I've always admired and respected Mother – the agency I mean, but also my own mother. As a brand Mother just has this refreshing personal vibe, not to mention their impressive work for clients like Nike, Nasty Gal, Sundance and more. I talked to Maitê Albuquerque, creative director at Mother LA, about how we can land a job working on her design team. Unsurprisingly, she was as warm and friendly as I imagine the whole Mother "family" to be, giving us lots of helpful tips and insider advice.
Hey, Maitê! First, can you please tell us a little about yourself and what you do at Mother?
I’m a just girl who had the luck to become an art director 11 years ago in the competitive Brazilian market. Since then, I was able to work in Lisbon, Chicago, New York, and LA at great companies like Ogilvy and 72andSunny. I always loved design, so I jumped between production companies and advertising agencies trying to figure out what was the best fit for me. I realized that maybe I had to start my shop, but that’s when I got lucky again. Mother was about to open an office in LA and asked me to join the startup team as a creative director.
The Mother LA office
Looking at your current design team, how many of them came through internal referrals or headhunting, and how many came through the traditional application process?
I would say that 100% of our senior designers came through referrals. In a startup, the team has to be very tight, so we try to bring people that we already know.
But when it comes to junior teams, I usually try to find them on design blogs. One of my current designers I found on Dribbble. I think if you expose your work online while you're still a young professional with a raw style, it not only shows your talent, but also your tenacity and courage.
Mother Design's work for AIGA
"Most of the time, the way you see the world and articulate your ideas is more important than a good portfolio."
Say we decide to reach out with a cold email. What kind of message gets a reply? Any secrets for us?
I love when people share their personal stories. To be honest, hyper-professional emails get lost in the sea of other emails and portfolios we receive. Most of the time, the way you see the world and articulate your ideas is more important than a good portfolio.
All the mothers.
How important is a complete portfolio? Can I get away with not having a portfolio when interviewing at Mother?
I think the quality of the work is way more important than the amount of work. If you have a rotten potato around 100 of other good ones, they will all smell bad. It’s the same with work. I would rather see less work, if it’s good, than more pieces just there to fill a page.
Tell us one thing you never want to see again on a portfolio. Anything you wish you saw more?
Here a list of design cliches that turn me off right away:
Clean, fashion-y websites
Hipster logos with crossed arrows
Swiss design templates. It’s crazy how people are copying what is meant just to inspire.
Anything in Millennium Pink! Please, there are an infinite amount of other possible colors!
I want to see more personal projects, some experiments you did in design. People need to show more about how they think and see the world. Our job will always change, so we need to know that you have the capacity to adapt and find elegant solutions to the most diverse problems.
Part of Mother's "TargetStyle, In Vogue" campaign
Besides having a portfolio, do you like the idea of designers being invested in other interests? For example being active bloggers or otherwise outspoken in their community?
Having activities outside of work is vital. We always look for people who bring knowledge that we don’t have in the building. If you only work on things that are inside our walls, it’s tough to grow creatively.
Say I make the first pass and get invited to an interview. Can you describe the interview process as briefly as possible?
Well, here at Mother, it feels like when you visit your significant other’s family for the first time. You will meet everyone! We are a family here, so we try to get a perspective from all the departments about the candidate personality. Work has already been judged and liked if you are inside this building. Now we just want to hear how you talk about your work and most importantly, about your life and ambitions.
What are the secondary skills you look for in a designer, besides common soft skills? For example, do you prefer business skills over coding skills? Video skills over coding?
I think there is space for any skill. We have designers with great editorial skills, others that are great at motion graphics and 3D. I would love to find a designer who is great at coding as much as a designer who is great with music. I think creativity comes from mixing skills.
"Experience is always great, but the ability to learn speaks volumes."
Would Mother hire someone who is a cultural fit over someone who has more industry experience and hard skills?
I would hire someone who sounds more like a learner than someone who is a know-it-all. Experience is always great, but the ability to learn speaks volumes.
Part of the Nasty Gal brand by Mother
What are the biggest mistakes you see designers make when applying for a job at Mother? Are there any specific things that keep bothering you? Please complain to us!
I’ve seen many people, especially juniors, selling their work way too hard. Trying to make me see how good the job they did is right. I believe that the work speaks way more than any justification. Let your work talk. If you need to make someone see something they can’t without your help, maybe it’s because the work is wrong or not 100% right.
I imagine having divisions in New York, London and LA opens you up to a ton of design talent. Do we have to live in one of those cities to get a job at Mother, or do you have remote designers on your team as well?
We do have talent that works remotely but usually, we do that with people who already work with us. Once you’ve worked here, we trust you and we understand the way you work, you are free as a bird.
I know Mother has accepted interns in the past. Is that a good way to get our foot in the door?
We are launching an internship program starting this summer. So send us your books 🙂
"We are not the agency that only hires the 'cool' trendy people."
How do you think Mother is different when hiring new talent compared to other agencies or design studios?
We are not the agency that only hires the “cool” trendy people. We want to be the place where people that were misunderstood or don’t fit anywhere else can find a place to be themselves. Creativity doesn’t come from being cool, but from being comfortable with your true self. That’s what we believe. We want to be the home of the creative community.
Maitê! Thanks so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with us. For those interested in getting a design job at Mother, here are your key takeaways:
Nr. 1 - Don't try too hard.
Mother expects your work to speak for itself. Don't sell yourself too hard, and don't do the "trendy" thing. Just speak to your experience, be honest and be yourself.
Nr. 2 - Make it personal.
Mother wants to understand how you think and see the world. If you're sending a cold email, skip the professional "To Whom it May Concern" talk and make it personal. On your portfolio, add side projects and personal experiments that reveal more about who you are as a designer.
Nr. 3 - Curate your portfolio and put your work out there.
Many companies in our series have said this: They don't care how many projects you share in your portfolio, they just care that they're good. Don't add projects just to fill the page – add only your best work. And especially if you're a junior designer, make sure you're present on design platforms like Dribbble. If you don't have a personal connection to someone at Mother, your work needs to be good enough to get noticed.