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Activate photography

Sharing a series of photos I’ve been working on for the last two years to promote the Campus Recreation department at Illinois State’s ACTIVATE campaign. I have several more of these (big emphasis on “several”) but these are some of my favorites. The series won a Silver ADDY Award in 2011.

Photos were taken by Lyndsie Schlink while I directed and did the post production work. All models were current students and recreational athletes only at the time of production. Glad to finally get some of these online. I’ll be sharing more from the series soon, so come back!


Check out my new ride

I’m not typically a fan of vehicle graphics, but I was pretty pumped when this guy arrived over the summer. I finally had an opportunity to photograph it last week (outside, in 20 degree weather).

This is the second vehicle I’ve designed, and it turned out way better than the first which was a full wrap. This one is more like a vinyl decal application that only covers specific areas of the van. Prairie Signs in Bloomington handled the installation.

Wear Red campaign: Part 2

So three weeks later I’m finally getting around to posting phase 2 of the Wear Red campaign. My two week vacation with nothing to do really cut into my posting schedule.

Anyway, for the second part of our Wear Red campaign we installed a series of exterior elevator door graphics across campus. All of the photos were shot in one day at the same location, and feature various in-season sports (at the time they were taken) along with a student group. We’ll continue to do these with athletic teams and specific student groups as the year progresses.

I love the way these turned out—it’s definitely a unique utilization of advertising space—and all the students had a great time participating, except for the two football players that had to squat down the whole time. If you’re on Illinois State campus you should begin seeing these over the next couple weeks, so go check them out. And also check out Wear Red Part 1 from a few weeks ago. Enjoy!

Design Profile: Mehemed Fehmy Agha and the spread

Early spread from Vanity Fair

The American image that was so inviting to immigrants in the early 1900s came not only from American cinema, but also from the pages of popular magazines and their advertisements, quickly giving rise to the role of art director. In contrast to Europe where the designer was the authority on advertising, the art director became the author of American commercialism and actually preceded the profession of graphic design in the states, a profession that was cemented when the Art Directors Club of New York was founded in 1920. And while Europe admired the image of America, America also looked to Europe to determine trends in modernity, sophistication, and culture, going so far as to recruit European talent as the next great American art director.

In 1929 Condé Nast (the man himself) brought Russian-born Mehemed Fehmy Agha, who had been working for the German edition of Vogue magazine, to America as art director for House & Garden, Vanity Fair, and the senior edition of Vogue. Considered avant-garde at the time, Agha introduced sans-serif typefaces, the practice of bleeding photos off the page, and the use of duotone images (black-and-white photos printed in two colors) followed by the first full-color photograph to grace Vogue magazine in 1932. But more importantly, he was the first advertising mind to view publications as a series of spreads, or what we tend to redundantly refer to as “double page spreads,” instead of a series of individual pages.

Agha would often plan out the design of editorial content before any photographs were taken, and at a time when magazine covers were strictly illustrated, with art directors often working with cartoonists or painters, he introduced entirely pictorial covers. His knowledge of photography—he often photographed images himself for his publications—brought multiple dimensions to his art directorial role and produced a higher-level of sophistication in the content of his magazines.

Agha later spent time as president of both the Art Directors Club (1935) and AIGA (1953-55). It was his use of full-color photographic covers for his publications that many identify him as the first modern art director in America, but in my opinion it was the revelation that combining type and photographs in a cohesive way to link adjacent pages of a feature into a spread proved his greatest contribution to design. Agha redefined the way a page works with this single idea, and it’s hard to imagine publication design of any kind that is unconscious of the spread.

Through my personal experience working for a magazine, most designers dread designing for editorial content that doesn’t begin on a left-hand page. In fact, we recently redesigned our publication, Illinois State, to be more conscious of spread design and open to more design freedom by condensing the amount of editorial content. To us, a designer’s dream. One year post-redesign, please enjoy a selection of double page editorial spreads from Illinois State in honor of Mehemed Fehmy Agha.

The new Helvetica

Gotham sample

During the 2008 presidential campaign Barack Obama and his supporters spoke of “hope” and “change,” slogans so inspiring at the time that they necessitated a typeface just as honest as the message. There was only one clear choice. A typeface that, like the Obama campaign, represented change we could believe in.

Of all the typefaces released in the last 50 years, few have made the impact that Gotham has, especially in the short time since its release. Gotham is a versatile, geometric sans-serif designed by Tobias Frere-Jones and released by type foundry Hoefler & Frere-Jones in 2000. Inspired by New York architectural mid-twentieth century signage—which also led to naming the typeface after New York’s Batman-inspired nickname—Gotham was initially commissioned by GQ magazine, whose editors were looking for a fresh, masculine look for their publication. And while the magazine almost settled on Futura, they instead turned to Hoefler & Frere-Jones looking for a typeface that, according to Jonathan Hoefler, the other half of H&FJ, “was going to be very fresh and very established to have a credible voice to it.”

In the past, aside from Futura, designers would have also considered favorites Gill Sans or Univers to accomplish GQ‘s goal, and more commonly the world’s most famous typeface, Helvetica. Developed in 1957 by Swiss designer Max Meidinger, Helvetica was designed to adapt to a large variety of uses. So much so that it was subsequently adapted for a number of foreign alphabets, including Chinese and Latin. Since the 1960s Helvetica has been the go-to typeface for corporate logos and especially signage, making it the world’s most widely recognizable font.

It is nearly impossible to escape Helvetica’s domination, and at least one man has tried. In December 2010 New York type designer Cyrus Highsmith attempted to go Helvetica-less for 24 hours. Highsmith set self-prohibitions from buying anything branded with Helvetica or using any type of transportation that uses Helvetica in its signage, the latter of which proved difficult as New York uses Helvetica for the majority of their public transportation branding. He later found that he couldn’t purchase goods of any kind, as all of his credit cards and even the new U.S. currency uses the typeface. He avoided the internet and deleted the typeface from his computer, and after all this still found avoiding Helvetica nearly impossible.

More than 50 years after its release, Helvetica’s widespread use has proved to be too much of a good thing for the design community, and at the beginning of the twenty-first century we began looking for something fresh to fill Helvetica’s run-down shoes.

Luckily, GQ‘s exclusive license expired in 2002 and Gotham was released to the public. It was quickly adopted by many newspapers and advertising campaigns, including Coca-Cola and Netflix. New York institutions Saturday Night Live and the Tribeca Film Festival set their logotypes in Gotham. Even type non-conformist Neville Brody used Gotham in his 2006 redesign of The Times for compressed headlines. Gotham-fever began to spread as rapidly as Obama’s message.

In fact, it was the 2008 presidential elections that solidified Gotham’s title as King Font, being embraced by both the Obama and John Edwards campaign. During the campaign Newsweek’s Andrew Romano commented, “Unlike other sans serif typefaces, it’s not German, it’s not French, it’s not Swiss,” he said. “It’s very American.” And after Edwards bowed out, the persuasive, uncharacteristically American Gotham proved a formidable rival to Hillary Clinton’s New Baskerville and John McCain’s Optima. The Obama campaign identity brought Gotham into the corporate spotlight, and when they later teamed with street artist Shepard Fairey for his initial Hope poster, Gotham instantly became recognizable to the public world-wide. So much so that even those uneducated in design can spot a knock-off version of Fairey’s famous print on sight. The phrases Hope and Change just don’t have the same impact set in Gill Sans.

Romano would go on to note that it was more than just the candidate’s message that swayed voters and launched Obamamania. “It’s the way the campaign has folded the man and the message and the speeches into a systemic branding effort. Reinforced with a coherent, comprehensive program of fonts, logos, slogans and web design, Obama is the first presidential candidate to be marketed like a high-end consumer brand.” And that’s what makes Gotham so versatile. It’s the perfect typeface for creating honesty around a product, and not only in the case of corporate branding campaigns. In the last few years Gotham has replaced Trajan and Gill Sans as the choice font for marketing movies, including three of the last four Clint Eastwood films (Gran Torino, Hereafter, and Invictus) and a number of Academy Award winners. During the 2010 Tonight Show conflict Conan O’Brien fans turned to Fairey’s poster campaign as inspiration, adopting Gotham for their Team Coco branding. Good marketers know a winner when they see it, and the font was eventually adopted for the logo of his new TBS show Conan.

A few of Gotham's popular uses

The many faces of Gotham

Gotham was initially available in more than forty sizes and weights, ranging from Thin to Ultra, and also including a Condensed version. In 2005 Print magazine commissioned a rounded variant. Narrow and Extra Narrow variants were later introduced, bringing Gotham’s total number of styles to 66. In comparison, Futura, Gill Sans, Helvetica, and Univers all have less than 20. Gotham’s clean lines and abundance of variations make it practical for a number of applications, which is well suited for branding. It also pairs well with a number of traditional serif fonts, like Garamond and Caslon, adding to its versatility. On its own, Gotham can be clean and modern, particularly corporate, but when paired with the right serif one can produce some especially beautiful type combinations. My personal favorite, all caps Gotham Medium with ample tracking next to Adobe Garamond Semibold Italic.

Frere-Jones was primarily inspired by signage over the entrance to the New York Port Authority Bus Terminal, originating from the style of 1920s era sans-serifs like Futura. “When we were developing it we realized it could be very contemporary, but also classic and almost severe. In this respect it is at least comparable with Helvetica,” says Frere-Jones. “We wanted to seize the chance to give it that range of voices, so it wasn’t going to be a performer that could only really sing one song.” But H&FJ not only succeeded in developing a typeface that is as versatile and contemporary as Helvetica, the sans-serif that has dominated the printed word since the 1960s, they unleashed a typeface that has thus far defined the first half of the twenty-first century. A distinction that was sealed in 2010 when USA Today named Gotham “font of the decade.” Additionally, Gotham can be viewed on the cornerstone of the Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center site and is currently on display, along with the Obama corporate identity, at the Art Institute of Chicago—two distinctions that few typefaces as young as Gotham can claim.

Designers take notice. Helvetica is out! And in the words of type-author Simon Garfield, “Gotham is go.”

A qwik repost

If you haven’t already heard, Netflix recently announced it was splitting the company into two separate services. DVDs will now be shipped through Qwikster, ironically the slower of the two services, while streaming online content will remain Netflix. Forbes’ Sasha Strauass posted this yesterday, claiming this mistake to possibly overshadow the recent Netflix price hike. He makes a valid point that this move is destroying the brand that Netflix has spent the last few years trying to build. Fortunately the Netflix CEO promised to keep the Qwikster envelope red (whew…brow wipe).

Hasting’s Folly: The Netflix/Qwikster Quagmire