profile clients put out is absolutely huge so they’re always looking...
How much value do you believe personal projects have in a designer’s portfolio? Do you have any personal projects you’re working on right now?
Personal projects are the differentiator between someone who can execute a project nicely, and someone who can initiate and express an idea, in my opinion. That's perhaps less comprehensible to recruiters, but a pretty attractive quality to creative directors. Ultimately, a versatile portfolio is the key to bridging both ranges and appeals to more industries.
How important is it to you to maintain a certain style throughout your work? Do you believe having a certain style that people can associate with your name is beneficial to having success in the industry?
This is something I have debated left and right for some time now. Most people say that I have a certain style in my work but I'm reluctant to see it haha. The more my career develops, the more I see benefit to both sides. On the one hand, it gives perspective clients and recruiters something to identify you by. Having a certain style makes it easier for others to place you. On the other hand, I see benefit in exploring multiple different styles and approaches, especially for growth opportunity. This way no creative ask is beyond you or incomprehensible.
"If you want in at a high profile sportswear brand, I'd say design everything else. Brands are looking for designers who have fresh ideas on visuals."
The end of 2018 is almost in sight and it seems like it’s been a really great year for you. What’s next on the horizon for you in the New Year, Kendall?
I’d say 2019 will be a very discerning year for me, as I'm deciding on the next phase of my career, as well as the fact that I'm trying to get a collective off the ground. This requires having the time and funds to pitch for business and facilitate a few full-time clients. I have three to four personal projects that I want to start and finish that I will need to set aside time for too. And somewhere in there I must get better at relaxing.
Finally, as our name suggests, here at Mantra we’re curious about what keeps our favourite creatives driven and pushing forward. What’s your personal mantra, Kendall?
Challenge everything. New perspective is what leads to innovative practices.
Check out more of Kendall's work here.