Scott Dadich organizes by color. Books. Sneakers. iPhone apps. His world is an unending stream of rainbows. It’s an old designer trick, but one that represents something beyond aesthetics to him. It represents speed. He has focused on color theory so long that it’s faster for him to think in hues than in titles, names, or other ontologies. When he needs to find something the first question is always What color is it?
An inborn craving for order and elegance has been a driving force throughout his career as an award-winning designer, accomplished editor, and Emmy-nominated filmmaker. No detail is too small or unimportant to get exactly right—it even kind of bugs him when the canned beverages in the office refrigerator aren’t positioned so that the labels all face outwards.
He believes that we all design our own lives through the thousands of decisions we make each day, and every single choice we make matters. That’s the message behind Abstract: The Art of Design, the Netflix show Scott created and executive produced—an anthology series about the visionary designers shaping the world around us. Nominated for an Emmy Award in 2018, the second season of Abstract launched on September 25, 2019, in more than 190 countries and in over 30 languages for 150+ million Netflix subscribers. Season two of the series was nominated for a Prime Time Emmy® Award for Outstanding Main Title Design. Abstract was also named Best Episodic Series of 2019 by the prestigious International Documentary Association.
The belief that every choice is an act of design may be why Scott’s personal life tends to be ruled by routines, from the time he wakes up in the morning to the route he follows on his daily runs to the precise temperature of the water he brews his coffee with—186 degrees Fahrenheit, not 185 or 187. He says that he likes to conserve all of his choice-making for his work at Godfrey Dadich Partners, the company he co-founded with Patrick Godfrey in 2017. GDP is a design and strategy firm headquartered in San Francisco that helps organizations tell better stories—from documentary films and longform journalism to corporate strategies and brand marketing campaigns.
The drive for orderliness is immediately apparent in all of Scott’s work, but at the same time, something inside of him pushes against it. He discovered that purposefully introducing a well-chosen flaw into an otherwise-impeccable design can make for an arresting tension, and spark new creative breakthroughs. It might make your inner perfectionist squirm—it certainly makes Scott’s inner perfectionist squirm—but it also helps you appreciate the underlying beauty of the form. “If it makes me deeply uncomfortable, that’s a good thing,” Scott says.
“Once I realized what I'd stumbled on, I started to see it everywhere, a strategy used by trained artists who make the decision to do something deliberately wrong,” Scott wrote in an influential essay “Wrong Theory” that outlined this design approach. “Whether it's a small detail, like David Fincher swapping a letter for a number in the title of the movie Se7en, or a seismic shift, like Miles Davis intentionally seeking out the ‘wrong notes’ and then trying to work his way back, none of these artists simply ignored the rules or refused to take the time to learn them in the first place. No, you need to know the rules, really master their nuance and application, before you can break them.”
Why Getting It Wrong Is the Future of Design
It’s something that’s deeply ingrained in human nature, and Scott heard it echoed when, as editor in chief of wired, he interviewed Barack Obama for a November 2016 issue of the magazine that Obama himself guest-edited—the first and only time a sitting US president has done such a thing. “Part of what makes us human are the kinks,” President Obama told him. “They’re the mutations, the outliers, the flaws that create art or the new invention, right? We have to assume that if a system is perfect, then it’s static. And part of what makes us who we are, and part of what makes us alive, is that we’re dynamic and we’re surprised.”
Barack Obama, Neural Nets, Self- Driving Cars, and the Future of the World
Telling dynamic and surprising stories is what Scott and his team do every day at Godfrey Dadich. They have collaborated with Nike, The Obama Foundation, IBM, Google, Palo Alto Networks, Adyen, Lyft, and Apple, among others. They worked with National Geographic on a comprehensive editorial strategy and redesign of the magazine, which was named “Hottest Redesign” of 2018 by Adweek, won a National Magazine Award for General Excellence from the American Society of Magazine Editors, and earned a gold medal from the Society of Publication Designers.
Scott began his career in high-definition storytelling when he became Creative Director at the esteemed magazine Texas Monthly. He quickly realized that his greatest talent was as a sort of conductor, guiding the creative process and ensuring that all elements were harmonious. He would hit upon the ideal visual approach for a story, choose the right photographer or illustrator to realize it, and work with the rest of the magazine’s staff to make every element of the story as good as it could possibly be. “That carries over into my work now,” says Scott. “I can help our clients realize the vision they have for their company, and I can help the talented team that we’ve assembled at Godfrey Dadich create something that will lead to a step-change for our clients’ business.”
The 130-year-old publication’s most significant redesign in nearly two decades.
After his stint at Texas Monthly, Scott was named creative director of wired in 2006. In that role, he became the first person to win both the National Magazine Award for Design and the Society of Publication Designers “Magazine of the Year” award three years in a row (2008, 2009, and 2010). He also had a front-row seat to the digital revolution that was reshaping the media landscape.
That singular vantage point led Scott to Apple HQ in the summer of 2009. The iPhone had been out for a couple of years, and the buzz was that the company was working on a larger touchscreen device—some sort of iSlate or iTablet. Scott commissioned an actual physical mockup of what he expected it to look like, estimating everything from screen size and aspect ratio to weight of the battery, then he devised a visual design, user interface, and interface architecture for the still-hypothetical touchscreen tablet. He presented his mockup to Apple, along with a brief video presentation. “I told them that if they’re working on a device like this, there could be a more high fidelity way to present longform journalism on it.”
Scott would soon be working closely with Apple and Adobe Systems to create the wired tablet edition. It was an immediate sensation, and many elements of the design and interface of this new platform became the industry standard. “The only reason magazine design looks the way it does is because it’s the literal, physical limitations of two pieces of paper,” he later told the New York Observer. “With [the iPad], we wiped the slate clean. We have one pane. We have these many pixels. We have this proportion. How are we going to use it and how are we going to tell a story?”
The Savior of Condé Nast: Scott Dadich Is The New It Boy of the Mag World
A video explaining the innovative features on the New Yorker app. Scott Dadich conceived, wrote, and produced the film with Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola. The interface and structure of the pioneering app quickly became standard elements of tablet magazines.
In the fall of 2010, Scott was named Vice President of Editorial Platforms for wired’s parent company, Condé Nast, where he would oversee the development of all of the company’s digital magazine storytelling. It was the first example of a major publisher re-imagining the print experience for the touchscreen format. At the same time, it gave Scott the opportunity to work closely with some of the best editors in the world: David Remnick at The New Yorker, Graydon Carter at Vanity Fair, and Anna Wintour at Vogue. In 2011, Fast Company named Dadich one of the "50 Most Influential Designers in America.”
Scott returned to wired as Editor in Chief in 2012. Under his leadership, wired earned 10 Webby awards, more than 100 medals from the Society of Publication Designers, a James Beard Foundation award, and four National Magazine Awards for Design. He tripled wired reach on social media, quintupled video views, increased traffic to wired.com by 50 percent, and pushed the site’s annual page views beyond 1 billion. Scott launched wired by Design, a three-day design retreat at George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch, a live magazine event that drew the most innovative designers and creators in the artistic, entertainment, culinary, and business communities. Alongside his business partner, Kim Kelleher, he co-founded wired Brand Lab, a full-service agency that became a new business model for wired and Condé Nast.
Scott’s proudest accomplishment at wired is the exemplary journalism published under his leadership. In addition to the collaboration with President Obama, he personally secured an exclusive interview with Edward Snowden in Moscow and oversaw issues guest-edited by Christopher Nolan, Serena Williams, Bill Gates, and J.J. Abrams.
In recognition of his innovation and impact, Scott was awarded the 2020 National Design Award for Communication Design, the industry’s highest honor, given by Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.
Scott is widely recognized for his thought leadership and design expertise and has served as a guest lecturer at Parsons School of Design, Academy of Art San Francisco, California College of the Arts, Texas Tech University, University of Texas, Austin, University of Mississippi, Penn State, Yale University, Princeton University, UC Berkeley, Stanford University, USC, and SCAD. He was a graduate school instructor at the School of Visual Arts in New York from 2010 to 2012.
Often asked to share his thoughts on the future of design and storytelling, Scott has participated as a speaker and moderator at MoMA, SXSW, Semi Permanent, DesignThinkers, the Brand New Conference, and HOW Design Live. He has been invited to speak at employee forums for companies including Adobe, Johnson & Johnson, IBM, 3M, Apple, Dropbox, Pinterest, Facebook, and HomeAway. He has appeared in The New York Times, SF Chronicle, Creative Review, Adweek, The Hollywood Reporter, Design Week, Variety, and politico, among many others.
What You See Is What You Get
Scott co-founded and serves on the board of directors of The People’s Portfolio, a nonprofit organization founded by the photographer Platon aimed at giving voice to the unheard through photography. He was a member of the Board of Directors of the American Society of Magazine Editors (2013 to 2017).
Scott lives in San Francisco with his wife, Amy, and two dogs. They graciously tolerate his color-centric approach to interior design.