Role Models: Jessica Strelioff, Creative Director at Upperquad

Today’s Role Model is Jessica Strelioff. Jessica is a Creative Director at Upperquad in San Francisco where she works on brand and interactive experiences for companies like Google, Instagram, Patagonia, Facebook, and The Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. Originally from sunny Los Angeles, Jessica moved up to a slightly more foggy San Francisco five years ago to work in tech at Yahoo and Asana before moving back to the agency side. Note: Since this interview was conducted, Jessica has moved into consulting full time as a designer and creative director for companies large and small.

What’s your official title and how long have you been in this role?

I’ve been a Creative Director at Upperquad for six months. Prior to that I was Associate Creative Director at Upperquad for a year and a half.

What attracted you to this role?

I think every designer starting out aspires to be a Creative Director one day. I really looked up to my Creative Director at my first job out of college and learned a lot from him about inspiring others, giving design feedback, pushing creative, and managing projects, clients and people. Over time, I realized I had the passion and traits to become a good Creative Director and was determined to work my way up.

Walk me through a typical day in your role. What activities do you engage in? What types of meetings do you join? When’s lunch?

At Upperquad, we typically start the work day around 10am. I’ll get in, grab a bagel, and catch up on design feeds, clear out my inbox, and check my schedule to plan for the day ahead. Some days I’ll spend the full day doing hands-on design work. Other days, I’ll spend my time making sure my team has everything they need to do their best work. I’ll jump in where I’m needed, whether that’s brainstorming, researching, designing, or something else altogether.

I also spend a good chunk of my time recruiting and meeting with clients, though that depends on the day. I’ll grab a late-ish lunch around 2pm at my favorite hidden sandwich shop in a parking garage near Union Square.

What skills/technologies help you succeed?

Creative Directors can come from several different areas of focus. My background is in design and strategy but other Creative Directors start off as writers or UXers or Producers or Photographers, so the skills and technologies they focus on vary from mine.


In my role, strong design chops, strategic thinking, and fluency in color theory, typography, layout, UX, and design programs (Adobe, Sketch) are key.

What’s the most fun or creative part of your role?

I’m lucky to have a job that is almost entirely creative. It even has “creative” in the title! But the concepting phases of projects are the most fun since possibilities are endless and constraints are limited (for the time being).

What are the biggest challenges you face in this role?

It can be difficult to make room for hands on design work as a Creative Director when you are getting pulled in many directions. It takes time to learn what to take on and what to let go or delegate.

It can also be a challenge to filter through client feedback and decide when to push back. On one side, the client is always right, on the other side, the client is coming to you as the expert for a reason. You have to keep that in mind and do what feels right.

What teams/individuals do you work with cross-functionally? Can you give an example of a time when you collaborated with another group/individual?

I partner with Strategists and Writers on client presentations. I also work closely with our Producers to scope projects and determine my team’s allocations.

What’s an area where you’re trying to grow in your role?

I’m always trying to learn new things. Right now, I’m trying to grow my storytelling techniques and learn more 3D and motion to think about the creative work in different ways.

Aside from technical skills, what personality traits/characteristics make for an ideal candidate in your role?

To be a Creative Director, you need to be a big picture thinker with an eye for detail. You need to be excellent at communicating, decision making, prioritization, client relationships, storytelling, and inspiring your team to create their best work. You need to be driven and extremely passionate about doing great work.

What skills (tech/non-tech) have you improved as a result of working in this role?

Communication, prioritization, and selling design.

In your role, what metrics define success?

Great work. Happy team. Happy clients.

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