Co-Founder Code and Theory
Since co-founding Code and Theory in 2001, Dan Gardner has led the company while helping transform today’s modern digital landscape.. Over the years, he has worked with clients to cultivate their business, and grown his own in the process, from a small New York City bedroom to the 62nd floor of the World Trade Center and 6 other offices around the world with over 500 employees.
Dan believes a mix of technology and creativity solves complex business problems to drive innovative change. Today his team leverages the specialities across multiple creative and technical disciplines to transform businesses to grow and change for today’s digital first consumer.
Code and Theory’s portfolio includes broad work within the publishing landscape with media companies such as NBC News, WWE, CNN, The BBC, Discovery Eurosport, The Outline, Vogue, and The Guardian. The agency has created award-winning marketing programs for brands such as adidas, Maybelline New York, Morton Salt, and Burger King. They’ve also conceptualized and developed unique customer experiences for Nasdaq, Comcast, Motortrend, Citibank, College Board, Invesco, MIT and United Technologies.
Code and Theory specializes in strategy, creative, design, and multiplatform product and campaign development. The agency’s work is consistently celebrated by respected industry events including the Webbys, D&AD, Cannes Lions, and the One Show as well as been named one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies.
I am first and foremost a husband and father of 5. (Ages 10,8,6,5 &3). I am second, the founder and CEO of a 500 person company called Code and Theory. Between the 2, which consumes most of my time, I appreciate the chaos and challenges that is my life. With that said, my personal interests for my very limited extra time in my life include anything that has a competitive spirit or creative perspective.
I went to school at University at Buffalo for Computer Art and did a lot of experimental artwork and design through programming. During school I interned and worked for some various boutique agencies which all exploded during the dot com bubble and upon graduating had a short stint at a traditional agency. Having the polarity of those experiences gave me the inspiration to start my own company with a culture and skill set focused on the use of digital capabilities to help grow businesses. When we started Code and Theory, from its early conception, part of our culture was always pushing the boundaries. What fueled our success in those early days was based on my interest of how to use creativity and technology to make experiences better. We went from a small apartment in the Lower East Side to our current headquarters on the 62nd floor of the World Trade Center, with additional offices in San Francisco, London, LA, Atlanta, and Manila. Our company and those offices are still rooted in the DNA and culture of how we try and solve problems.
We are witnessing a transformation of the CMO role. As companies strive to provide better customer experience, CMOs are evolving into CGOs, or chief growth officers. Compared to ‘marketing,’ ‘growth’ implies long-term responsibilities, managing expansion and changing metrics and data — it’s a more accurate description of what the new role entails. Companies are shifting away from traditional marketing as a way to fuel growth and think how products, services, content, data, systems and processes need to be all aligned. Most importantly, connecting consumer touchpoints in a meaningful through customer experiences help drive long term growth.
We have a history of creating innovative solutions for our clients and continually exploring new ways to challenge the status quo. For Code and Theory, innovation happens at the root of client challenges, where we uncover the insights and opportunities that drive solutions. As an organization, not only being informed of the latest trends and technologies, but helping to create them, is part of our DNA. To be successful at this, we have to be true partners with our clients. And we are very transparent upfront on the qualities we require for that partnership to thrive. These qualities include: 1) Collaborative, 2) Decision making authority, 3) Communication Clarity, 4) An openness to consider change and 5) Challenge us, and be challenged.
I encourage everyone to be a creative thinker, as opposed to a linear thinker. This means to think transversally, across industries and disciplines—this translates into better strategies and design. I believe we are all creatives, regardless of role, and that creativity is the discipline of solving problems. I think when people believe they can have actual impact to make a change, they are more motivated to be part of that change.
Learn from the ones who are challenging the status quo. It’s usually what creates differentiation and unique value. I think people also often forget a job has a responsibility to provide value for what you are getting paid to do (ie. what is the return on the investment for who is paying you), So always be focused on how you can exceed the value. That is usually a fail safe way to progress your career.
I aspire to keep Code and Theory’s culture strong while growing and creating meaningful results for our clients.
I’m proud of many accomplishments I’ve made with my team through the years. First and foremost, I’m proud of the management team that has truly done one of the hardest things there is to do in the service business and that is scaling creativity while consistently delivery quality in all our output. A couple other standouts include:
We understand you believe that digital agencies should jettison their UX teams. Why is that?
When you segregate UX into a single department, you take the risk of turning it into a confined part of the company, when user experience should be an all-encompassing task. UX is a discipline of advocating on behalf of the user. To really be UX-centric, an agency must hire people who understand UX rather than people who just “do” UX. It is not successful silo’ing it to just a group, but instead success comes from making it part of everyone’s responsibility. Teams will work more effectively together in a shared responsibility on solving user problems, and former traditional UX members have clearer career paths within new specialized job roles. Just like “innovation” is needed to be competitive and should come from everywhere, UX is needed to be competitive and should be the focus of everyone.
You also have a contrary point of view on the oft used term “best practices.” Can you explain that further?
Companies should replace so-called “best practices” with a culture that empowers team members to think strategically. Never settle for a “best practice” to mean the best way to solve a problem. This means they stop relying on traditional tactics and instead establish diverse, multidisciplinary teams that propose a fresh view of the challenges at hand. We should also do away with rigid hierarchies of traditional organizations, be more flexible and prioritize creative problem-solving. These changes won’t happen overnight, but managers can lead by example and encourage team members to question norms.