With such a wide array of talents at your disposal, how did you find your passion for creating graphic identities for clients? There is something very attractive about the chance to cut right to the core of a brand and purely distill its concept and personality into a graphic language. From a design perspective, there is also something quite seductive about the permanence of a logo alongside the live aspect of an identity as it evolves.
How do you apply your background in critical theory to working with luxury brands? From critical theory, you gain an ability to analyze culture, communications, art and aesthetics. This allows you to be more perceptive, to peel back conceptual layers and understand the core of a problem.
The luxury industry is also changing: ethical is luxurious and excess is vulgar. Because of social media, social consciousness flares up more readily; just look at the killing of the lion Cecil and the surge in awareness created by that awful event. Critical theory is a crucial tool in understanding and discerning this trajectory.
For example, I’m currently working on rebranding a British luxury brand that has a global presence. I have to carefully consider how to communicate something as subjective as “Britishness.” My team has to determine which elements of Britishness we want to communicate, and we have a great range to play with, from the cool eccentric to the traditional craftsman or the urban to the bucolic. Each of these aspects can be translated into visual codes, be it in color, texture or form. How these codes are then interpreted within different cultural contexts will determine the success of this brand’s identity.
How do you research to gain a deep strategic understanding of the well-established, international brands you work with? At Spring, we begin every project with research insights and strategy. There’s a fair bit of fieldwork that just has to be done. As a Brit working on Target, I went to Target stores in California, New York, Minnesota and Pennsylvania. I really became immersed in it.
Some brands are amazing at creating a discovery experience for you. For Bally, I spent weeks in Schönenwerd, Switzerland, rummaging through archives in order to understand and build upon Bally’s 160 years of brand DNA.
Louis Vuitton was perhaps the best, with a tour of the Vuitton home and workshop in Asniéres, France, followed by trips to the most incredible archive. Vuitton in particular has a great culture with incredible people who really help to define the brand. Having such individuals to interact with is invaluable.
What are the different challenges you face when developing brands for startups versus internationally recognized companies? Established companies have a very clear idea of who they are or want to be. There is also often an internal versus external perception dilemma: those who live and breathe the brand every day can have a surprisingly different perception of it than those who experience it as a consumer. There have even been times when I opposed onboarding with a brand in order to maintain an outside perspective. Many large brands have their own internal language, which can sometimes have an Orwellian effect on those using it. In fact, I think our industry is often the same way.
On the other hand, when working with a startup, you are working at the genesis of a brand. The concept and intentions are still very fresh. The clay is still wet, so it is a perfect time to start shaping it.
How do you strengthen your skills as a designer? One of my personal aesthetic pursuits is typeface design. Type is a fundamental building block of visual communication, and my interest in typeface design grew out of a desire to gain a deeper understanding of the typefaces that I love to use.
Sometimes this is purely a personal pursuit outside of the work I do for brands. For example, I’m currently designing a broad pen typeface, for which I’m researching the books of Edward Johnston, Russell Laker and Friedrich Neugebauer as well as taking regular trips to the Cooper Union. I chose the broad pen style because it is the origin of most styles that exist today. Once you understand how the angle of the pen or brush creates the thick versus thin lines and informs the proportions, it’s easier to look at letterforms and understand how they are constructed. I also collaborate regularly with an excellent type designer, Hubert Jocham. Through my interactions with him, I have learned a lot about type design and typography.
On a professional level, I also try to make type design part of projects whenever I can. Such opportunities have led me to personally draw and create fonts as well as collaborate with or commission others to create them. Recently, I created a revival of Caslon Junior’s Two Line English Egyptian, which was a lot of fun.
What excites you about design right now? We are coming out of a period of revivals, as if renewed interest in provenance was a reaction to a surge in digital media. The contemporary design community has been retrospectively searching for its origins in traditional crafts, lettering, calligraphy, print and so on. Now that everybody has done their homework, we can move on and be progressive.
It’s exciting that the practice of design seems to be more embedded in popular culture; the general public has become so much more perceptive of the aesthetic codes we employ. Everybody knows Helvetica, everybody knows what an ampersand is and everybody knows a Pantone swatch. It has made design criticism more democratic. This openness has created a feedback loop that ultimately pushes designers to try a little harder to create work that’s meaningful and compelling.