We’d like to introduce you to some of the people from around the world who make us who we are. In this post, meet Nikki Scaplen, director of creative services.
Nikki leads our global design team, made up of graphic, web and UX designers, crafts our style and visual identity, and is deeply involved in Progress marketing and branding strategy. She’s one of many distinguished “boomerang” Progressers, who have come back home to the team for a second go with the company because of the unique culture, people and freedom to be not just an innovator, but an individual.
A hands-on designer, a savvy marketer, a visionary leader, and a mentor, Nikki is as fun to talk to and as interesting as her varied outside interests—she restores vintage cars, fosters and rescues animals, supports causes she believes in, and was actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s prom date.
Originally from upstate New York, Nikki is based in the Boston area with Progress.
Check out our Q&A below:
I met Phil in high school when we were both in theater. He was just so happy; everybody wanted to be around him. He was funny and he was popular because of it, and I was essentially one of the nerds. He asked me (to the prom) and I was like, “I would have to go to the prom with all the popular people?!” I was freaking out. I didn’t know what to do. When I got to the prom and was like, “These aren’t my people.” But it ended up being a great night and I learned that they were actually “not” not my people.
We did “Pirates of Penzance” in theater together. We did “M*A*S*H” and he brought down the house as Radar. He was like 16 years old. … Then suddenly, years later, I’m at the movies watching “Scent of a Woman.” It’s what college? After college? And all of a sudden he’s on the the big screen, larger than life. I was like, “What? What?!” It was absolutely bizarre. How could I not know he was in a big movie?
One of my friends is a professional opera singer. Another one has a film studio in Hollywood. Another one teaches theater at a prestigious college. A lot of people I grew up with went off and did some incredible things. But seeing Phil in a movie with Al Pacino—it’s like seeing your mother in a movie. It just doesn’t happen.
I’ve been the creative director since October 2019. This is my second stint here. In between, I worked as the creative director at Altisource in Boston. Now, I’m back as a creative director here. I’ve always loved the people. Coming back for me was the Holy Grail of opportunities. I was crushed when I had to leave, and coming back is 100% returning to the best place I’ve ever worked in my life.
I have a lot to compare it to—both in small organizations, small agencies and large enterprises. I’ve had a very varied career. Hands down, this is the best company in terms of culture, people, and the opportunities.
The last statistics I looked at for this in terms of gender were something like 11% of all creative directors in large business are women. That’s pretty astonishing. I have never personally met another female creative director. I don’t know of any that I’m connected to on LinkedIn.
It’s a shocking number. Each job as you get older, you’re like, “I’m going to be un-hirable.” After this, I’m at a certain level. I’m female. I’m older. Getting this opportunity was like getting a golden ticket. I just sat and I was like, “I don’t believe it. I think this must be wrong. Somebody is trying to trick me.”
I’m a part of an incredibly small percentage of women who are hired to do this within larger enterprises.
The funny thing is that I only ever started to consider gender coming into play when the job opportunities started getting incredibly slim as I got older.
I think as far as that goes, I like to pave the way for people who show great promise of being great leaders, or they have this incredible internal strength, talent and a willingness to learn. As far as women, I don’t think of myself as—for all the things that I will get up on a soapbox on, I don’t see myself as setting an example for other women—just people in general.
Weird kids, yes. We were the weird kids; we were the outcasts growing up. I look at all of them and they’re incredibly talented and maybe we tried harder. Maybe we pushed harder. Maybe we were more collaborative because we had a small group, right?
I’m so gender neutral with everything, and not because it’s the thing to be now, but because I want everybody—I just believe in having a wide breadth. I want everybody to be a renaissance person, right?
That’s my goal for me. I’ve been, for the past two years, learning how to work on cars because I have now become a collector of antique automobiles. I wanted to learn so I could have another skill that most women don’t get to learn. My husband is teaching me and I’m a toddler at it at this point. I could probably blow myself up more likely than fix something.
It’s a philosphy I bring to my job—I challenge my own team members to broaden their horizons in every way because it all rolls back into other things.
I feel that THIS company allows people to grow and find their path. Progress has been a great opportunity to do. I became really interested in what we do and invested in being a leader, mentoring people, helping people grow and become amazing individuals. The opportunity to help a group of people grow and realize their own potential is mind-blowing. I’m really lucky—really, really lucky.
And the people here are also diverse. I learn something new from people every day.
It’s incredibly hard. You need to never stop looking around. You need to take in everything you see and watch. The biggest thing is that, for me, to make a brand stand out is put the humanity back in the brands because so many brands become generic. They’re very business, blue suits sort of thing. The minute you put humanity back in a brand, you have more of an opportunity to stand apart. Companies are starting to do that more and more.
That’s always been my approach. Yes, it’s hard, but I also happen to have underneath me a group of the best designers I’ve ever seen in my life, hands down. With their help and their vision and my experience, we’re now getting into a vibe. It definitely gets easier.
I walk back and forth between marketing and design. I started my career off in marketing because my father wouldn’t pay for me to get to art school. I wanted to go to Parsons School of Design for fashion. I went to marketing because that was practical, right? It just evolved. “I’m going to teach myself what I want to do when I hit 30.” I didn’t hit this career until I was 30 years old. And now here I am.
My ideas are very appreciated. One of the best things is that I’m allowed to fail, believe it or not because I can’t not fail. Everyone fails. I’m allowed to learn from the failure, and I’m allowed to continue growing. All of the people around me and people I’ve just met, people I barely even know are willing to help. That environment is really, really unusual in corporate America.
Outside of an environment like this, I truly am a hippie. I grew up doing 4-H. I have a sustainable garden. I would have 500 animals if I could. I’m now down to two dogs from five. I was breeding Olde English Bulldogges when I was here the first time, as some of my co-workers remember.
I think that people think I’m fancy the way I dress for work. But really fashion is like a costume and a means of self-expression. I have fun with it.
It is for everything. I’ve been rescuing and fostering for 25 years—I’d say all the way down to field mice, rescuing and raising and releasing. I had my own personal raise-and-release program at one point for baby pigeons that falcons would knock out of their nest in mill buildings I just learned how to raise them and release them—and sometimes they even came back.
If it moves, unless it’s a bug, I love ’em. Everyone knows, “Bring it to Nikki. She knows how to raise it.” That love of life evolved into helping people over the years.
In my last role, I had to commute for the first time in my life—all the way to Boston—two hours each way. It was boring, so I learned to entertain myself. I would try to talk to as many people as possible while walking, taking the train, whatever. I particularly like talking to people who were the “underground” of the city. The homeless vets, the addicts, the unusual people. I’d sit and talk to someone, or I’d give someone a hug or just listen to their story.
People around me freaked out. They were like, “Something bad is going to happen to you.” I think that they didn’t understand that one act of kindness—that sounds so cheesy—is everything. I feel good doing this. I kept a journal on Facebook for a long time—a story a day about the most interesting person I met that day. I like writing—I guess it ended up being inspiring. If I can be an “accidental inspirer” to folks, that’s not a bad thing, I guess, as long as for good.
It was great to have the opportunity to talk to Nikki and hear her story. To get to know other Progressers like Nikki, read more of our Progress employee interviews here.
Dave Pierce strives to be a writer’s writer, an editor’s editor, and a marketer’s marketer. An award-winning journalist formerly of The Boston Globe, Dave combines his love of SEO, content management and social media with his passion for storytelling. At Progress, he manages, writes and optimizes content. Dave lives in New Hampshire with his wife and teenage daughters. You may find him at Northeastern University hockey games on the weekends from October to March. You can find him on LinkedIn every day.
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