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RAF Inspired: Sunsets and Dog Turds

January 30, 2018


RAF Inspired: Sunsets and Dog Turds

By Matt D’Angelo, RAF Events Co-Chair and Digital Creative Director at Martino Flynn.

“I think the fun of being a graphic designer is to do something original, to make images that nobody’s ever seen before. And the only way you’re going to do that is to avoid what the culture tells you is good. There is no good. The good comes from what does the job. Once it might be a sunset, which is beautiful, and another might be a dog turd, which is disgusting. But it may be the perfect image for what you’re trying to communicate.”
– Bob Gill, illustrator, filmmaker and a living legend of graphic design.


I’ve been a professional graphic designer since 1997; playing many roles in several ad agencies and studios. I firmly believe that the vast majority of what I do falls under the category of “commercial art”, as opposed to “fine art”. In essence, commercial art has a functional business goal, whereas fine art is typically driven by more of an emotional expression; open to wide interpretations. There has been a common thread to my approach no matter if I was acting as a designer, photographer, art director, creative director, etc.. For me, that thread has always been a passion for results.

So when I think about inspiration as a design professional, I’m typically looking into the problem, the solution, and the results. There’s a certain level of wonder and experimentation involved (no doubt) but during my career I’ve discovered patterns and methodologies that help to keep focus and secure ROI. I’m inspired to affect behavioral change for brands. It’s my passion. It’s my pleasure. It’s my craft.


I’ve recently been inspired (for the 73rd time) by the notion of strength in simplicity held by many design pioneers. Unfortunately, we often get lured into the business of decoration in efforts to appease clients or simply to stay on-trend. Well, I find it so refreshing to circle back to graphic design history and get schooled by the masters. A recent documentary on the iconic Volkswagen campaigns from DDB served as an encouraging source of inspiration for me. And, although we often strive for simplicity, Paul Rand held to the conclusion that “Simplicity is not the goal. It is the byproduct of a good idea and modest expectations.”



Looking back on inspirational moments from my career typically serve as a catalyzing agent for current work. For example, reminiscing on blazing new trails with a great team on proof-of-concepts that resulted in our agency partner, Deutsch, winning AOR for Saturn and Sony PlayStation in the same day. Or, relying on complex collaborations to quickly spin up digital solutions, celebrity endorsements and anti-bullying initiatives around an episode of ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. One last example: gathering for a couple days in a Boston ad agency with some of the nation’s most talented, down-to-earth and earnest ECDs for a workshop. We shared account wins, campaign achievements, commiserated on the challenges of creative leadership and looked into the future for ways to vigilantly remain relevant to our client’s audiences.


I typically respond to design work with either a “Yes”, “No”, or “Hot Damn!”.

  • “Yes” comes from a campaign or creative component that sits nicely on-brand, has an effective character and propels brand promises further. The concepts and tactics seem efficient and doable. It gives me hope.
  • “No” spawns from an overall feeling of taking a step backwards. Perhaps it was from creative that seems to have “phoned it in” or an ambitious swing-and-a-miss. This activates my creative mind into imagining how I would have approached the challenge or executed the idea differently.
  • “Hot Damn!” is uttered when my jaw drops and I’m caught in a green swirl of envy. I’m grinning and my brain (hopefully heart too) gets tickled. I’m dissecting the work and it’s something not soon forgotten. This shot of creative adrenaline has me talking to colleagues and friends, sharing out to my social network and really excited for my next design challenge.


Music: I’m in the habit of making a Spotify playlist for each year with fresh, new-to-me tracks; suitable for creative flow at the agency or home office.

Creative Works: Behance is my Pinterest. From branding, ad campaigns, animation and photography, I love exploring creative pools from all over the world – especially behind-the-scenes and preliminary concepts. Dribbble is another go-to; typically for creative UIs and animations.

Environments: Interior spaces, lighting, furnishings, colors, materials; these all get me thinking on design in a much broader, experiential, sense. I so appreciate it when it really shows that spaces have been carefully fashioned to facilitate real, human activities.

Talks & Events: Discussions, seminars, debates, RAF ADDY Awards, 20MAAB. We’re so much stronger together. I get a charge out of hearing how all of our varied life experiences frame up how we think about creative, marketing and business topics.

Periodicals: Obscure periodicals, pop culture, architecture, entertainment, drumming, and photography keep my right cerebral hemisphere (and heart) interested.


Creative inspiration can (and should be) found in a variety of places: watching, reading, discussing, etc. It just makes your outlook and bag of tricks that much deeper. With booming trends in data science and analytics, I carefully hold tight to authentic, organic human experiences. I try to merge those with all the findings and metrics in today’s advertising landscape. Amidst the incredible efficiencies and precision that computers allow, I’m typically most inspired these days by really clever messaging, (disruptive) placement and graphic design that is on edge.