twitter instagram linkedin pinterest GDUSA on Google+ follow us on Facebook
previous next

People To Watch

margaret johnson

margaret johnson


After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a BA in journalism and mass communication, Johnson earned an art direction degree at the Portfolio Center in Atlanta. For her first job, she freelanced for Leonard, Monahan, Lubars & Kelly in Providence where she cut her teeth on accounts like Polaroid and Keds tennis shoes. Next, she took a job at The Richards Group in Dallas where she worked on Id Software, creators of video games like Doom and Quake. She launched lots of games with imagery of monsters, screaming faces and dead bodies. A couple of years later, Johnson received a call from Goodby Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco. She packed up and headed west again. In sixteen years, she’s worked on just about every account in the building – SONIC, Häagen-Dazs, Logitech, Nintendo, Specialized, hp, Foster Farms, Budweiser and Nest, just to name a few. Over the years, she’s won awards in every major show. She was recently recognized as Business Insider’s “Most Powerful Women In Advertising.” And in 2012, Margaret was promoted to GSP’s first female partner. When she’s not working, she enjoys being with her two kids, running, movies and traveling.

Where were you born and where do you live now? How does that affect your design sensibility?
I’m a transplant — born in North Carolina and currently live in San Francisco. There’s a funny thing about Southerners: we’re adventurers and things aren’t always as they first seem. Every Southern Belle has a redneck side to her. We like caviar with a cold Budweiser. Same goes for my design sense. I like simple, clean graphics but am also drawn to things that are a bit more raw.

The great thing about San Francisco is that it's culturally wide-open, cosmopolitan, and inclusive, so the local culture plays right into this sensibility. At my house I have lots of art, most of it from my travels over the years. An eclectic mishmash of paintings, sculpture and photography. Everything from a stuffed warthog head inspired by a Kenyan safari and a Tinga Tinga painting bought off the street in Zanzibar, to a striking graphic portrait of Alek Wek by Tierry Le Goués, the French fashion photographer. I love it all. These extremes are what make art and design interesting.

I can't imagine a worse knock as a creative director than having it said that all your work looks the same. Being exposed to a far-flung set of influences has helped me bring fresh design elements to my work and helped me stay fascinated with the job. Having access to the world’s top practitioners of design, photography and film hasn't hurt either.

What is your greatest strength and weakness as a designer or design manager?
I like to think that I have a good “gut.” I’m strongly opinionated about the way things look and rarely waffle. It sounds rigid, but giving clear direction is much more useful for my teams than open-ended direction. Typography is my weakness. I study it and love it, but it doesn't come easily to me.

Favorite Color?
Favorite Typeface?
Favorite App?
Favorite TV Show?
The Good Wife
Favorite Book?
The Catcher in the Rye
Favorite Movies?
The Shawshank Redemption, The Usual Suspects, Slumdog Millionaire, Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Favorite Musician or Band?
Lyle Lovett
Favorite Fine Artist?
Damien Hirst
Favorite Gadget?
Bookmarked Websites?
The Huffington Post, Gilt, Pinterest, You Are The River
Talent You Wished You Possessed?
Mantra or Saying You Live By?
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger