What Matters to Kurt Kretten

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Debbie Millman has an ongoing project at PRINT titled “What Matters.” This is an effort to understand the interior life of artists, designers, and creative thinkers. This facet of the project is a request of each invited respondent to answer ten identical questions and submit a nonprofessional photograph.

Kurt Kretten is Global Chief Creative Officer at Marks. A creative leader and curious soul with over 20 years of experience in everything from brand design to product development, advertising and film, Kurt is a multi-disciplined designer in a mad pursuit of experiences that connect people, culture, brands, and technology in meaningful ways.

What is the thing you like doing most in the world?

Well, I think of myself as an old school creative, so naturally there’s about forty things that I love to do!

I tend to bounce from thing to thing, which makes me really happy, but also makes it really hard for me to get anything done… more often than not these forty things are left unfinished.

But having free-form conversations with really amazing and collaborative creative people while we interrogate a brief is one of the things that keeps me going. That’s where ideas are at their rawest state, not weighed down by the process. I love listening to all the whirring brains in the room and adding to the energy and, while those ‘same room’ moments seem to be getting fewer and fewer, they’re the most impactful for me as a creative.

What is the first memory you have of being creative?

It was one of my middle school assignments. Instead of writing a book report on Frankenstein, I made a comic book.

I wrote a story, illustrated it and colored it. I thought it was epic and so original, I spent every waking moment of my week doing it. The teacher loved it too, but said it wasn’t the assignment so made me redo it as a book report!

I guess that was my first taste of client feedback that I didn’t follow the brief. Haha.

What is your biggest regret?

Failing to do my own thing and be an artist. I’ve had plenty of ideas, but never the bravery to just commit to them and do it – I’ve always had an excuse or reason not to.

I’ve got to the age where I can mentor young creatives and friends, but it’s amazing how I often don’t listen to the things I say myself. I think that lack of bravery is absolutely my biggest regret, it controls everything you do and every choice after that.

How have you gotten over heartbreak?

Do you ever get over heartbreak? I think that is the beauty of being human. You carry with you all the failures in your life and those propel you forward. They allow you to grow and evolve and be a better person, friend, collaborator and creative.

We all have things that define who we are that only we know, and I actually really cherish those things. They are painful but so useful.

What makes you cry?

Seeing my daughters struggle, fail, and grow up in a world that tells them they are not of value. I’ll never be able to understand their pain first-hand, but to see them go through this world the way they have to makes me sad. My instincts tell me to protect and isolate them, but I know they need the space to grow and make mistakes on their own.

I recently moved my daughter to the West Coast, after being on the East Coast her whole life, to start her first job out of college. Saying goodbye was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I think it was first time I ever cried in front of her.

How long does the pride and joy of accomplishing something last for you?

Not long enough – but maybe that’s a good thing. As a creative in business you really are only as good as your last piece of work. I’ve never thought of a legacy when I look back because it doesn’t seem to matter. Nobody cares. Really, nobody cares.

I don’t really like the idea of the celebrity designer or creative, many of us are trapped in the industry bubble and fail to zoom out. I really feel the most joy when I see young creatives contribute to a project that has a real impact. But then you need to move on to the next.

Do you believe in an afterlife, and if so, what does that look like to you?

I do, but not in the traditional sense. I don’t believe my spirit goes somewhere else, but I do believe that my choices and connections will live on in others after I’m gone. I hope whatever I’ve built remains and betters the lives of those I leave behind.

It makes what I do with my time more important and guides the choices I make.

What do you hate most about yourself?

My lack of self-confidence, bravery, and my abundance of imposter syndrome.

I tell my daughters all the time to be brave, to focus on the main task instead of looking ahead or behind. But I still make every excuse to not put myself out there and create my own path as an artist.

What do you love most about yourself?

Patience and perspective. It took me a really long time to get to this point, but now I’m here as a creative with the experiences that I have, I can see that the best and biggest ideas come when you allow the creative process to play out in all of its messy glory.

The same applies for being a parent of three daughters. Be there to support, provide guidance and insert the necessary insight, but I find the outcome is so much more impactful when you let people find their own way.

What is your absolute favorite meal?

Well, I grew up in an immigrant Italian family and my mother’s Sunday sauce gives me all the feels… But me and my family have become obsessed with really good dumplings and dim sum. My daughters’ favorite thing to do is go to Pinch in Soho and order a bunch of dumplings, laugh, eat, and talk about their worlds.

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