2 Minutes With … Dan Gardner, Co-Founder of Code and Theory

On the Washington Commanders rebrand and combining tech with creativity

Dan has built Code and Theory into a global network with 2,000 employees. The company serves as a strategic partner to Microsoft, Amazon, Google, MSNBC, JP Morgan Chase and others. Projects range from designing CNN's "Magic Wall" and launching the Daily Beast to the rebranding of the Washington Commanders.

Dan is also co-founder of ON_Discourse, a membership media company focused on prioritizing expert discourse to drive perspectives. 

We spent two minutes with Dan to learn more about his background, his creative inspirations and recent work he's admired.

Dan, tell us …

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I grew up in Northport on Long Island. I moved to the East Village in NYC when I was 22 and founded Code and Theory. I've moved about 15 times since then. Now, 22 years after starting the company, I live in Nashville, but spend a lot of time in New York.

A moment from high school or college that changed your life.

When my guidance counselor said I wouldn't amount to anything. She told me I probably wouldn't even get into the colleges I applied to. Maybe it's a Long Island thing, but I found that assessment motivational. Also the Extrude filter in Photoshop. It is the worst filter of all time but there is something magical that happens the first time you use a new tool. I still feel that way today when I experiment with AI.

A person you idolized creatively early on.

Dieter Rams. While Mies van der Rohe said, "Less Is More," I think Dieter had it right when he said: "Less But Better." The chief designer at Braun succeeded at living his mantra in the products he created for decades. I feel like the digital evolution design motto of today should be "More But Simpler." (Ahem, ChatGTP anyone?)

A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.

A bit of a cheat naming my own podcast, but "Playing Business," which I co-host with former NFL quarterback DeShone Kizer. These are stories from the most passionate athletes who have successfully transitioned into the business world. It's not your generic "passion and teamwork" values pod, but real inspiring journeys. 

One of your favorite creative projects you've ever worked on. 

I've been fortunate to work on amazing things like launching The Daily Beast with Tina Brown and taking Vogue online with Anna Wintour. But hands down launching Style Wars online was my favorite. Working alongside artist Carlos Mare (aka Mare 139) was such a pivotal project for Code and Theory. It was fueled by amazing creativity and innovation in the early days of the Internet. 

A recent project you're proud of. 

Rebranding the Washington Commanders. It's sort of a thankless job rebranding anything because everyone has an opinion, especially a brand that people tattoo on their bodies. However, it was an incredible experience to conduct an inclusivity-first approach to the branding of a professional sports team. I'm pretty certain that's never been done before. 

Someone else's work in the industry that inspired you years ago. 

Guinness' "Surfer." I do wonder what the pitch and approval process was like to get this made. Even decades later, watching this makes me want to drink a Guinness.

Honorable mention: The original Praystation. Back in the early 2000s, Josh Davis was pioneering how to use code to fuel creativity. A lot of Praystation's early work inspired some of the foundational approaches to projects we did at Code and Theory (note our name!).

Someone else's work you admired lately. 

Sardines. The entire sardine category. I was admiring the shelf the other day in the supermarket. Just search sardines and you will agree. The package design is next level.

Your main strength as a creative person.

I am a firm believer in discourse and always seek out people with opinions that are the opposite of mine. The most powerful tool at our disposal is applying the discipline of discourse to how we gain perspective and make business decisions.

Your biggest weakness.

I have high expectations for other people. I don't like when people put limitations on their own abilities. People don't give themselves enough credit for what they can achieve. It is frustrating to me. We have a saying at Code and Theory: Only be limited by your own creativity.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising.

I don't consider myself in advertising so I'd do exactly what I'm doing today: start a business that uses technology and creativity to solve problems. But in that hypothetical world, those solutions wouldn't be using advertising.

2 Minutes With is our regular interview series where we chat with creatives about their backgrounds, creative inspirations, work they admire and more. For more about 2 Minutes With, or to be considered for the series, please get in touch.

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