How Love and Justice Guide Creative Director Carmelle Kendall's Brand, Agency, and Personal Work

How Love and Justice Guide Creative Director Carmelle Kendall's Brand, Agency, and Personal Work

How Love and Justice Guide Creative Director Carmelle Kendall's Brand, Agency, and Personal Work

by The Luupe

A conversation with Dagger's Creative Director and Neighborly founder about her inspiring career and the future of creative work, branding, and visual culture.

Carmelle Kendall is a creative force. In her decade-plus career, she's directed campaigns for some of the world's biggest brands, driven by a passion to spread love and social good.
After getting her Master's in Advertising Design and Art Direction from SCAD and briefly interning at Publicis, Kendall landed a Junior Art Director role at Young and Rubicam, working on campaigns for Colgate, Speed Stick, Palmolive, and many others. She took a quick break to develop her freelance design and Art Direction practice, working with clients like Coca-Cola, Fanta, Home Depot, and Morgan Stanley before jumping back into the agency world as an art director for The Integer Group and then Havas International.
And, in her two-year-plus tenure at Atlanta's Dagger agency, she shifted gears, moving into the role of Creative Director. All the while, Kendall runs the "witty and unapologetic" paper company and greeting card line Neighborly where she proudly answers to no one but her own creative drive.
Inspired by her just-do-it vibes and the love that she brings to everything she touches, we caught up to learn more about her career and vision for the future.
▲ A still from Dagger's "Team Aflac VS. The Gap Goat" campaign.
"Way too many people live in the gap between what health care costs could be and what their health insurance covers. Aflac's mission, its driving purpose, is to wake people up to this fact and show them that their solution is Aflac.
CREDITS CD: Brandon Hampton | ACD - Art: Carmelle Kendall | Copywriter: Sam Fuller | Editors/Animators: Mitchell Hardage, Cory di Mino, Amario Andre | Role: Associate Creative Director, Art Lead
The Luupe: How did you first get into visual culture as a career path?
Carmelle Kendall: I stumbled into a visual culture career path by accident actually! Senior year at Howard University, I realized that I should probably be more intentional about my plans after graduation (enough of the partying already). I knew that I disliked my marketing major because it wasn’t creative enough for me, but I didn’t know much about careers in the arts.
So, senior year of undergrad, with only a few weeks until graduation, I realized I needed to decide on my future. I remember that I was visiting home in Atlanta, and saw the iconic Chick-fil-a billboards along the highway. I thought to myself, "I feel like I would be great doing something like that!" Figuring out fonts, colors, and in that particular case, the concept of the cow painting on the billboard.
The minute I got back to Howard, I made an appointment with my career counselor and asked “Who are the people who create ads?” She told me that it was called “art director”. Immediately, I googled “How to be an art director” and the rest is history.
▲ For Fanta: "Welcome to The Zone, where your wildest dreams can become R E A L. Or… as real as a digital reality show gets. The Zone is a fan-fueled, fan-first digital show where we reimagine the fanta-stical dreams of a lucky few of our fans, while allowing the rest of the fandom to co-conspire in its creation." CREDITS: Art Director: Carmelle Kendall • Agency: HAVAS Atlanta
The Luupe: When you were first starting out, were there any particular insights or pieces of creative advice that kept you motivated? And what made you decide to pursue a MA at SCAD?
Kendall: I chose the MA program at SCAD over portfolio schools because I wanted a degree vs a certificate of completion. With all of the work that goes into the program, I felt like a degree was warranted. Also, once I toured the campus, with all of the state-of-the-art facilities and equipment, it was a no-brainer on which school to choose.
The Luupe: What were some of the most memorable takeaways from your time there?
Kendall: When I look back on my time at SCAD, I pulled creative inspiration from everywhere and everything. During that time, I would constantly go to Midtown Arts Cinema, which is a small movie theater in Atlanta that shows creative indie films from all over.
I remember going in between classes when I would have a couple of hours to spare, and I think that was the main source of inspiration during that time. In art school, you are in a constant state of experimentation which keeps you playing with the idea of what could be. I am a true believer that you cannot run out of creativity so the more you experiment, the more ideas flow out of you.
Finding that source of inspiration and constantly creating, even just for an experiment, are what kept me motivated during that time.
"Men Speed Stick Latin America uses its brand mascots, The Men in Blue, to represent the product because of their protective, body guard role. With Men Speed Stick Clinical, the 5 roles of the product are hidden inside of the jacket of The Men in Blue. They activate the product in stressful situations to keep our hero cool, calm, and collected." CREDITS CD – Gerard Garolera | Copywriter – Gerard Garolera | Carmelle Kendall: Art Director • Agency: Y&R Redfuse

The Luupe: On your website, you describe your work as being fueled by your passion for social movements and bringing more love to the world. What's a recent project that you worked on that nailed this for you?
Kendall: I recently illustrated a book with Penguin Random House Publishing (currently available for pre-order, out on July 25, 2023) that is the true essence of that. The book is entitled YOUR FREEDOM, YOUR POWER, and is a children’s book about what your rights and responsibilities are in the United States.
Through fascinating stories about some of our most historic and ground-breaking cases, the book answers questions like “When is a good time to protest?” and “How do I write a letter to my representative?”
Through projects like this, I am able to use my art for something more than advertising and be a part of social movements that impact Black and brown people. Through my art, I feel most alive when I am creating a world that I want to live in. I am so thankful for this project and to the amazing authors Allison Matulli and Clelia Castro-Malaspina for creating such a powerful children’s book.

The Luupe: A few years ago, you moved from working for years as an Art Director into the role of Creative Director. How has your work shifted as a Creative Director?
Kendall: No one really prepares you for the shift from Art Director to Creative Director. Art directors are more in the day-to-day, and getting their hands dirty with more specific details of the work and creative directors oversee the whole campaign. I am not going to lie, it was and still is hard for me not being in the weeds with my projects. I love design so much so taking a step back is not ideal but is necessary so that I can learn more leadership qualities.
Now that I am Creative Director, I am honing in on skills like getting the work sold in, managing a team of designers/art directors, and choosing the overarching look/feel of the campaign.
I now have more control over the campaign and I am now thinking bigger conceptually instead of the smaller details. I love both roles equally and I am thankful for my time as art director.
The Luupe: We love Neighborly. Do you see the platform existing completely independent of your agency work? What'd coming up in the near future for Neighborly?
Kendall: Thank you so much! Neighborly has been a labor of love since 2016. It has always and will remain independent from my agency work. I actually started Neighborly with the intent of having a creative outlet outside of campaign work.
I liked the idea of not having a client have the final say and getting to design for myself.
The Luupe: What's coming up in the near future for Neighborly?
Kendall: We have so much coming up this year, starting out with a huge rebrand! We redesigned our logo recently and are phasing out probably 90% of our inventory and redesigning everything. I am SO excited for you all to see the new inventory but in the meantime check out a snippet of the new brand design.

The Luupe: Love that - can't wait to see more! Are you still taking on freelance projects outside of Neighborly and Dagger?
Kendall: It’s hard to believe that with agency work and Neighborly, I still have time left for more, but the answer is yes! If there is a project that I am passionate about, such as YOUR FREEDOM, YOUR POWER, then I will make the time.
The Luupe: What excites you most about brand and visual culture right now?
Kendall: Typography excites me most right now. From what I have been seeing, all typography rules are out of the window and that couldn’t make me happier. Anything with typography as the focus has my name written all over it. I am a fan of having the typography set the whole vibe for the design instead of falling to the background which we have seen in years past.
▲ Carmelle and her Neighborly partner Robin
The Luupe: What do you want to see more of?
Kendall: I would love to see more 3D and AR typography and be able to work in those spaces as well. With the rise of 3D and AR, it is also inspiring to think of what could become. Learning 3D is on my resolutions list for this year!
The Luupe: If you could leave the aspiring Art and Creative Directors reading this with a nugget of advice, what would it be?
Kendall: I have three pieces of advice that have never steered me wrong.
The first is, to always think of yourself as a business. During my time at Howard University, the dean of the School of Business told my freshman class that once you think of yourself as a business and not as an employee, it’s easier to make career decisions. For example, instead of thinking of a job offer as an offer to work for a company, you look at it as a partnership; a way to merge your business with their business. Everything you do, say etc. is a walking advertisement and reflection of your business.
The second piece of advice is to always create for yourself. When your income revolves around creating for a client, it’s easy to get frustrated and feel unsatisfied because you don’t have the final say in the creative. However, when you create for yourself you not only can do what you want to do, but you can also learn a lot along the way.
Creating for yourself allows you to experiment and have fun without the worry of losing income because the client doesn’t like it. There are no strings attached and no repercussions if something doesn’t look good.
The last piece of advice is to never stop learning! I am so grateful to Dagger for sending me to the Adobe Max conference last year. It completely changed my outlook on self-training and education in the art and design industry.
Our industry is becoming more and more high-tech and changing rapidly. If you aren’t up to date, it will be harder and harder to market yourself as a business. I believe our industry should be treated like any other. Doctors, dentists, engineers, etc all have to stay up to date on the latest advancements in their field, why shouldn’t we be able to keep up as well?
The Luupe: Amazing, thank you! No pressure to answer this one, but we've been talking so much at The Luupe about the evolution and future of creative work and "The Creator Economy," especially within the rapid development of AI. Where do you see creative and art direction shifting/ evolving in the coming years?
Kendall: This is a great question, and something I have thought a lot about. I actually love the advancements in AI but I hope that artists can be compensated fairly for their work being contributed as prompts. I love how Photoshop is incorporating AI into the interface and I am loving what I have been seeing with AI animation.
I think that incorporating AI into my own workstream will only allow for better and faster output and, in turn, will allow me to create even more. I am excited to see what comes of it and I'm hopeful that I can be right there in the mix using all of this new technology.
The Luupe
The Luupe is a one-stop production company that is raising the bar for professional brand imagery on a global scale. With a highly curated and diverse network of professional women and non-binary photo and video creators across 80+ countries around the world, we are reinventing how brands produce original, local, and authentic visual stories that connect with a global audience. Our mission is to champion and amplify diverse perspectives from around the world — in front of and behind the lens.
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