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.

 

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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.

 

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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.