Yo Santosa: Putting her Branding Experience to Work in Her Entrepreneurial Endeavors

You know how when you see something new and say, “Gee, I had that same idea. I could have done that.” But you didn’t? Most of us say that, but we never act on it. Meet Yo Santosa. When she puts her mind to doing something or filling a niche that hasn’t been filled, she goes for it.

Santosa, who has called Los Angeles home for 13 years, was born in Indonesia and raised in Singapore, before emigrating to the U.S. at age 17. She graduated from Art Center College of Design, just four years later. In 2006, she opened her branding agency Ferroconcrete, where she helped her first client, Pinkberry, grow from one store to a global brand with more than 200 stores worldwide.

She’s taken that branding expertise and created her own start-ups in vastly different categories. In 2013, she launched Commodity, a fragrance company with a mission to make fragrance personal (it has been featured in GQ, Fast Co., Esquire and W Magazine), and in September 2014, she founded and published the first issue of LA Downtowner, a cultural publication for Los Angelinos looking for fun, food, and fashion.

Here Santosa talks about her entrepreneurial drive and the realities of wearing so many hats at once.

What is the meaning behind the name of your agency? 

Ferroconcrete is another term for reinforced concrete, which enabled the building of bridges and multiple-story buildings. It’s a metaphor for building brands into skyscrapers. But that’s the long answer. The short one; simply, I love concrete. Read the rest of the interview here.

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Robert Smigel: The Man With the Dog Puppet Fist

News coverage of the 2016 Presidential Election was overbearing and underwhelming. Late night television provided some of the best comic relief, but one of the greatest characters taking on the election was Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, aka Robert Smigel, in “Triumph’s Summer Election Special 2016,” on Hulu.

Smigel has had his hand up Triumph’s ass for 20 years, after debuting on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. As Smigel stands out of the camera’s view, Triumph openly pokes fun at people on the street—whether at Star Wars premieres or political rallies—often inciting laughter and sometimes hostility. Either way, it’s always comedic gold.

Here, we talk to him about his election specials last year with his cigar-smoking puppet, and how he prepares for these events.

Where did Triumph’s voice originate and why the cigar?

My mom’s parents, aunts and uncles were all from Russia, so I heard that accent all the time as a kid, and always imagined dogs would talk that way. I really don’t know why dogs, as opposed to other animals. I’ve said in the past that maybe it’s because they have the same wide-eyed wonder as a turn of the century Russian immigrant arriving on Ellis Island. … “Loook at all of dees!” Yes, it’s horrible, or at least horriblish. But I was 8. Read the rest of the interview here.

Scott Dadich: The Making of the Netflix Series, “Abstract”

If you haven’t yet watched “Abstract: The Art of Design,” which features eight extraordinary designers, practicing different disciplines, then set aside a day for an inspiring binge-watching experience. The making of the series is as complex and beautiful as the people portrayed. Executive producer Scott Dadich discusses the two-year journey to make the series, and reveals some of his favorite moments in the process.
While working on the series, Dadich was still deeply entrenched as the Editor and Creative Director of Wired magazine, which boomed under his leadership. He tripled the publication’s reach on social media and increased traffic to the website by 50 percent. Wired also earned ten Webby Awards, more than 50 Society of Publication Designers medals, a James Beard Foundation Award, and four National Magazine Awards for design. He recently left the magazine after more than a decade, to start Godfrey Dadich Partners with Patrick Godfrey.
Here, the bearded and bespectacled 40 year old talks candidly about the process of creating Abstract—from conception to delivery—and the delicate balance of filming people in their environment without disrupting the creative process. Read the interview here.

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Fred Dekker: Life at 24 Frames Per Second

Forget what you’ve heard from Old Blue Eyes about making it in New York. Hollywood is the veritable make or break town for filmmakers. If your movie’s a hit, everyone wants a piece of you and your next project; if your movie bombs, you’re down and out in Beverly Hills. The phone stops ringing, and people you thought were your friends suddenly have no time for you.

Fred Dekker has experienced both the highs and lows as a screen writer and director in his 30 year career in filmmaking. In the late ’80s he co-wrote (with Shane Black) and directed the now cult classic, Monster Squad, about a bunch of kids fighting a gang of monsters led by Count Dracula. Though it didn’t achieve box office success, it’s since gained momentum among its core audience of geeky guys, who are now in their 30s and 40s.

In the early ’90s, Dekker was hired to direct his first big budget studio movie, Robocop 3. Unfortunately, the movie flopped, and in one fell swoop, his directorial career was over. Kaput. Done. Fizzled. He has not directed a movie since.

But this is a comeback story, ya all! The kind of story Hollywood banks on. Dekker didn’t crawl in a hole and give up. Hell no! He’s been quietly and steadily working as a writer for television productions, and he’s currently working on his biggest project to date—the latest Predator movie—with his old friend and collaborator, Shane Black.

Here, he talks about the challenges and myths working in La La Land.

Although Monster Squad didn’t achieve box office success at the time it was released in 1987, it has since become a cult classic. Has that ever surprised you?

“Surprised” isn’t quite the right word since the turnaround happened over a long period of time—it just took a while for it to find its audience. On one hand it’s very gratifying, but there’s also some melancholy, because had the movie done well when it opened, I would have made a lot more movies since then. So, despite the huge fan base it has today, my career definitely suffered … and those are years I’ll never get back. Read the full interview here.

Debbie Millman: Design Matters & Beyond

Debbie Millman might be the nicest person in the profession. That’s not just my opinion—that’s a fact. I’ve heard that sentiment from many people over the years, and I’ve experienced her generosity firsthand. But don’t let that fool you. She’s no pushover. She’s a vocal proponent of using design and branding to create awareness and action for social causes she believes in. She doesn’t just sit on the sidelines observing the world, Millman gets involved and incites action in others. She’s a leader and a fighter.

Whether she’s teaching branding in the graduate program at School of Visual Arts that she cofounded in 2009 with Steven Heller, or interviewing someone for her popular Design Matters podcast, or fulfilling her dual roles as creative director/editorial director at PRINT magazine, she is immersed in the design community, speaking at events all over the world, and serving as an active board member of several organizations. She has also written six books, with more in the works. Her work clearly fuels her soul.

Millman recently left Sterling Brands, where she served as president of the design division for 20 years, working for some of the world’s largest brands. Here we talk to her about her career in branding, the surprise success of her podcast, and what’s next for this adventurous lady.

As someone who’s been immersed in branding for more than 20 years, how have your perceptions changed over the years about brand expectations and limits?

I find the role of branding now incredibly, incredibly exciting. I think that the ultimate goal of the discipline of branding is to reflect the culture in which the brand or the product or the company participates, which evokes a unique composition of sensory perceptions, which in turn create brand tribes. The extension of any one of these sensory perceptions impacts the way we think and act—and the way we perceive the brand or the product or the company. When these perceptions change, people change. I also think movements such as Black Lives Matter, is one of the most important movements to enter our cultural discourse in a long time. Design has finally become democratized, and these efforts are not about anything commercial. They have not been created for any financial benefit. Read the full interview here.

John Fluevog: Designing Unique Soles for More than Four Decades

John Fluevog has been crafting high quality, funky shoes for more than 46 years, yet he’s not a household name like Jimmy Choo, Jessica Simpson, or Steve Madden. Mainly because his shoes are not sold in department stores, and the designs are bizarrely unconventional. Let’s just say, when you wear a pair of Fluevogs, expect to get noticed. People either love them or they don’t know what to think of them, which is precisely what Mr. Fluevog has intended.

He’s kind of like the Tim Burton of the shoe design world. Like Burton’s films, Fluevog’s designs are colorful, over the top, and decidedly offbeat. He’ll never fit in, but that’s perfectly fine with him. It’s all part of his brand strategy. Fluevog has been creating “unique soles for unique souls” since 1970. The shoes aren’t just showstoppers though, they’re designed to last many, many years, constructed with high quality, eco-friendly materials. He lives his motto, “good soles leave small prints,” by specifying vegetable tanned leathers and water-based glues.

Fluevog’s mission is to bring his customers along for the fun and quirky ride. The Fluevog community, called “Flummunity,” encourages customers to submit shoe designs and create ads that reflect their own sentiments about the brand. There’s even a “Fluemarket” for buying and selling used Fluevogs. This brand strategy of involving his customers has paid off handsomely, as “Fluevogers” are repeat customers and tend to evangelize the brand mission. Every point of contact with the brand has been carefully curated from the online shopping experience, to the delivery of your product in a beautiful blue box, containing a custom shoe horn, Fluevog stickers, and sometimes a personal note from the person who shipped the shoes.

Here we talk to Fluevog about his brand’s unusual heritage, his inspirations, and staying ahead of design trends.

Did you have any training as a shoe designer?

I have been self-taught. I did not even take art in high school. In fact, I’m not sure I ever graduated from high school. I have never taken a shoe making course nor an art or design course, and have never done any post-secondary training. Art was not encouraged in my family. Music yes, art no. Read the interview here.

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Cindy Gallop: Building the Brave New World of Sex Tech

When Cindy Gallop introduced her social sex start-up concept to a live audience in 2009, she really had no idea what she was getting herself into. She unwittingly tapped into a huge global category, but found it damn-near impossible to get any backing—financial, technical, or social. It was a conundrum of epic proportions.

However, that did not deter her. In fact, if you tell Gallop she can’t do something, it will only strengthen her resolve to prove otherwise. This is a woman who likes to “blow shit up.” Her words, not mine. Having worked in business communications for more than 20 years, mainly with Bartle Bogle Hegarty as the founder and former chair of the U.S. branch, she now runs her own consulting business, as well as her start-ups If We Ran The World and Make Love Not Porn. She knows a thing or two about getting shit done and if you don’t like what she’s doing, then move along. She has no time for you.

This is not a story about sex. This is about one woman’s relentless pursuit to build an entire business category in order for her company and others like it to succeed, despite countless obstacles that would have deterred most sane people. Read the interview here.

“I am doing what I tell other entrepreneurs to do, which is when you have a truly world changing startup, you have to change the world to fit it, not the other way around.”

Matteo Bologna: Pushing the Limits of Typography

As a young, horny man living in his mother’s house in Milan, Italy, Matteo Bologna taught himself how to design type while on the phone with an annoying girlfriend. While she talked and complained and cried for hours on end, he toyed with the seductive curves and shapes of letterforms on his computer, and eventually broke up with the girl. He found typography to be much sexier. Besides, her pasta would never be as good as his mama’s.

Young Matteo’s love of typography only intensified when he started receiving The Type Director’s Club (TCD) annuals filled with designs by Louise Fili, Paula Scher, Seymour Chwast, and Charles S. Anderson. He copied and cajoled their work, and knew the only chance he had to really break into design was to move to New York City, which he did in 1994. Shortly thereafter, he formed Mucca and he landed a big break, designing the brand for a new French brasserie, Balthazar, which quickly became famous for its delectable breads, pastries, and pommes frites. The design community also took notice of Matteo for his exquisite handling of the restaurant’s identity. The rest, as they say, is history.

Here we talk to Matteo about the power of type in design and the ways in which he pushes it. Read the interview here.

Jennifer Sterling Finally Gets the Last Word

Having lived and worked on both coasts, Jennifer Sterling knows a thing or two about cultural and political discourse in design. Her illustrative typographic renderings have produced praise and ignited loathsome critiques from her peers.

She experienced a profound backlash in the early 2000s for her design of the now infamous 2001 AIGA 365 Annual. No designer has ever taken such a public beating for their work as she did. And she never responded. Until now.

That catalog sent designers into a tizzy. Today, I doubt anyone would raise a brow. Sterling did what she did best: She created typographic and textural images to create meaningful discourse and showcase the work as it was meant to be seen. But, perhaps she was ahead of her time. People didn’t get it and the reaction was visceral and harsh. Today that book would be a precious keepsake, and anyone featured within would be honored.

It seemed as if Sterling—then in San Francisco—dropped out of the design world, only to re-emerge five years ago in New York. That’s not quite the case. She has continually worked, but she intentionally kept a low profile. She was never looking for the spotlight, but it found her in the ugliest of ways. Despite that, her love for design never wavered and she continued to work with clients like Adobe, Aveda, Gilbert Paper, Hillary Clinton, and more. Her work has been included in the permanent collections of The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Library of Congress, Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Museum Fur Kunst Und Gewerbe, Hamburg, and the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.

Here, we talk to her about her passion for design and typography, and we let her have the final word on that book she designed more than 15 years ago. Read the interview here.

Josh Friedland, aka Ruth Bourdain, on the Absurdities in Food Culture

In 2010, a new voice hit the Twitterverse, and had everyone guessing who it was. @RuthBourdain was born—a sardonic mash up of food critic Ruth Reichl and CNN’s Parts Unknown bad boy, Anthony Bourdain.

More than 66,000 people followed @RuthBourdain, as she delivered her ridiculously tawdry, yet chirpy Haikus, such as this gem: “The birds are louder than fuck this morning. Breakfast of black beans, tortillas, and salsa causing fragrant, ozone-destroying flatulence.” Still, no one knew “her” true identity, until the creator himself, food writer Josh Friedland, came out to The New York Times in 2013, much to his relief.

Here we talk to Friedland, creator of The Food Section and author of Comfort Me with Offal (as Ruth Bourdain) and Eatymology, about food terms, critics, and what it was like living in a paradoxical universe.

How did you come up with the idea to do a mash-up of Ruth Reichl and Anthony Bourdain?

I had been reading Ruth Reichl’s tweets — her haiku-like poems about breakfast in upstate New York and other meals — and I felt they were just asking to be spoofed. At the same time, Anthony Bourdain was broadcasting a short-run radio show on satellite radio where he read them on-air as beat poetry. I took the next logical step and combined their two personas into one scary gastronomical beast. Read the rest of the interview here.

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