May 14, 2021No Comments

Oh Baby! A New Brand for Origin Finance

We are so excited to announce the launch of a new Brand Identity System for Origin Finance, fertility experts on a mission to help make parenthood financially attainable for more families. Origin provides information and financing options for parents looking to grow their family through IVF and surrogacy. They needed a brand that was going to reach their audience, and communicate in an inviting, yet informative, manner that was unique in market.

Together, we created a comprehensive style guide, complete with a new logo, custom iconography, color pallet, and photographic direction. Those elements were implemented across a number of materials, including a new website with automated email communication. We're proud, and humbled, to work alongside such an intelligent and passionate group. From the ground up, they developed new programs and loan options that make it easy for all types of families to find success in their journey to parenthood.

"Map was an outstanding contributor to building our company’s logo, brand, and website. They were easy to work with, responsive, and open to our feedback. John quickly grasped the vision for our company and took us from start to finish on time (which is rare in the development world) and went the extra mile to help us set up additional features and answer all our questions. Highly recommended!" Angela Rastegar, CEO, Origin Finance

April 14, 2021No Comments

My Next Best Agency

I learned practically everything I know about design at my favorite agency in Connecticut, Taylor Design. It was the job I didn’t get coming out of Syracuse University — which made it all the more attractive — and especially rewarding when they hired me two years later.

I spent the next 7 years as a design sponge, soaking up every drop of inspiration from an extremely talented group of creatives. Even then, I was interested in every aspect of creative problem-solving, including the business. When I bluntly asked Dan, the owner, how to run a design studio, he responded with the best advice imaginable. “Keep your eyes open,” he said.

And so I did.

After that, I took an opportunity as an art director at an advertising agency in Westport, Catapult Marketing. This is where I learned about advertising and promotion. The CEO was extremely smart and passionate, and surrounded us with the most brilliant minds in the business. The CCO, Dave Fiore, was a visionary who knew how to challenge the status quo, and squeeze every ounce of creativity from every office. Together, they built a culture of innovative thinking that was both challenging and exhilarating. As is often the case with success, the agency became a hot commodity and, needless to say, it’s not the same company anymore. For a while, though, I’m convinced it was the best advertising agency in Connecticut. How fortunate am I, to have worked at two great companies, and to have learned from two great mentors? What could possibly be next?

To be sure, I was never interested in moving to my next favorite agency. Or the next best.

Looking beyond 2020, it seemed as if remote working would certainly expand the number of opportunities for creatives. A number of great agencies remain in the area as well. But I’ve always been particular and deliberate about the brand of creative problem-solving I get to call my career. And, as practical as I can be, intuition has always informed by best decisions. After two great companies, plenty of planning and internal debate, instinct led me to believe that 2021 would present the greatest opportunity yet.

That’s why I started my own Agency, Map.

As we begin to roll out, I look forward to sharing more about us, our brand of creative and, for those interested, the trials of starting a business in the middle of a pandemic. Our mission is grand: utilize design to make the world a better place. However, the way we intend to do that is modest: retain and build upon the qualities that made my favorite agencies such fantastic places to work. That's the simple plan to hopefully make my next agency, the best.

April 3, 2021No Comments

Always Give Credit

A fun exercise  to try when you’ve run out of design solutions: set Futura Heavy Oblique knockout on bright red – maybe Pantone Red 032. Then take said layout and share it with a colleague, casually asking, “Does this design resemble anything you recognize?”

Design students are fairly educated today, but there was a time when some of us spent our nights in studio, cutting letters, and an occasional finger, with X-Acto blades. The result being, Art History 101 didn’t serve as well as a source for design inspiration as it served a practical time for sleep. In response to Futura Heavy Oblique resembling anything, very few could answer with the correct response, which is, “oh yeah, that looks just like a piece by the Barbara Kruger. Your layout is a complete knockoff of the artist who referenced advertising and leveraged design to make bold, graphic statements about feminism, struggle, and power in the 80’s. Didn’t you go to art school?” That’s the response you should be looking for, of course. 

Instead, you might get a response like, “it kind of looks like that ‘Obey’ guy, what’s his name?” To which, its actually appropriate to lose your mind. Calmly explain, oh, you mean Shepard Fairey? I love his reference to 1920’s Russian Constructivist movement, though I tend to view his work more from a purely illustrative standpoint than with any deeper design motivation. The Russians really had a great handle on typography, didn’t they? By the way, did you notice that knockout type on the bold red background? Maybe don’t be quite so snooty.

Perhaps bring the conversation full circle with brief explanation of post-modernism and use of Appropriation in art. It’s okay to copy, even steal, from artists. But know who you are stealing from, so that you can reference them in conversation. At the very least, always acknowledge Barbara Kruger if you are going to set Future Heavy Oblique knockout on a bar of red. Having launched a sophisticated discussion and debate about design and history, consider the exercise a success. 

March 15, 2021No Comments

Design Confession

I hardly knew anything about graphic design, or its history, as an art student in the college of Visual and Performing Arts. As part of my work-study program, I was getting paid $5 an hour to assist students load Microfilm and Microfiche machines in the basement of Byrd Library. The “computer consultant,” who sat on the other side of the desk from me, helped visitors copy photos on the flatbed scanner and import them into a program called, “Photoshop.” She made $7.50 an hour. 

I wrote an essay about Nike in high school, so I suppose I knew what a logo was. I was also once asked to develop a “graphic” for a T-Shirt that would include type on it. That vague understanding of how design works, plus the allure of a sweet $7.50 an hour salary, lead me to declare “Communications Design,” as a major my Sophomore year. But, to tell you the truth, I still couldn’t name one professional designer if my life depended on it. 

So you can imagine the horror I faced, when, on my first day of Intro to Communications Design I (CMD 251), our professor, @wonderingthealphabet, played a bit of an ice-breaker with the class: let’s go around the room, introduce yourself and name your favorite graphic designer.

I drew a complete blank.

Luckily, the library was right next door the Schine Student center, where I had just picked up my stack of required  textbooks the week before. Among them, “The Elements of Typographic Style,” by Robert Bringhurst, “Stop Stealing Sheep & Find Out How Type Works,” by the genius, Erik Spiekermann, and “The History of Graphic Design,” by the saint, Phillip Meggs. I had thumbed through all of them because, to tell you the truth, students weren’t exactly clamoring to scan Microfilm.

As we went around the room, my classmates confidently claimed their design heroes. I was nervous, perhaps a little sweaty. Who declares a major they hardly know anything about? Think, John, think!

“Josef... Müller... Brockmann? Yeah, Josef Müller-Brockmann.” That’s what I said. 

My professor said he respected that response, made some remark about the grid and his education in the International Typographic Style, and the class moved along. Josef Müller-Brockmann saved me from embarrassment. To this day, I have no idea how a hyphenated name, complete with umlaut, popped into my head.

After class, I rode my skateboard back to my apartment, looked up the Swiss Style in my textbooks, and vowed to learn more about the history of graphic design.

March 4, 2021No Comments

King Gets His Due

Brody, Saville, even Bubbles ­— All British designers whose work pushed established norms and helped define graphic movements in the late 70’s and early 80’s. At least within the pages of history, they each became synonymous with a certain look or style — Bubbles is to Punk what Brody is to New Wave Typography. Perhaps their status is a result of the genres in which they helped define.

There is another Brit, though, that possessed a certain fashion, but designed the power of message in a way that eclipsed trend — Dave King. The name may be unfamiliar, but as art direct of the London Sunday Times Magazine, his Constructivist-inspired solutions were certainly recognizable. And, thanks to Rick Poynor’s monograph, “David King: Designer, Activist, Visual Historian,” (2020) this graphic design genius may finally be getting the recognition he deserves.

Let there be no doubt, King was a well-respected and award-winning designer during his practice. As he shifted his focus to collecting artifacts from the Russian Revolution and authoring books, he became less relevant in the rampant discussion about design authorship during the age of computer-generated design. In hindsight, this is unfortunate. His work as an activist should have been at the center of any such deliberation.

While his approach to design was certainly influence by the Russian Constructivists, and therefore could be interpreted as “post-modern,” they were also done with purpose. For example, “Demonstrate!” a poster King designs for the Anti-Apartheid Movement in 1978, clearly made reference to Rodchenko (and, to a lesser extent, Lissitsky) in order to deliver a powerful, politically-driven rally cry, in a similar way that design was harnessed for the Russian Revolution. King was not interested in design for the sake of design.

Primarily, history relegates the importance of this time period to advances in the medium, rather than the message, focusing on style and graphic surface, rather than substance and content. While it is somewhat expected, given the extreme graphic break that the computer allowed, it unfortunately left the important work of King to be an afterthought in dialogue and most publications.

That is, hopefully, until now.  In an interview with Steven Heller, Poynor proudly says of King, “He is one of Britain’s finest designers.”  

February 27, 2021No Comments

The Fox and the Bird

Context is important when we look back at the history of branding and design.

In the 1960’s and early 70’s, American Corporate identity was heavily influenced by the Swiss International Style, the wordmark having largely replaced pictorial representation of companies and brands. Recall, Vignelli introduced American Airlines to Helvetica in 1967, and Rand streamlined IBM in 1956. But, as we’ve come to better understand, trends provide the perfect opportunity to Zag, which is exactly what WolffOlins did across the pond. 

As the logotype became pervasive, WolffOlins, founded in 1965, convinced paint manufacturer Hadfields to trademark an illustration of a fox. However, they did maintain the obligatory Akidenz Grotesk logotype to accompany the curious fellow. It wasn’t until 1972 that they eschewed sans-serif altogether for the construction company Bovis. In addition, Wolff pitched an intricate illustration of a hummingbird. The client had been expecting “a bull or some other metaphor for male physical strength.” As one could imagine, strength is what every other company in the trade represented. The hummingbird, instead, could act as a metaphor that symbolized and represented a company focused on delicate precision. It was the perfect Zag.

Wolff admits, though, that the idea was nearly lost due to his inability or, perhaps, unwillingness to sell the concept. After listening to the presentation, Bovis chairman, Sir Keith Joseph, asked for an explanation of the hummingbird. Wolff responded that he “just really liked it.”

February 24, 2021No Comments

A Sip from the Crystal Goblet

When I first read Beatrice Warde’s 1930 lecture on printing, “The Crystal Goblet” (in Helen Armstrongs’ crucial  Graphic Design Theory: Readings from the Field, 2009), I thought, fuck that shit.

Mind you, I was just a few years removed from design education at Syracuse, a concept school with heavy Swiss influences. My heroes at the time were the antithesis of my schooling — Stefan Sagmeister, David Carson, and Art Chantry. All designers who used expressive typography (albeit in extremely different ways) to communicate powerful messages on an emotional level. Their work had profound influence in the field, and lead to a personal epiphany: the objective of graphic design in the 21st Century wasn’t to plaster the world with Univers. Plus, they were winning design awards up the wazoo.

Perhaps I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

For context, Warde was a scholar, writer, and historian for typography. In 1930, she was the marketing manager for the British Monotype Corporation. A monumental influence in the design industry, she championed higher printing standards, revival typefaces like Bodoni (hooray!) and new fonts like Gill Sans (woof!). But make no mistake, it was Warde’s vocation to hawk fonts to print shops throughout Europe, and she did that through lectures and essays.

“The Crystal Goblet,” then, was a metaphor used to convince printers and advertising agencies that typography aught to be treated like a crystal clear glass, beautifully constructed, yet transparent. Warde explains, “There is only one thing in the world that is capable of stirring and altering men’s minds to the same extent, and that is the coherent expression of thought.” It’s an easy argument that transparent typography allows for a seamless transferal of message, hence, clearer communication.

She continues, “If you agree with this, you will agree with my one main idea, i.e., that the most important thing about printing is that it conveys thought, ideas, images, from one mind to other minds.” In retrospect, how could 25-year-old me have ever argued with this idea?

With all due respect to Weingart, Greiman, McCoy — any designer with a penchant for typographic fashion, really — Beatrice Warde’s unforgiving lecture aught to be recited in all design classes today, a short Zoom meeting being sufficient. Not because designer’s opinions or preferences don’t matter — in many cases, they most certainly do — but because the underlying lesson is extremely relevant. That is, compelling ideas should be communicated clearly to the intended audience.

Of course, questions remain: whose message deserves clarity, and what content constitutes the intellectual criteria for such important communication? In the words of the late Michael Jackson:

I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change
Na-na-na, na-na-na
(No chance this song doesn’t get stuck in your head today.)

In other words, start internally. Check out your social media feeds: Facebook, Instagram, TikTok. Your online portfolio. Have an idea worth sharing? Make it clearer. If you are in the business of communicating messages for brands or other people, this isn’t a novel idea. However, we live in the Golden age of Typography, with literally thousands of more fonts to choose from than Warde’s audience. Selecting an inappropriate typeface has never been easier. Drop some typographic knowledge with your clients on why clean, transparent typography is so important today.

Expressive typography isn’t dying. There are an abundance of designers using type in really interesting and progressive ways. But clean type is timeless. There exists a place in the designer’s toolkit for both. Fair warning: not all designers are created equal. And not every designer possesses the skill set, or the right client, to appropriately fuck with good ideas, and clear communication. And to those, might I suggest occasionally taking a sip from the Crystal Goblet?

February 20, 2021No Comments

Art Direct America

In America, the occupational title of the art director preceded that of the graphic designer.

While the lines between roles have been blurred today, the importance of advertising in editorial created a more specific need for the Art Director in early 20th Century. It wasn’t until the Art Director’s Club of New York, formed in 1920, started publishing its famous Annual that recognition was given for achievements in graphic design created outside of advertising – primarily letterhead and display materials.

Among the earliest art directors was M.F. Agha, a Russian who came to America while working at the German edition of Vogue. While his name is rarely mentioned in design history classes, he’s featured prominently in Hollis’ Graphic Design: A Concise History (the source and inspiration for this post), and his work was ubiquitous in America, gracing the pages of Vogue, Vanity Fair, and House and Garden. 

February 18, 2021No Comments

Vision in Motion

Kenneth Hine, a professor at Syracuse University, kept a bibliography of the most important books on design, cleverly titled, “Hine Sight.” He sold perfect-bound versions of it at the copy center, and I believe even offered course credit to anybody that read every book listed. Of course, the task was impossible – the book is 137 pages, and lists over 300 resources.

I’ve kept it, of course, just like every book I’ve ever purchased. Over the past 20 years, it’s been packed in a box 5 times, and hauled to each new apartment, living for the past 6 years in the basement of our house. Occasionally, I still dust it off, bound and determined to at least make a dent in it.

Most of the books still remain elusive to me. For example, Vision in Motion, by Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, which is listed on the very first page. Hine describes it as “The most important book ever written about design philosophy, education, and practice.” So you can imagine my guilt for not having read it.

There was a time, though, in 2010, that I actually held the book in my hands. I was in a rare bookstore in San Francisco, perusing the design section. I happened upon the hardcover and, though it was in a plastic sleeve, it was immediately recognizable to me. I looked at my wife – girlfriend at the time – and said, “I’ve been looking for this book a long time.” 

“You should get it,” she said.

I can’t recall the price listed on the back, but I know it was well out of reach. I slowly placed the book back on the shelf, and shortly after we caught a plane back to New York. 

Today, you can find used copies of “Vision in Motion” on Amazon for $45, though there are 4 copies listed at over $400. I’ve never really thought about purchasing one, because it doesn’t seem like a book that should arrive in the mail. Or maybe it should. Either way, I do think about the version I held in my hands once. In hind site, perhaps I should have purchased it.

February 17, 2021No Comments

Master of Imperfection

In the early 2000’s, Art Chantry was experiencing somewhat of a revival in popularity, partially due to the release of his recent monograph. In retrospect, the overwhelming response in awards can be seen as expected, after almost a decade of computer-generated design. His low-tech approach for album covers associated with the grunge scene was fresh again.

Nearly a Century earlier, H.N. Werkman also decidedly eschewed advances in technology and printing. While other Dutch designers were taking advantage of the precision of metal type and sophisticated new photographic techniques, Werkman took the opposite approach. Often working without a press, his hands-on approach resulted in ink blots, smudging, rough edges, and overlapping shapes – a slap in the face to commercial design, and nothing short of glorious. 

Sadly, Werkman was executed by the Nazi police for running a clandestine publishing house during WWII. Is it time for a Werkman revival in 2021?