Design the Idea, Not Just the Execution

Mo Bofill's advice for young creatives

The following is a guest story from Clio Awards, which is partnering with Burger King on The King's Fools' Challenge, a contest that asks students to submit April Fools' ideas to BK. Entries are due by June 28.

Mooren "Mo" Bofill is executive director of design at john st. Her work has been awarded and recognized internationally, and in the last four years she's helped build an award-winning design offering from the ground up while leading a diverse team of multidisciplinary design thinkers.

Born and raised in the Philippines, and having grown up in Toronto, she brings a diverse point of view that mixes her passion for design, creativity and business strategy with Canadian design. 

Mo gives us a look back at the early days of her career, how she stays motivated and shares her thoughts on entering the Burger King Fools' Challenge, a contest for students organized in partnership with the Clio Awards. 

You are now an executive director of design. Describe how your career got started in two words? 

Intern + ship. 

I fell into advertising, actually. Fresh out of school, I was focused on getting into the hottest design shops in Toronto. It was my professor who recommended that I apply for an internship position at DDB, and unbeknownst to me back then, it was the hottest ad shop in the city. 

At DDB, I learned two very important things: to design systems-thinking at scale and to design at a very fast pace, with an insane attention to detail. As an intern, I was exposed to building brands from the ground up. We needed to build brand identity systems that could work cross-platform and were modular enough to touch every consumer experience, from print to digital to in-store—and sometimes we would have two weeks to do this! 

I was able to work on iconic Canadian brands while also being exposed to working on global brands like Wonderbra, Subaru and Bosch. It started as a three-month internship, and within two years I was a senior designer.

What's your personal commitment to students and supporting young creatives?

I currently teach at Miami Ad School Toronto, and I have the benefit of accessing some of the most passionate and creative young minds. 

Students and young creatives are the biggest source of inspiration for me. They are more inclined to take risks. They are more adaptable to change. They have such an insatiable hunger for knowledge and creativity that is infectious. And most often, they carry such an untainted and optimistic point of view on life that challenges my own perspectives. The more we surround ourselves with young talent, with opinions and thoughts that are different from ours, the more diverse ideas we get to. 

But they need us—our support, our mentorship, our leadership—to help guide their thinking and shape their careers. As leaders, it's our job to champion their ideas and ambitions. It's the only way we can evolve and push creativity.

What's your approach to answering a design brief? And do you have advice for students tackling the Burger King Fools' Challenge? 

I've always been adamant that we cannot get to great design thinking without the foundation of great strategic thinking. Understanding the brand, the human insight, the market insight, the business insight, is integral in building relevant brand platforms for the long term. Iconic brands like Burger King have stood the test of time because it's has always stuck to its DNA as a brand. 

Before you hit pencil to paper, understand the Burger King brand wholeheartedly. What does Burger King stand for? What is their mission as a company? What is the brand's character? How do they speak? How do they look? What are the iconic visual elements of the brand that you can leverage? Understanding these elements will focus your ideas and get it to a place that is authentic to the brand.

What are some common missteps you have seen from young design creatives? 

A big misstep is focusing on the aesthetic, devoid of an idea. 

Getting to an idea is tough—really, really tough. And most often, we lean on the aesthetic to solve the challenge. This actually isn't just a common misstep for young design creatives, but most creatives who are design-minded. They instinctually focus on the craft of the execution and lose sight of what the idea is. Design isn't just about making things look pretty. Design has the power to bring an idea to life in a smart and simple way. In my opinion, the magic happens when the design IS the idea. 

The McWhopper and Proud Whopper campaigns are great examples of using design to bring the idea to life in a smart and simple way. A quick glance at the package design of both of these campaigns—with minimal copy or explanation, you already understand the intent of the campaign within seconds. 

Design the idea, not just the design.

Any parting words to our students?

You got this. 

See what Mo is up to on Instagram.

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