Any creative professional out there will mostly be able to tell exactly what made them the person they are. Alex Moulton, Chief Creative Officer at Trollbäck+Company, certainly isn't different.
Alex is a focused and caring leader who puts an emphasis on being present as much as planning and learning from his mistakes. His extensive experience at several agencies and brands led him to the position he is holding today – but most importantly, it is what makes him different, and what makes his leadership stand out with its own fierce voice.
Today we are Getting to Know the team leader and the mind behind some of the most popular identities you've seen in recent years, including Fox's rebrand, Disney+ and HBO Max. Read more about Alex's incredibly inspiring story below!
Tell us a bit about your role! What is one typical day like?
There are so many ways I could describe my role here as Chief Creative Officer at Trollbäck+Company. Every day, I try to balance foresight (planning, proposals, pitching) with being present (listening, supporting, directing) and hindsight (learning, processing, optimizing) for a multi-disciplinary team of designers, animators, writers, and strategists. This requires me to maintain a flexible mindset and wear many hats – shepherd, orchestra conductor, storyteller, or sometimes, simply audience. My goal each day is to stay open, be an advocate, learn from everyone, and focus on the big picture.
That said, here at Trollbäck, every day is completely different, one of the many things I love about working in branding and design, especially at a small studio with such an extraordinary team. Our clients range from the biggest global brands to tiny startups to world-changing and community-changing non-profits, but regardless of the client we’re working with, the stakes are always high. As a result, it’s extremely important to me that every project we create exceeds expectations. On a personal level, that means being a perpetual student of business, design, art, technology, and every one of our clients’ industries and to continually advocate that back to my team. This process of listening, learning, designing, building, and evolving is the root of our methodology at Trollbäck. I really do believe that the design process is a wonderful model for life in general.
What was the biggest challenge in getting to your current position?
The biggest challenge was being confident enough to accept this role and all that it entails. I’ve always viewed this company as among the best design firms in the world, so being offered a leadership position was both a dream come true and something I did not take lightly. Jakob Trollbäck and I had known each other for 15 years, and I’d been friends with many of the staff since the company began. My wife even freelanced here many years ago! So when Danielle Garcia (now CEO) described the opportunity to me just before I started in 2016, I knew the level of creativity that would be expected from the studio, and I wanted to make sure I was up to the task. As it happened, our values and vision for the company’s future aligned perfectly, and that gave me the conviction to shape a plan and dive right in.
What is your personal background and what role did it play in your career?
I grew up in California, went to film school in the midwest, moved to NYC to pursue a career in independent film as a cinematographer in the 90s, was DJing at night, then went to work at a small design studio as a hybrid editor/director, while also playing in a band and producing records. In 2001, I saw an opportunity there to start an external music agency and record label, which became a pioneer in the nascent field of sonic brand strategy. After a decade, that company rolled back into the design firm I used to work for, and I was promoted to ECD. I then went to VICE Media to launch and help run Live Nation TV in 2015, before ultimately landing where I am now at Trollbäck+Company as CCO. It sounds so easy when I say it like that… but it has been a very circuitous journey from film to music to creative to strategy. Each of these experiences taught me real-world lessons, both positive and negative, about what it takes to simultaneously run a successful business, service clients, manage creative people, and translate strategic goals into sustainable brands.
What is your biggest career-related win? What is your biggest loss?
My biggest win might be our recent work at Trollbäck+Company creating the design system for Disney+. Working with their all-star team of marketers, designers, creators and business strategists, we helped set a new high bar in the entertainment industry and the streaming service has become a future-proof anchor for one of the most beloved brands and storytellers in the world. I’m so proud of our staff and our incredible client team, and watching the growth and success of this platform brings me joy every day. There’s nothing like being a real fan of something you helped give birth to.
My biggest loss was, without a doubt, closing my record label after it failed to be profitable. It was an emotional and painful process, because so many artists were counting on us to support their career growth. I sincerely believed that we had built a more equitable business model and that the music we made was special, but when it failed, I lost a lot of my life savings, as well as others’ financial and time investments. I learned countless lessons from that experience, but the biggest one was knowing when to call it and move on; a decision that, in hindsight, I should have made much earlier.
What’s your secret to remain inspired and motivated?
I remind myself daily that it’s not about me. My purpose and my role as a creative leader is to service and support others’ success – my team, clients, family, and friends. These people are the ones that motivate me and keep me inspired.
Which individuals and/or agencies do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?
As a rule, I don’t do “hero worship.” It’s not a healthy practice to set other people in this industry higher than yourself, especially when you meet them and realize that we’re all just people trying to create good things. If I have any heroes at all, they are activists who have something to say and have the conviction to build a platform to share their message bravely. Greta Thunberg, Thandiwe Abdullah, Malala Yousafzai, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and so many others – these are the people that give me hope.
How has COVID-19 affected you?
It has been life-altering in so many ways. I’ve watched my friends lose loved ones, lose their businesses, lose their jobs, and my beloved city come to a standstill. The psychic weight of witnessing the entire world suffer is heartbreaking and anxiety-inducing and, at times, completely debilitating. And yet, the pandemic, the political situation in the U.S., and the Black Lives Matter movement has helped galvanize and focus my community for the better. This year at Trollbäck, we launched a non-profit called .movtogether to foster diversity, inclusion and new opportunities in the entertainment, advertising, and design industries with a number of friends, clients, and like-minded agencies. For anyone who is curious, I urge you to reach out: https://www.movtogether.com/
Alex Moulton is the Chief Creative Officer at Trollbäck+Company
What is your biggest hope for 2021?
My biggest hope is to keep our team intact at Trollbäck+Company – happy, fulfilled, and inspired. This extraordinary group of people is so special to me, and the culture of collaboration and support that we’ve built has, admittedly, been very challenging to sustain when we feel isolated from each other. Before the pandemic began, we started construction on a beautiful new office space. Now that it’s nearly done, I’m so excited to breathe life into it. My biggest hope for 2021 is that we’ll be all be back together in the same creative space soon.
What is your one piece of advice to aspiring creative professionals?
The best advice I can give to aspiring creative people is to stay curious while putting in the work. Without exception, I’ve learned that the people who appear exceptionally gifted and achieved success have, in fact, worked tirelessly to make it appear so effortless, and that they are all driven by an insatiable curiosity with the world around them.
How do you recharge away from the office?
My family, music, and film are my great loves. Without all the things I normally spend my weekends doing: museums, galleries, live music, dancing, DJing, etc., I’ve spent most of my free time watching movies, cooking and reading with my family, and making mixtapes. My latest personal goal is to release a remastered collection of all my favorite DJ mixes of the past 25 years sometime soon.
If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?
That’s an impossible question, with no easy answer. If I think about what might be next, on a much longer time-scale, then education and environmental advocacy are the two areas where my interests and skill set would be applicable and I could potentially contribute the most.
What’s your one big dream for the future of the industry?
My dream is that we build a more equitable and just system that opens up opportunities for new creative possibilities and cultivates a more diverse range of voices, creative people, designers, filmmakers, and musicians.
Do you have any websites, books or resources you would recommend?
“Sapiens” and “Homo Deus” by Yuval Noah Harari and “Factfulness” by Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund and Ola Rosling. These three books have been invaluable in helping me shape my understanding of our past, our present, and our future as human beings.