Creative Leaders on Beginnings: W+K’s Iain Tait

We’ve talked to a number of CR’s Creative Leaders 50 about how they got started, the best advice they’ve received and how they bring their teams with them when beginning a new project. Here we talk to Wieden + Kennedy London’s Iain Tait about his journey to date

Iain Tait is a veteran of the digital marketing and design world. Currently ECD at Wieden + Kennedy London, in his early career he worked at companies including Syzygy, First Tuesday, and Oven Digital, and also designed very early websites for a number of Edinburgh Festivals. He then co-founded Poke, where he spent eight years, before first joining Wieden + Kennedy (in its Portland office) in 2010. After a stint at Google Creative Lab in New York from 2012-15, he returned to W+K, this time in its London office.

Tait is renowned not only for his work, which includes the hugely popular Old Spices Responses campaign and the launch of the Google Chrome Experiments, but also for his leadership, which in recent years has seen him advocate for the need for creatives to have some time off to work to the best of their ability.

Despite all these accolades, as Tait explains below, it could have all been quite a different career journey. He initially struck upon the world of digital design by chance, having headed to university initially to study engineering. Here he talks about the twists and turns he has experienced since, the most important advice he has received, and why it is best to always follow inspiring people rather than the money.

Creative Review: How did you first get started?
Iain Tait: My journey into this strange and wonderful business was meandering at best, downright wonky at worst. I grew up in a perfectly nice but entirely non-descript village in the middle of England.

My careers advisor only had advice regarding jobs that would have been featured in Richard Scarry‘s Busytown books (even though we were in the 90s by this point). I was a pretty decent student who wasn’t entirely shit at maths and science. So according to his flow-chart that meant I should be an engineer. I didn’t know any better. I’d liked Lego as a kid. And I enjoyed making stuff on the computer, so this didn’t sound too terrible. Plus you didn’t need very good grades to get into good universities, which was handy.

I’d had this romantic notion of university being like a cross between an acid—house party and Dead Poets Society. The maths and engineering department in its shitty pre-fab buildings was absolutely not it.

My only way out was to take an outside course and transfer onto that after a year. I struggled through a year of 9am maths lectures, and introductions to mechanical, electrical and civil engineering. None of which I can remember a single thing about.

However, I had the luckiest of bounces. My professor ended up being a specialist in Human Computer Interaction (which sat in the Psychology dept). He got me early access to the Internet/WWW, and encouraged me to study Information Systems and Technology and Society. I vividly remember one of his lectures about which Hollywood robots would get along best in the real world.

At the end of my degree I had no idea what I was going to end up doing. But I wanted to work ‘in the Internet’.