Art director Erica Bech adds a “special sauce” to every piece of work
The Nike and MTV alumni discusses how she came to love collaboration and letting go of the burdensome mindset of doing it all.
- 4 February 2021
- Alif Ibrahim
- Reading Time
- 4 minutes
Do you remember your primary school crush? These innocent episodes of puppy love might seem irrelevant in adulthood, but there’s something bittersweet and liberating about having a crush, even if it wasn’t real to begin with. In her adolescent years, Portland-based art director Erica Bech illustrated what she calls “crush trading cards,” drawing crude yet hyper-detailed trading cards at the request of her classmates. “Think Pokémon format — a main profile image with a list of strengths — but instead of a Pokémon it’s the crush of your dreams,” Erica says on an early creative memory. “My classmates would make requests for their ideal pocket boyfriends or girlfriends and I would sell these cards on the bus. I guess that’s when I realised the power of design and illustration.”
Today, Erica is a freelance art director, most recently working in the Global Brand Creative team at Nike and art directing for the kids team. “My career has been a bit haphazard. Out of school, I did a little bit of fashion e-commerce, bounced to broadcast editorial craziness with Richard Turley at MTV, then balanced that out with some vanilla agency stints,” she describes. “I designed on the sidelines for the Chobani rebrand launch and landed some freelance gigs that gave me a taste of tech.” Though she started out by executing designs, she now wears the art director’s hat more frequently, finding herself excited when she finds illustrators or animators that perfectly fits the brief. “I’m endlessly mesmerised by the level of talent I come across and it’s truly a treat to work with others,” she says.
However, this affinity for collaboration is not something that she has always felt. “Before I landed at Nike, I thought I needed to do everything as a designer in order to feel ownership over a project. Wow, that is not the case! I love not bearing the burden of thinking I need to do it all,” Erica says. “Creative possibility becomes limitless when people of different backgrounds come together. I think that’s why I’ve been so down to explore this art direction path I’ve recently found myself on. I love bringing folks together to build something that didn’t exist before.”
She prefers projects that look to bring youthful energy into the world, which translates into the dynamic signature of the projects she art directed. “A common thread in my work is simple gestures, bold flavour and a little special sauce. But really, I never want to take anything too seriously and I don’t want my work to either,” she says. “I’m a pretty introverted person yet I am consistently drawn to creating work that feels big or is emotive.” In this way, her work fills up the space in the room that she would never want to fill herself.
Erica took a couple of years off from internet presence. For a while, she didn't have Instagram or an online portfolio. She spent that time off thinking about what she really wants to be making and how she wanted to present herself in the digital world. In other words: she was finding out what matters to her. “As a woman in the creative world I’m particularly driven to fearlessly share work and release the pressure of feeling like I need to have it all figured out,” she says.
She describes a recent project, Fly With Zoom that was created in collaboration with Saiman Chow after lockdown started. “Creating marketing campaigns during social distancing called for new solutions. Standard photography could have been an option but I was seduced by the possibility of doing something else. I thought Saiman Chow would be a great partner to design a unique character that would personify the feeling of Air Zoom technology,” Erica says. “It was fun going back and forth and watching the process unfold from sharing random Grace Jones moods to bare bones sketches to polished Saiman magic. Saiman is a unicorn, but we all know that!”
Another project is Nike Playlists made in collaboration with Pablo Rochat, partly influenced by her time at MTV. “I worked with Pablo Rochat to create short interstitials that play in between the show segments. This idea was largely inspired by my time at MTV with Richard,” she says. “While Playlist show segments are mostly focused on inspiring kids to move their bodies, I wanted these interstitials to be quick moments of fun that brought a humorous energy and leaned into the edges of sport culture.”
Erica tells us that part of her current practice comes from being trusted by those around her, after spending a large part of her career feeling “weighed down by the self-imposed pressure to get my shit together.” For her, this continued growth is about facing her doubts head on. “As I mentioned, I recently left Nike to pursue the freelance thing, so I am 100% available for new, fun projects! Or custom crush trading cards,” she jokes. “I’m sure I’ll have to continue confronting that voice in my head that tells me to get normal or whatever but I’m excited to keep going and make the fun, weird stuff. Energy attracts energy, right?”
Erica Bech: Nike Playlist Interstitials / Pablo Rochat (Copyright © Erica Bech, 2020)