How Scout Lab Moves Humanity Forward With Every Brand They Build
by Theresa Christine Johnson on 11/03/2022 | 6 Minute Read
It’s one thing to say you want to change the world and another thing entirely to do it. Scout Lab, a bi-coastal creative agency, knows the difference. The brands they work with don’t simply exist for social media likes or fortune—they’re here to make the world a better place, even in small ways. So when Scout Lab says “We build brands that advance humanity forward,” they genuinely mean it.
BIPOC and queer-owned Scout Lab was born when Willow Hill, co-founder and CCO, and Kaitlyn Barclay, co-founder and CEO, joined forces after working separately in the tech world. Willow and Kaitlyn were initially introduced through a mutual friend, but it wasn’t until they both moved to New York around the same time that they truly connected. Willow had extensive experience in purpose-driven brands, and before starting her own agency, she worked with Airbnb to build the hospitality brand globally. Kaitlyn worked in multi-sided marketplaces and was a part of various startups, including one acquired by ClassPass in 2015. But it was the 2016 election that prompted them to combine their skills to fight injustice and create a better, more inclusive, and more equitable world.
“It took one conversation for us to realize we had the same vision of what we wanted to create,” Willow said. “We literally went to a coffee shop the next morning, started working, and we haven’t stopped since.”
Willow and Kaitlyn essentially created the dream agency they wished they could have hired while working at their respective tech startups. They examined the pain points of their careers but also took their individual experiences in brand building and shifted that knowledge to their own business. Since Scout Lab’s inception in 2017, they’ve effortlessly scaled their workplace from two employees to ten. And throughout that time, they’ve constantly worked towards the same goal; visually telling the story for a brand that can help the business grow indefinitely.
“We look back at our startup portfolio, and if we had made investments in every startup we worked with, then we would be one of the top-performing venture capital funds in the world,” said Kaitlyn. “That's a product of knowing the problems you're trying to solve, knowing who you're trying to solve it for, and being very prescriptive about how you're trying to build that solution for them.”
When clients approach Scout Lab, the first thing they do is sit down, have a conversation, and listen to this brand’s concept. Willow and Kaitlyn want the vision to align with their agency of moving humanity forward, so they discuss with the team if it seems like a good fit—and they only move forward if everyone’s excited about it. Then the team digs into the brand and its industry.
“We're focused first and foremost on getting to know them,” Willow explained. “We want to deeply understand their industry, specifically who their customer is and who they are speaking to. One of our values is nuance over norms, which is really about understanding an audience at a much deeper level. You'll hear this all the time—people will refer to Gen Z this and millennials that. We really think that that's problematic. There's an opportunity to find the nuance in the needs of this audience so that we can serve them at a much greater level without the bias that currently exists.”
Scout Lab has worked with physician-backed sexual wellness brand Cere, sustainable phone case brand CASETiFY for a collaboration with Olivia Rodrigo, and sustainable nut butter brand Butterfly. Willow and Kaitlyn also mentioned Upright Oats as a project that really embodies the kind of clients they always aim to work with. The company has made oat milk easier to consume than ever by selling it powdered. As a sustainable drink choice, Scout Lab also looked to make the packaging eco-friendly. They gave the packaging a fun, magical vibe that has the same effect the product’s mere existence has: it makes oat milk more accessible and more widely enjoyed by consumers who might otherwise not have had this as an option.
Even with the agency’s success, Scout Lab has faced its fair share of challenges—the biggest, they admitted, being the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only was it stressful and uncertain as business owners, but they never lost sight of the fact that the people they worked with who were their employees and their clients were people first. That required resilience to maintain their high quality of work, but it also meant preserving a safe space for those around them.
“What makes you great as an entrepreneur is your reactivity,” Kaitlyn said. “But what makes you great as a leader is your proactivity. And in times of crisis, those two things can feel at odds with each other. It’s the reason why having a value system is so important. In March 2020, When Willow and I were faced with the world ending as everyone did, we went back to why we started. We started this in crisis, we'll navigate this in crisis, and we'll come out the other side better than when we went in. That's who we are as people. That's who we want to be as leaders.”
For designers who want to do the same kind of meaningful work that Scout Lab does, Willow and Kaitlyn advised others to rely on the community of like-minded creatives, entrepreneurs, and artists. It's a scarcity mentality to think there aren’t enough opportunities out there, and by staying open to collective learning, everyone benefits. They also recommended looking for the problems that fuel you—and remaining observant of the world enough to discover some of those problems that maybe don’t directly affect you, too.
“Inspect the world around you and be curious about how it can be improved, not only for yourself but also for other people,” Kaitlyn said. “That's where you find the big, juicy creative problems and the inspiration that fuels your work.”
Looking at the world beyond themselves and how their work will impact others is critical to Scout Lab. Design is powerful. So why not use that power for good—for now and for the future?
“There’s an Indigenous principle that I love that was said to be spoken by the Iroquois people and regarded as 'the Seventh Generation Principle,'” Willow said. “With every decision we make, if we’re thinking about seven generations beyond where we are, then we will know if our decision is the right one. When we come back to something like that, it doesn’t matter what category we’re doing, what packaging we’re designing, or what business we’re building. We can start thinking outside of our immediate selves and down intergenerationally, which is where we’re headed.
“That’s the kind of work we believe needs to be done, and that’s what we’re excited to continue doing.”
Images courtesy of Scout Lab. Headshot by Johannes Oberman.