Online All Stars: The Dancing-Bear Trainer

Stephen Gates/Illustration: Molly Crabapple

Stephen Gates Creative Director, Starwood Hotels and Resorts

Having grown up in the business as a second-generation creative, Stephen Gates is showing all he can do as creative director of Starwood Hotels and Resorts. This past year, Gates oversaw the launch of two beautifully designed sites, and, both of which built on a foundational user experience that brought the brands' core values to life.

"I think any time you are asked to merge experiential and transactional elements together it is a real challenge," Gates says. "Experiential elements focus on the consumer who is open to browse the site, while transactional elements focus on consumers who are seekers and want to accomplish a specific task quickly."

Like many a creative, Gates has more recently set out to distinguish himself in the increasingly interconnected worlds of mobile and social networking. The key, he says, is "making sure that it goes beyond simply having a Twitter feed or Facebook page to create a rich experience and honest conversation with our customers."

Looking ahead, Gates - who has a background in 3-D animation - finds the implications of Microsoft Photosynth fascinating, "since you can combine social technologies like Flickr and display them in a 3-D space."

To stay ahead of the pack, this lifer knows he has to keep convincing his brand to open their minds (and wallets), along with reinforcing the fact to agencies and designers that technology is not an end in itself. "We have fallen into a trap where we are more caught up in the tools, technology and production techniques we use than the feelings we create and the stories we tell through our concepts. Consumers don't care about the latest version of Flash and they don't care that you are on Twitter and Facebook if you have nothing to say."

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