Jett Butler is a cross-disciplinary designer, university lecturer and critic, a six-time award winner in the Ken Roberts Memorial Delineation Competition, a published photographer and a part of award winning brand development teams in graphic design, direct marketing, print, identity, architecture, illustration and broadcast media. He is also the creative director and principal designer of FÖDA Studio.
Unlike many creative directors and designers, his understanding of brand architecture began with architecture, designing physical experiences and later moving inward to define brands. As a result, his boutique studio often solves problems by redefining context, vetting instincts with research, and producing work far greater than its size would suggest. After nine years, FÖDA boasts a portfolio that is nearly 100 percent in-house ideation, not a conglomeration of work from other sources.
Every Gesture Counts
If you have a degree in what field is it? Bachelor of Architecture with a design specialization.
Which designer (or design studio), other than yours, do you most admire? Impossible question. It would require a lengthy and carefully-qualified list, heavily annotated, each placed in context... That said I do obsess over Emil Ruder, his colleagues, and his progeny like Helmut Schmid. Folks like Michael C. Place, whose ability to be reductive, Teutonic and whimsical all at the same time, consistently inspires me.
What’s the strangest request you’ve received from a client? To remove all ligatures. (Some people just don’t like their letters to touch.)
If you weren’t working as a designer what would you be doing? Sleeping more.
What well-known identity is most desperately in need of a redesign? American Airlines. They’ve diluted Mr. Vignelli’s genius along with their brand.
From where do your best ideas originate? They appear to come from having asked an exhaustive amount of questions. If you ask enough questions the answers reveal patterns—connections emerge that serve the client and project.
How do you overcome a creative block? By walking away from it. By letting that other 95 percent of my brain chew on it. Or, again, by asking more questions.
What’s your dream project (not client, but project)? What’s a “dream project”? I don’t think such a thing exists; I think a dream project is in the attitude of the designer, not in the nature of the brief. Seriously.
Do you have creative outlets other than graphic design? I make noise with my friends and my son, improvisational wanderings that are loud, soft, delicate, dissonant, melodic, cathartic and entirely too long—much like this sentence.
What’s your approach to balancing work and life? Coffee and wine, respectively.
What product/gadget can you not live without? A fine-tip Sharpie and a Wacom tablet.
What’s your favorite quote? “It’s impossible, that's sure. So let’s start working.” —Philippe Petit
Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? All communication is in fact translation. Design is problem-solving and art is self-expression; confusing the two is dangerous and selfish.
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? That every gesture counts. Nothing is (or should be) arbitrary; every little move makes the work weaker or stronger.