Jeff Kleinsmith on the New Wave of Music Design

In the last three decades we’ve witnessed the demise of cassette tapes, the rise and fall of CDs, and the near end and now re-emergence of LPs. And through it all, Jeff Kleinsmith, creative director at Sub Pop Records, has pivoted at each turn, adapting and changing with the times.

He started at the Seattle-based record label when bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam ruled the airwaves. Not only was the music transitioning from hair bands to grunge, but the way music was played and packaged was changing dramatically, and it still is. Here, we talk to Kleinsmith about how his job has shifted and transitioned over the years, and what it’s like to work with musicians on their albums.

You’ve said that working in rock n’roll is a dream job some days and some days it’s the same as any other in-house gig. Tell me a little about that.

Well it’s funny. I do talks and I teach students, and I always get asked if this is my dream job. It is a dream job. I still feel that way after 23 years, frankly! But, I have to laugh at the notion that all we do is design album covers and go to rock shows. We’re doing a ton of behind the scenes stuff like creating very specific digital marketing tools or designing shrink wrap stickers, or editing catalog pages for a distributor. I think that’s not what these students are thinking of when they ask about the music industry. They’re thinking of Nirvana or Father John Misty covers or something. But that’s actually a pretty small part of our day-to-day job—creating the cover that is. Look, we deal with meetings, and last-minute crap, and clients not liking our mockups, just like anyone else. It’s the same stuff you would complain about if you were in a corporate job. Read the rest of the interview here.

Developing Successful Identities for a Mr. & Mrs.

If you’re an identity designer, the most critical function in the beginning of the project is research—getting to know your client’s brand inside and out, as well as the competition, and some of that involves what Sharon Werner, principal of Werner Design Werks in Minneapolis, Minn., calls “feet on the ground.” This is especially true when working on a start-up brand, like Mr. Mak’s Ginbao, a new wellness drink that is based on a traditional Chinese recipe made from natural ingredients.

Werner and her team spent the day in New York’s Chinatown with the Mak family, even enjoying a traditional Chinese lunch prepared by Mrs. Mak. “We walked the streets of New York and looked at brands they liked and disliked in the same category,” Werner explains. “When it’s a startup we want the identity and the brand to feel true to who they are, and the only way to do that is through an intensive immersion and getting to know them. We want to understand who they are compared to their competitors; what they’ll offer that others don’t; what their personal beliefs are and how those will translate to their business and product.”

A challenge with developing brand identities for start ups is determining what will work past the first year, which is sometimes hard for clients to envision. “We’re building for a future, which means we’re asking the ‘what if’ questions—What if you add more flavors? What if you add 100 employees? What if you sell the company?” she says. “We want to build an identity that can grow with them and is fluid enough to adapt if the ‘what if’ becomes ‘What do we do now?’” Read the rest of the story here.

Michael Ian Kaye: How Design & Advertising Inform Eachother

You may be wondering what the hell this title means. It’s obvious that design and advertising comingle, but often the nuances go unnoticed. Michael Ian Kaye is here to say there are obvious distinctions between the art and craft of graphic design and the fast-paced world of advertising.

He should know. He leads the design team at Mother Design, the official design arm of Mother New York, a branding and communications agency with clients like Target, Nasty Gal, New York Fashion Week, and Sundance Film Festival.

Here, Kaye talks to us about how design and advertising are different, how ads can be misleading, and how social media levels the playing field for all.

What, to you, are the main differences between design and advertising?

I think it’s the desired outcome, frankly. I do feel like advertising is created with a sense of trying to make an immediate change. A quickness. A reason. Put this ad out in the world and create this action.

Design is a bit of a slower burn. Create this artifact that becomes the representation over a longer period of time. I think the intent—though it gets blurry in the middle—is a bit different. Both in terms of what the objective of the pieces out in the world are, and in the process to getting to those pieces. Read the rest of the interview here.

This is my birth mother

I’ve never met her. She had me shortly after her 21st birthday and gave me up for adoption. People look at this photo and think it’s me.

She was a college student at University of Wisconsin in Platteville, studying to be a teacher. In spring of 1969, she discovered she was pregnant with me. In those days young, single, pregnant women were hidden away, so when the semester ended, she went to a home for unwed mothers in Milwaukee. Not surprisingly, the birth father wanted nothing to do with the situation. It didn’t matter. She knew what she was going to do.

Only a couple of close friends and her immediate family knew she was pregnant. People from her small hometown in Indiana believed she stayed at school for the summer, and when she didn’t return to school in the fall, her friends there were told she was taking a semester off.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to bring a baby into this world and then give her away. Nine months of caring for another being growing in your body, all the while knowing you’re going to hand her off to someone else. But she did. She made the ultimate sacrifice to give me a better life, and I’d like to think, not halt hers … but fate has a way of intervening.

She was never able to fulfill her dream of finishing school and becoming a teacher. Six months after she gave birth to me, she was killed in a car accident. She had finally gotten her life back together only to be taken in a single, senseless act.

I searched for her and spent years on a waiting list, only to discover she had been dead my entire life. I was devastated. Not because I needed a mother — I have loving, supportive parents — but I always thought a piece of me was missing. Still do. I don’t know if meeting her would have changed that.

I met her sister and mother for the first time in my early 20s. I felt their grief, but also joy. I’m the spitting image of her, so I imagine for them, it was like seeing a ghost. They stared at me and commented on our shared characteristics — a similar crooked eye tooth, and nearly identical facial features. At the time, I was a couple years older than she was when she died, so time stood still and there I was.

Several years later, when I attended the funeral service for her mother, I could feel eyes on me. It was a neighbor who was in on the secret, and she instantly knew who I was. By that time, 40 years had passed, yet few people there knew of my existence until that day. It was surreal and sweet to meet her friends and relatives. They spoke fondly of her and recalled the emotional hardship on her family after her death.

Having such a close resemblance to another person was a new, albeit strange, experience for me. “Who do I look like?” is perhaps the biggest question for any adopted person. Seeing photos of her answered that question for me, but it didn’t resolve any lingering identity issues I had. Those are still mine.

I see parts of myself, and her, in my children. I’m so grateful to her for the difficult decision she made so many years ago, and to her family for supporting her.

This article originally published here.

Tosh Hall: Stop Redesigning Brands Every Few Years!

Tosh Hall has a problem with companies that try to redefine themselves every three years, and the agencies that convince them to do it. In a world of constant change and upheaval, isn’t it comforting to be able to pick out your favorite brand of cereal on the shelf because of its easily identifiable colors and markings? When brands do big overhauls there’s always the risk they will alienate customers, so why take this chance? Hall will tell you, stick to what works.

As global executive creative director at Jones Knowles Ritchie in New York, he knows a thing or two about this. He is responsible for the creative and strategic output of the agency for clients like Budweiser, Wheaties, Kashi, and Stella Artois. Previously, he was the creative director at Landor Associates. Although his resume is envy-inspiring to any young designer, he took the circuitous route to his career destination.

Hall studied economics and journalism in college, but ended up as a publication designer right out of college. Through the journalism school at the University of North Carolina, he learned how to lay out publications, and landed his first job at the UNC Press. He recalls working with the “craggy pressman” with the cigarette hanging out of his mouth and ink smeared on his hands and shirt saying to him: “You can’t have twelve colors, dummy. Let me show you the four-color process.” Hall loved that entire experience and how it helped to shape him as a designer, though he admits that he had the worst portfolio when he moved to New York. “I found the transition to the real design world very difficult. It was a harsh wake-up call.”

Last month, Hall gave a presentation at the HOW Live Design Conference called “Dear Designers: Please Stop!” where he addressed the mistake of rebranding too often. Here he elaborates on that, and points to the most publicized brand overhaul failure in modern times and how that rocked the industry.

Why is it so wrong to redesign a brand every few years?

Well, I think it’s a bigger macro problem with marketing and companies in general. A lot of the companies that we work with, we’ve had long-term relationships with, and they often look to us as being the brand guardian. In some ways, your agency partners know more about your brand than the branders, the marketers, and the clients do. And I think because of a lot of the things that have happened in recent years—looking to drive performance quarterly, instead of looking at things over decades and over quarter-centuries—people want to make an impact very quickly. Especially on the client side.

Often people in marketing come in and they’re given a role in branding or packaging or advertising, and they have to make an impact, and they have to do it quickly, and then they move on to the next part of their career. And rarely do we see clients that stay on brands for long periods of time. I think the reason is because it reflects the marketing side of the clients we work with.

We have to constantly educate them, that it’s best for the brand to go in a long-term direction of health and growth instead of zigging, zagging back and forth between whatever the marketing plan du jour is, and a hope for short-term success.

Read the reset of the interview here.

Budweiser brand update by JKR.

Building a Narrative Through Branding

It can be tricky designing an identity for a new company, while alluding to a history that just isn’t there. Because of his distinct style that has a kind of old-world aesthetic, Chad Michael is often called for these types of jobs for spirits and distilleries. His logo designs employ elaborate, ornate details providing the illusion of a rich back story for his clients, even if they are a start-up.

One such case, is his recent branding for whiskey distillery Hopes & Dreams, who’s hopes and dreams, literally went up in smoke. “This is a company built on trial and failure. The founders initially built their own distillery, but due to lack of experience and sheer fate, they ended up accidentally burning it down,” Michael says. But that didn’t deter them, and it was this experience that the designer capitalized on in the label design, which features a burning building.

He was given complete freedom when it came to the package design. “The overall label takes cues from traditional whiskey packaging in order to make it seem like a legitimate, run-of-the-mill whiskey, but the non-traditional logotype treatment is one of the aspects that gives consumers a second thought,” Michael explains. “‘Old Enough’ was a tagline I had always wanted to use on a spirit but it never seemed appropriate until H&D came along.”

Read the rest of the story here.

Logo Lessons from a Lippincott Partner

Su Mathews Hale is senior partner at Lippincott’s San Francisco office, where she heads up branding initiatives for clients such as Hyatt, Walmart, eBay, and Shutterstock. Prior to joining Lippincott more than 10 years ago, she was an associate partner at Pentagram in New York. Hale is currently president of the National AIGA.

We’re so pleased to have her on our panel of judges for this year’s LogoLounge competition. Here, she gives us some advice on creating effective and endearing identity programs.

When working on a large branding project, is the logo always the first thing to consider?

The logo is one of the considerations, but rarely the first. The most important thing to consider is the business strategy and to ensure that the creative vision aligns with where the company is headed. Things designers need to ask themselves, is what does the brand stand for? What’s happening in the company (growth, new products, broader customer base) that the design needs to accommodate for? Most successful companies get to a point where they need a visual facelift to stay modern and relevant, but even in those cases the logo redesign is second to the strategy of the company and changing needs of the customer.

Read the rest of the interview here.

 

LogoLounge’s Superstar Panel of Judges Announced

It’s on! The competition for LogoLounge 10 is heating up and the judging panel is hotter than ever. The breadth of the work done by this group of international judges encompasses the largest swath of name brand identities under one roof … err … website, including Facebook, Apple, WalMart, eBay, The Today Show, Patagonia, Nike, Mac Cosmetics, Gevalia, and Verizon, just to name a few.

Normally eight judges comprise the panel, but this year LogoLounge founder Bill Gardner upped the ante to ten, because he’s expecting more entries than ever before. “Some folks don’t realize that this competition is probably the single largest and most competitive with 25,000-30,000 entries historically,” he notes. “We decided it would give each entry more scrutiny if we expanded the panel, and with this the tenth anniversary, pushing the panel to ten was a natural.”

The judges this year include:

“We’ve always been fortunate to have strong judges, often with name brand value, to guide us to the very best of our submissions. This year, we’re introducing a digital version of the book that will have dramatically broader distribution, so we went back to a few of our past jurors,” Gardner says. “These are designer favorites the industry loves, and we also reached out to a new generation of superstars with amazing talents.” The make-up of the panel is a good blend of designers and illustrators with broad skill sets like typography and letterforms, symbols and marks, conceptual to illustrative, and boutique to international. This diversity ensures a compelling selection of designs.

Several of the judges have been featured in past LogoLounge books. Gardner has noted that Felix Sockwell, was subscriber No. 1 to LogoLounge.com, and also served as one of the first judges. Von Glitschka has also judged before, and his work has been featured in nearly every LogoLounge book as well. “It was ten years ago that another designer picked up a LogoLounge account and submitted about 50 amazingly crafted marks. Seems like the judges loved him too, and picked close to half of his work for the book,” Gardner recalls. That person was Aaron Draplin, and he has been a LogoLounge supporter ever since. Gardner adds, “He is one of the most genuine individuals I’ve ever met, and deserving of every success he’s earned.”

It’s no accident that the best logos in the world end up in the book because the people selecting them know what comprises a great logo design and how it will resonate with its intended audience. No one walks into a LogoLounge book just because they submitted. It’s a healthy competition where only the strong survive.

As an added bonus this year, LogoLounge is teaming up with HOW, which will feature a sampling of the top-rated selections in its Summer issue. “We’re excited to share the best logo entries with the HOW audience, and discuss the merits of why these logos work so well,” Gardner says.

A Logo That Was Almost Lost in Translation

Illustrator and designer Alex Trochut has called New York City home for the past four years. A Barcelona native, he is fluent in all things design from logos and identity work, to editorial, advertising, fashion, and music. He tends to use expressive lettering often in his work to create movement and rapture.

Last year, he was asked to design the logo for a pair of businesses in Barcelona—a daytime restaurant and a cocktail bar, with gender-bending names: El Mama for the restaurant, and La Papa for the bar. Spanish language traditionally pairs “la” with feminine references and “el” with masculine. Trochut explains, “In Spanish, ‘la papa’ means going on a bender. It’s a funny translation… a take on very good conditions for bad habits.”

With this in mind, he went through a lot of ideas, going back and forth with the client. “I’m more of an illustrator than a designer. If something was very bold visually, it wasn’t really working as a logo. But if I designed something really simple that worked as a logo, applied to many things, the client found it too boring. We were in between all the time,” Trochut notes.

He stepped back and started experimenting with lettering and the names. “The structure of the two words have a lot in common. They share the same vocals and the same number of letters.” He put the words on top of each other, and then he saw it: “The faces came in, and suddenly the idea changed. The style that I was using in the end lead me to the idea.”

Read rest of article here.

One Letter Says it All

Last year Pentagram partner Emily Oberman and her team, were hired to brand a new kind of social club/coworking space in New York City for smart, successful women. Unlike traditional men’s social clubs that feature dark walls lined with taxidermy in an old world sense of style, The Wing is light and contemporary. It’s a haven for professional women looking to catch up on work, socialize with other likeminded women, read, grab a cup of coffee, even take a shower or get a blow-out before heading out for the night.

Oberman, who counts herself as a person for whom The Wing was created, was thrilled to be involved in the branding. “When we met with Audrey Gelman and Lauren Kassen (cofounders of The Wing), it was love at first meeting. We all shared a similar sense of intelligent humor, design, style, and activism,” Oberman recalls. “The more we talked and shared inspirations, the more we felt that we could create something great together.”

The identity features 30 different Ws, which can be a risky move, but Oberman says it felt right. “The team picked a bunch of Ws to represent all of the women who make up the wing, and they said yes to all of them. Audrey did feel strongly that we needed a ‘hero’ W, so we collectively chose the one you see most often,” she explains. “We chose it because it is strong and curvy.” The different Ws embody a range of styles from eclectic, fun, sexy, smart, and serious. There is no one way to define a woman, after all.

Read the rest of the article here.