Interview With Maria Cypher From United States

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Maria Cypher

Maria Cypher is the Creative Director and co-founder of Catchword and has kickstarted iconic names like Upwork, VW Atlas, Asana, and Starbucks Refreshers!

Interview with the 2022 MUSE Creative Awards Winner - Maria Cypher

1Please give us a brief bio of yourself and your creative background.

I’m the Creative Director of Catchword, a naming and branding agency I co-founded in 1998. Since then, I’ve created hundreds of names, including Asana, Upwork, VW Atlas, Vudu, and Starbucks Refreshers. I also had a prior life as a reporter and magazine editor, and have dabbled in writing children’s books—so it’s pretty obvious that verbal expression is a big part of my life. But I’m also in a band and derive tremendous joy and satisfaction from music (both partaking and listening), which I consider another form of creativity.

2What made you become/why did you choose to become a creative?

If you feel the creative impulse, I don’t know that it’s a choice. Right out of college, I worked in finance for two years; I liked the concreteness of numbers and neat reconciliations, but it wasn’t creative enough for me. I found myself inexorably drawn to the creative expression of language.

3Tell us more about your business/company, job profile, and what you do.

I co-founded Catchword in the early days of the dot-com boom. There was a great need for compelling startup names that were available as trademarks and exact URLs—and there were few firms, naming or otherwise, to provide this expertise. Since then, we’ve evolved to work in every sector, including tech, biotech and healthcare, consumer products, and financial services. We’ve also added tangential services like design, brand strategy, and naming architecture. As Creative Director, I oversee our amazing team of namers and our collective naming work product. I also personally create hundreds, if not thousands, of name candidates for clients week in and week out.

4What does “creativity” mean to you?

Fundamentally, creativity means coming up with original ideas that solve a problem or bring joy or meaning in some form, but where does creativity come from? To me, it’s about being deeply engaged and curious about everything such that disparate ideas can be brought together in new ways. There’s no creativity without curiosity.

5To you, what makes a “creative” idea and/or design?

A creative name communicates the essence of a company or product, sometimes descriptively, sometimes obliquely. There are those creative names that everyone considers creative—catchy, unexpected, bold. But there also can be creativity in concisely capturing a product’s benefits in clear, everyday language that resonates with the target audience. At Catchword, we’re extremely proud of our diversity of naming styles that reflects the diversity of our clientele.

6Tell us about your creative and/or design process.

In a word, exhaustive. We abide by the belief that clients often don’t know what they want till they see it, so our first round of creative exploration leaves no stone unturned. We’ll develop many hundreds of names, reflecting different messages, constructions (real word, coined, compound), styles, tonalities, languages, and more. After presenting a screened subset, we’ll go into a much more focused—but still exhaustive—second round, digging ever deeper into the desired directions, building out an extensive vocabulary and set of themes and metaphors.

7What's your favorite part of the creative process and why?

For me, it comes after being fully immersed in the project—understanding the client, its products and services, its competitors, the naming strategy—and having done some initial creative exploration. It’s at this point that the really unexpected ideas start to come, that two words might seamlessly blend together into a great portmanteau, that the creative juices start to flow.

8Describe your creative style and its main characteristics.

There’s a common misperception that creative people are struck by bolts of creative inspiration without much effort. I’d beg to differ. My own style—and that of the best creatives I know—is methodical and obsessional. The creative bolts strike, but only after a lot of thought and legwork! First, really understand the project at hand and then, compile key words from websites and briefs, develop themes and metaphors, use dictionaries and reverse dictionaries and thesauri, look at other languages, consider rhymes and alliteration, start mixing and matching words, share names and concepts with others, rinse and repeat. The creative process is a little hard to describe because it’s often mental and solitary and iterative, but it invariably involves working and reworking huge lists of words and concepts.

9Do you think your country and its cultural heritage has an impact on your creativity process?

I grew up in Hong Kong, China, and Washington DC, and I am half-Chinese, half-Caucasian. So I’d like to think that I’ve always had a multicultural perspective that isn’t overly US-centric. I’ve also been aware of cultural and linguistic issues facing international names.

10Congratulations! As the winner of the 2022 MUSE Creative Awards, what does it mean to you and your company and team to receive this award distinction?

It’s wonderful to see our work on Vuity recognized, as we are extremely proud of this name. Receiving the 2022 MUSE Gold is a great honor, and it makes our team want to keep pushing the creative envelope! It’s also very validating of naming in general as an essential piece of the branding puzzle.

11Can you explain a bit about the winning work you entered into the 2022 MUSE Creative Awards, and why you chose to enter this project?

We chose to enter the name Vuity both because of the importance of this product innovation and because of our pride in the creativity and effectiveness of the name. Vuity is an eyedrop from Allergan that addresses presbyopia, a condition afflicting millions of middle-aged and older people that reduces the eye’s ability to focus on near objects, causing blurriness. The Vuity drop improves near vision without impacting distance vision, obviating the need for reading glasses for up to six hours. The name Vuity clearly expresses the idea of viewing acuity and is easy to say and spell. Immodestly, I can’t imagine a better name for this product!

12What was the biggest challenge with this project?

Pharmaceutical naming is fraught not just with the normal challenges of trademark clearance but with all manner of regulatory hurdles. Anyone who’s scratched their head or smirked at the names of prescription drugs on late-night TV ads has borne witness to the unique challenge of finding names that don’t sound or look like any other drugs and that don’t overpromise certain benefits. Creating a name like Vuity—which clearly expresses the product’s benefits—was no mean feat!

13How has winning an Award developed your practice/career?

Winning this award further validates Catchword’s ability to create outstanding names, even under challenging regulatory circumstances. And it lends more credibility to the importance of naming in the branding pantheon.

14What are your top three (3) favorite things about our industry?
  1. The variety of projects we encounter, and the advance knowledge we have into innovations the world doesn’t yet know about. On any given day, we might be naming a snack food, a startup, and a new technology.
  2. The quirky and brilliant people who are drawn to the field.
  3. Seeing our names on shelves and billboards, in magazines and on TV. Feeling like we are actually impacting the culture around us.
15What makes your country specifically, unique in the creative industry?

The US is a melting pot of people and ideas and a culture that celebrates innovation and creativity.

16Where do you see the evolution of creative industry going over the next 5-10 years?

With all the change and turmoil of recent years, consumers will continue to embrace names and brands that engender trust and reflect important values. And brands will need to be ever more inclusive and aware of cultural and linguistic appropriation.

17If you were a student entering this industry or an aspiring MUSE Creative Awards submitter, what advice would you give them?

Just keep following your passion. It’s trite but true: do what you love, and the rest will follow!

18What resources would you recommend to someone who wants to improve their skills in the creative industry?

Within the naming industry specifically, How Brands Are Built is an exceptionally deep and rich resource. Many naming agencies, including Catchword, also offer naming guides and articles that offer great insight into the naming process.

19Tell us something you have never told anyone else.

I’m not sure there’s anything that falls into this category, as I’m a bit of an oversharer. But not many people know that I’m deeply nostalgic, and any show that includes footage of American life in the 1970s (Columbo, Forensic Files, etc.) instantly sends me to a very young and innocent place.

20Who has inspired you in your life and why?

My father has always been a great inspiration. He has an immense vocabulary and a great way with words, and everything he does is infused with joy, humor, and a bit of mischief.

21What is your key to success? Any parting words of wisdom?

I think my superpower is being absurdly organized and tenacious on top of being creative. So that’s my advice: bring method to the madness!

22Do you have anything else you would like to add to the interview?

Thank you so much for the opportunity to participate in this series! Please reach out to me at if you have any questions, or visit Catchword’s website.

Winning Entries

Maria Cypher

Maria Cypher is the Creative Director and co-founder of Catchword and has kickstarted iconic names like Upwork, VW Atlas, Asana, and Starbucks Refreshers!

Make sure you read about the second half of our exclusive interviews of Catchword with Mark Skoultchi here!