Creative Director, Scott Denton-Cardew, on Creating Chic Retail Spaces for Major Sports Brands

Written by

Dawn Broadbent


If you’ve ever walked into a Nike, Adidas, or Levi’s store there’s a chance you’ve experienced the brilliant work of Scott Denton-Cardew. Scott Denton-Cardew is the Executive Creative Director of his own creative consultancy, Denton-Cardew Design, based in Los Angeles, California. His agency focuses on story telling via retail, event, and brand spaces. Building on its twenty years of experience, DCD has designed dramatic retail and environments for the likes of Nike, Converse, Levi’s, Beats By Dre, and Jordan Brand. We had the pleasure of speaking with Scott to find out more about how he established his stellar career, what prompted him to start his own competitive company, and the process behind his team’s compelling brand spaces. 

So Scott, tell us a bit about where it all began for you and how you came to establishing a career in the design sector?

I fell in love with magazines and editorial layout design at college (Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication) in the UK, and landed an unpaid internship after graduating at my favourite publisher in Los Angeles, Raygun Publishing. In 1996 they offered me a full-time position as designer in one of their magazines, and I worked my way towards a designer on Raygun Magazine itself in 97.


Taking my penchant for distressing typography and love of music I moved into motion graphics and film titles before landing a role as an Art Director for Nike's global brand design team in their WHQ in Oregon in 2004. It was at Nike that I truly fell in love with the intersection of culture and design. My many mentors showed me how to tell stories through spatial, retail, and brand design. I was hooked. I got to work with multiple design agencies, artists, athletes, vendors, and fabricators all over the world and I loved the collaboration across the many different mediums.

"Anyone can draw or think of something pretty but without a true purpose, its mere decoration."

In 2008 I left Nike and my family and I moved back to LA. But I was lucky to stay connected to the brand through freelance contract work, doing retail displays, art directing media events, and even limited edition packaging. Some old colleagues of mine at Nike had also moved on to new companies and wanted to hire me so I started doing work for brands like Levi’s and Beats By Dre. As the list of clients grew, so did the number of people I needed to execute the work, so I contracted art directors, architects, designers and account managers. I have been fortunate over the last eleven years to work on small and large projects in Tokyo, London, Brazil, Taipei and all over the US.

To anyone who’s unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you do now and what differentiates your design consultancy?

I'm not sure I differ that greatly to be honest, but I would say that the relationship I like to build with my clients is what allows for a deeper level of collaboration to get to a great result. I'm not one to take a brief, disappear for two weeks, and then come back with a first round. We ask a lot of questions and - if its appropriate - share sketches (literally napkin sketches) to get the fire going. I prefer a collaborative approach as I think you can get to the solution quicker that way.

What have been some of the biggest challenges since starting up your own company?

Realising that I alone could not sustain the level and amount of work that was coming in was rather daunting. I needed help and when I began asking others to contribute, I realised too that a variety of backgrounds and deep skill sets could be a huge benefit to a client group. One of the biggest challenges honestly is staying competitive. There are some incredible agencies out there doing work I could only hope for in my dreams. But I am glad that they are there as they push me to be better, to try harder, and creatively they are inspiring.

"Those who sit around waiting for the jobs or gigs to find them will get lost in the shuffle. The world owes you nothing."

How does the creative process usually begin when it comes to a new project? And where do you usually look for inspiration?

Once we have received the brief I look for the underlying story, and try not to sketch or think of anything until I fully understand the reason behind the brief itself. I believe that it's only then that you can begin to design something, because true design has to come from an understanding of the problem. If you don't know what the problem is, then how can you solve it? Anyone can draw or think of something pretty but without a true purpose, its mere decoration.

As for inspiration, I find it in everything and everywhere. Art, fashion, architecture, and film. It can be the juxtaposition of a material against another, the colour of a fly poster, or the the amount of space in an art gallery. You have to stay open to influence, get outside, and look around.

What’s the scale of your ambition? What clients / projects / goals are you still striving to work with/on in the future?

It's a good question, but I don't really have personal ambition other than keep finding projects that push us, and paying my mortgage by doing what I love. Not very sexy I know. But saying that, I'm fascinated by fashion runway shows. Karl Lagerfeld and Alexander McQueen were geniuses and blew our minds.

For all the aspiring designers out there, what advice would you give to getting your work seen by major brands/making a name for yourself in the design industry?

I would say hustle hard and don't take no for an answer. If you have an idea of where you want to work go knock on doors, call around, or find someone who knows someone. My biggest break was because I met a photo assistant on a job who knew someone at Nike. I cold called them, dropped the name of the friend, and then sent my work in. Then it was all hustle and hard work. Those who sit around waiting for the jobs or gigs to find them will get lost in the shuffle. The world owes you nothing. Go take what you want. 

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, Scott?

Onwards and upwards.

Check out Scott's work here.

Written by

Dawn Broadbent