I stick to an organized creative process with clear goals and understanding of direction along each step. Even for self-initiated projects I’ll begin with essentially a brief that sets the scope of the project, strategic goals, research demands, and a general direction for concept development.
For concept development, I tend to start verbally. I work from as clear a picture of the audience and environment as possible to articulate a ‘unique selling proposition’ and design solutions for the feelings and experience I want to evoke from the audience/users. Then I work through a process of research and iterative sketching to develop a visual language, typically one that is unique but anchored in familiar experience.
Here are accounts of working through the process on two showcase projects.
Blue Ball Brewery
I found in research that craft beer demographics in just the past five years have shifted considerably younger as well as become more diverse. This presented an interesting challenge in trying to design for broad appeal while reflecting the more austere, old-world personality of the beer’s namesake town. To reconcile this I sought a way to present a playfully ironic, quirky take on said personality—which would work well with the name.
In keeping with the theme, I aimed for a logo that would play on the name while (for purposes of classiness) staying mostly typographic. I went through a number of different lettermarks, including several where the eponymous “ball” is cracked open to form a B. Some ideas also included beer ingredients and equipment, but I ultimately deemed these too complex and not distilled enough. In later passes I took advantage of the alliterative acronym with lettermarks that compressed multiple B’s counters together into a single character. The decorative and rotund result worked with the tone; the finishing touches were the fat serifs curving around onto each other.
Label design was even more laborious and went through a number of revisions. I initially focused strictly on character and typography to find a suitable combination for the tone. Once I began developing the “Fat Dog” and “Scarlet Lady,” it followed that the rest of the beers should be personified by sentient characters. While working to bring these in line with the tone I started looking at different cartooning styles. I was drawn to 19th century editorial ink cartoons, which are detailed to a degree that is rare today and still conveys a sense of humor. So they became a natural launch point.
Initial designs also gave unique typography to each beer. Some of these looked great on their own, but ultimately strayed too far away from the “ironic old-world class” feel, so I scrapped them. On the next pass I sought to embellish the labels to complement the tone. That’s when I started looking at antiques, connecting back to the handed down furniture and frames that used to adorn my PA-Dutch cousins’ homes. This gave me the inspiration to rework the labels around the idea of round decorative picture frames. I was then able to develop an identity system with each beer differentiated by its specific decorations and its color scheme.
Cook It Simple, Stupid
As I noted on the main project entry, my primary impetus was my frustration with my college roommates’ refusal to cook on the grounds that it’s too long, arduous, and complicated. To convince them otherwise my aim was to create a format and a language that would speak to them and people like them.
Looking at the glut of contemporary cookbooks—and their digital extensions in blog and video format—I realized that the key really was language. The vast majority of cooking instructional content popularly consumed and shared is made with foodies and enthusiasts in mind. They tend to emphasize end results with gorgeous photography (AKA “food porn”), or in the egregious case of the trend in shareable videos, flash through the process with sped up time lapses. Written instruction tends to assume familiarity with basic technique and timing. The preparation work and organization required tends to be waved by, yet these are the barriers to entry for a total novice. I had an opportunity to break through by simplifying the process, but I’d have to present it in a completely different language than what they’d expect.
Almost everyone my age and strata has experience with furniture and electronics assembly, and thus is probably more intimately familiar with IKEA assembly guides than probably any recipe. After making the connection, refitting the visual language for a cookbook was a natural next step. I discovered I could show how regular and modular the process can be by using illustrations in that style to symbolize common ingredients, equipment and actions.
A major issue that arose in development came from size constraints. Because a smaller, more portable book would be more accessible, I decided on half-letter sized pages. I also wanted to keep full recipes within a single spread. It became increasingly difficult to do this when the recipes included introductory copy, ingredients and equipment (both equally important components), written instructions and visual maps. I had to make a tradeoff, so I decided to preserve the format by excising the infographics from the book proper. I put the focused on streamlined and clear written instructions with good typography. The illustrations could still be kept as visual cues.
Luckily, I didn’t need to kill the infographic conceit. I was able to re-work them into tabloid posters that could be included with the book as collateral, possibly opening the door for a whole brand of content across media.