Oriel Davis-Lyons is an award-winning creative. He’s a Creative Director at Spotify, founder of ONE School (a free, intensive online portfolio school for a new generation of Black Creatives), and the founder of Corpleisure (the best clothing for the WFH generation…more on this below).
What does it mean to be a Creative Director at Spotify?
Being a Creative Director at Spotify means I get to work with the most talented people and come up with cool ways to help the world discover music. It also means that I’m one of the people responsible for how the world perceives Spotify’s brand and making certain we don’t lose the personality that makes people love us.
Before entering the world of advertising, you were a chef. How did you make this transition?
After about 6 years in the kitchen, I hadn’t met a head chef that I wanted to be like. It was really hard to see a future in this industry, so I decided to go back to college.
The original plan was to be a journalist, but my grammar is atrocious! I decided to take a portfolio course in the evenings. After 12 weeks I had a book. Not a good book, but enough to get me a placement at a small agency. And once I was in, I just worked my ass off to stay there.
Looking back on when you first started your career, how has the industry changed and/or not changed?
When I started, the industry was very much a white man’s world and so much of the work got filtered through that lens.
10 years ago, brands like Carl’s Jr built their whole brand around ads that were unbelievably sexist and misogynist. It would be unthinkable today. So, that’s been the biggest and best shift.
The voice of the industry doesn’t only belong to white men anymore, and as a result, we have so much great work that feels fresh and insightful and tells stories that were relegated to the margins previously.
What hasn’t changed is how we do the work. For all our creative problem solving talents, we haven’t cracked a way to do what we do without burning out our best and brightest. We’re leaving so many great ideas undiscovered because most creatives in big agencies are overworked and exhausted. But there are some new, smaller agencies prioritizing work-life balance so I think the tide is turning.
What is ONE School and why did you create it?
ONE School is the first online portfolio school for Black creatives. I started it with The One Club last year to address the shameful lack of Black creatives in the industry and to create a pipeline that didn’t require students to spend two years and $40,000 — which is the case at the top portfolio schools.
For how much this industry appropriates Black culture, there are so few Black creatives writing the scripts, leading the pitches and executing the creative. ONE School is our attempt to change that.
What has been the most challenging part of building ONE School?
Having a full-time and demanding job at Spotify and then finding time in the evenings & weekends to keep ONE School going is by far the biggest challenge.
Also, the speed that we got off the ground.
We’re only a year in, and we’ve graduated over 80 Black creatives that would otherwise not be in the industry. Working at that speed has meant that sometimes we’re building the plane as we’re flying.
Right now, our biggest focus is putting a strong foundation in place so we can execute at the highest level every semester for years to come!
What excites you the most about ONE School?
I’m so proud of all our students who complete the program. Many students are now working at some of the best agencies and putting out their first campaigns.
Seeing that happen is the highlight of my career.
What inspired you to create Corpleisure?
[Context: Corpleisure is Oriel’s clothing brand that pokes fun at corporate jargon in the best way aka through comfy clothing.]
There’s this corporate language that we all learn and use at work, and when we were in the office, it felt totally normal.
But after a year at home wearing sweatpants and t-shirts every day, I noticed how out of place this language is in the new WFH normal.
I guess I wanted to highlight it in a way that made people smile but also go “yeah, this is ridiculous.”
What is your favorite Corpleisure saying?
My favorite is also our best-seller. “I Don’t Have The Bandwidth.”
I think it resonates with people because it’s about drawing a line and protecting ourselves. But I’ve got a whole document with enough phrases for at least a few more seasons.
If you could collaborate with any person, who would it be?
I could probably list a hundred people but Andre 3000 is someone I’ve always been inspired by. I’m not sure what we’d collaborate on or what I would bring to the project but I could retire happy after that.
Which up-and-coming creatives should be on the world’s radar?
All the ONE School graduates! They are bringing such a different perspective that the industry really hasn’t seen or embraced before.
And they are not coming with a book full of print ads, they’re really pushing the limits of what a junior portfolio looks like.
You are incredibly accomplished. How do you not let it get to your head?
I came to this industry a bit later in life, so I had many jobs before this.
I washed dishes, I worked on construction sites and in book-binding factories. I worked in retail, I was a bartender, I waited on tables. These experiences gave me perspective.
Even on my worst days in this industry, I never forget how lucky I am that I get paid to essentially daydream.
I think the idea of the big creative ego is a relic of a dated industry.
Creativity is a team sport and the best part of my job is surrounding myself with insanely talented people and letting them do what they do best.
The idea of putting my name on the door as if I’m the one with all the answers just feels old school to me.