EPISODE #39 || Eli Altman, Creative Director at A Hundred Monkeys

Eli - We Are Next.jpg

Eli joins us to talk about naming, branding, and running a creative studio. Hear about why naming is more complicated than you think, the importance of guiding someone through your creative process, what you should put in your portfolio, and why we should seek out weird shit as inspiration.

Topics Discussed

  • Growing up around branding and naming, and moving from design to writing. 
  • What type of projects a naming company takes on, what he does in his role as Creative Director at A Hundred Monkeys, and the benefit of systemizing your creative process.
  • The lack of training involved in shifting from a doer to a leader, and why we should be studying up on leadership just the way we would our creative skills. 
  • Why naming is more complicated than you might think, and the skills/traits needed to go into naming—including a love of language and the ability to guide someone through your creative process.
  • Dealing with the stigma of taking over the company from his dad.
  • The inspiration for his second book Run Studio Run, and his approach of focusing on one thing at a time (vs. multitasking).
  • Including work you want to be doing in your portfolio, and his advice for anyone who is deciding between two roles.
  • Why you should seek out weird shit as inspiration.

Mic Drops

“So much of it is your ability to guide people through a creative process. In the end, we’re selling words. People pay us a sizable chunk of money and what they get out of it in the end is a word, and some language around that. So if you’re not taking all the right things into consideration at the right times, guiding people through that process, and really just looking at it from a process level, you're not going to go far if you’re just sharing lists of words with people. And that’s the same for basically any creative endeavor. You can come up with beautiful work, but if you don’t share it with people the right way, engage them in the right way around it, understand how their bureaucracy, how their leadership works, how work gets approved at your clients' organizations, you’re just flapping your arms in the water hoping to stay afloat.”

“Share the work that you want to be doing and that you want to be making. I think a lot of people are so willing to be the chameleon, to do what they need to do to get the job. To have that skill or say, ‘Oh yeah, I love doing that stuff.’ And really, you should just really be focusing on what you love to do.”

“You can spend so much time vacillating over what you could do or should be doing. Think about what’s in front of you, make the best decision you can, and if you realize, 'Hey, I made the wrong decision, I would rather be doing that thing instead of this,' then switch lanes then. But at least at that point, you’ll be switching lanes with the knowledge of what it’s like to actually do the thing, as opposed to some sort of mental exercise where you’re imaging what those two fields might be like.”

Resources Mentioned

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About Eli

Eli Altman is Creative Director at the Berkeley, California-based naming and branding company A Hundred Monkeys. He has completed more than 300 naming projects for clients including Google, Samsung, and Target – as well as a wide variety of bars, restaurants, and startups. Eli was responsible for developing the naming process at A Hundred Monkeys, and previously at MetaDesign, San Francisco. Before joining A Hundred Monkeys in 2009, he worked as a strategist at MetaDesign and Factor Design in San Francisco. Eli has been interviewed on naming and branding with The New York Times, NPR, The Guardian, and 99% Invisible.