Capitol Communicator is running “Up Close and Personal” profiles of communicators in the mid-Atlantic. In this profile we feature Stefan Poulos.  Photography for the series is by award-winning Cade Martin, wardrobe styling by Pascale Lemaire and Sybil Street for THE Artist Agency; and hair and makeup by Patti D Nelson, Janice Kinigopoulos  and Lori Pressman for THE Artist Agency.

Stefan, please provide us a short bio.

 I am founder of Poulos Collective, a design consultancy in the Washington, D.C., area that specializes in visual design and ux strategy for design systems, digital products, mobile applications and desktop platforms. I grew up in Pensacola, Florida, and studied graphic design at Ringling College of Art & Design. I first started at CSA Design in Minneapolis, working alongside the renown Charles S. Anderson.

I was recruited by Discovery Communications in 1997, during a time that would unknowingly be the golden years of Discovery and my career. I never pictured myself in a corporate environment, but this group became a family of mentors and ultimately where I would meet my wife.

I held the position of Creative Director at Discovery Channel until 2010 where I worked on all forms of advertising including print, outdoor, interactive and broadcast with my work reaching a global audience in over 170 countries.

Prior to founding Poulos Collective, I was Executive Creative Director at Pappas Group where I led the work for Virgin America, Syfy, Voyce, Geico, Blackboard and African Wildlife Foundation.

What are the things you are most proud of?

Other than my kids and family of course, I am most proud of being able to build a successful design consultancy. I made the leap into creative independence. And it was as exciting as it was terrifying. Yes, I willingly left a comfortable, sufficiently paid, leadership role at an agency to pursue freelance. Being my own boss. Controlling my own schedule. Starting something new. Learning all new things. Growing. Being scared again. Being hungry again.

Who are your personal role models?

So many have “brought me up” in the advertising and design world. My parents for putting me through college. Victor Bokas for pushing me into graphic design. Rob Brady for giving me my first internship. Chuck Anderson for inspiring me. George Pierson and John Hite for seeing in me as a young designer what I had not known. Ann Tracey for making me a smarter designer.

Did these role models offer professional advice that helped you in your career?

It was more work ethic than any fancy quote or advice. I grew up working for the type of managers who you would see in the back utility room cutting black boards for a presentation or helping you spray mount stuff. I think this shaped my working style to take on the work that no one else wanted. And to work really hard. If you were in a pinch, I was always the guy to bail you out.

What professional advice do you have for others?

I look at “work” in a different way now. It’s so easy to get swept up in the corporate world and the way things just are. But after all, my experience in the corporate world is what enabled me to become a successful independent. So I don’t look back with spite, but I do see that it can be a trap for many people. They don’t call it the golden handcuffs for nothing. There is no safety net in the freelance world. And there is no ceiling.

Maybe it’s unfair to make these observations now that I’ve found my groove. Change is good. You don’t have to do something as drastic as I did. Go to work tomorrow with a new perspective. Be open to new ideas from anyone at any level. Tell someone that you appreciate what they do. Find new life in what you do. Reinvent yourself. Job titles don’t mean shit. Everything is cyclical. Everyday is your first day on the job. No job is too small. Try something new. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.

What’s on your Spotify and Pandora playlists?

I consider music inspiration very important to design; almost a part of my design process. I can look back at some of my work and remember the music I was listening to, as if it were the soundtrack. My go-to is old school hip hop. Lately I’m into electronic stuff like Rüfüs Du Sol, Zhu and Two Fingers.

What’s your favorite restaurant?

Anything greek.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?

I’m a man of few words.



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