This is Part 2 of my interview with identity designer Prescott Perez-Fox, art director at Starship Design in Jersey City, New Jersey. Click here to read Part 1.
What is the single best piece of design-related advice you’ve ever received, and who gave it to you?
When I was in graduate school, I used to receive intense, life-changing advice all the time from my tutor Damian Chapman. We also worked together in London, so he taught me a great deal about the biz. In addition to the recurring theme of “c’mon, you can do better,” much of his advice dealt with spotting when to be controlled, and when to break free. He once told me “You don’t get to change the world everyday. But one day you will.” This is basically his way of admitting that most design projects aren’t award winners and don’t shake up the industry. There’s a lot of day to day that we have to learn to love in order to truly savor those rare occasions when an opportunity for excitement arises.
I won’t ask you to divulge all of your secrets, but can you tell me one place graphic designers can find identity work that’s perhaps a bit off the beaten path?
There are some online resources for looking at identity inspiration. Logopond.com and Creattica.com are two good examples. While everything there is well crafted, only a few make you say “aaah” in their cleverness. There are also design firms who constantly do tremendous identity work. Mucca Design, Pentagram, and Wolff Olins pop to mind. Wolff Olins has been getting a reputation lately for off-the-wall identity (The New Museum, London 2012 Olympics, etc.).
Do you ever experience “designer’s block?” How do you find inspiration to work through it?
This happens all the time. We go into slumps, too, that last longer than a few hours. (Sometimes months.) Inspiration comes from the usual places — books, magazines, movies — but I often find that taking a break helps me return fresh to a project. I’m lucky to have very quirky and interesting friends who will often say something that sparks and idea. Also, just by living your life you expose yourself to the randomness required for good ideas.
Please walk us through your identity design process.
Before any pencils come out, we have to get the strategy in place. Like I mentioned, I won’t work without a creative brief and will work with the client to articulate the problem we’re taking on. This may yield a tagline, but often it’s not required.
Once the actual creative work starts, I’ll break out the sketchbook and start brainstorming concepts. I’ll draw type and symbol logos, all the while thinking how I can expand it into a larger visual scheme. Usually, I’ll fill two or three pages in my sketchbook, which results in five to eight really interesting concepts.
Next, I’ll head to Illustrator to start working up those five to eight concepts. Images are still very rough at this point, and often something that looks cool on paper looks terrible when executed on the computer. Similarly, new ideas will emerge that never were sketched out. Working in Illustrator at this point also allows me to test alternative approaches within a concept. For example, I can quickly skew some type or put it on an arc path to see what it might look like. Creative accidents happen all the time, and I’ll literally stumble upon a typeface or effect that I wasn’t looking for.
After fleshing out some of these concepts, it becomes clear which are viable. I’ll spend time working on three or four concepts for presentation, usually testing multiple typefaces and some color choices. I wait until very late to test different colors — a solid logo or identity can work in black only, and I just find it easier to work that way from the start. At this point, I’ll usually show the concepts to the client. Each of the two or three or four could be a solution, but I need him to choose which is most appropriate or which will best connect with his audience. Although the brief is meant to be clear and without interpretation, there’s still a lot about the client’s business that I can’t know in only a few meetings.
After a route is selected, I will likely do some refinements to the type and logos, and may do more color combinations. When I believe an end is reached, I show it to the client again, hopefully for approval. Once the logo, type and colors are approved, I’ll get to work making the other elements or deliverables, all of which I’ve been thinking about the whole time.
Very rarely will I go away and simply present a single, finished, polished design. Paul Rand was famous for saying, “You don’t get multiple choices. I’m going to solve your problem for you,” or something to that effect, but that’s not how I want to work. I’d rather involve the client along the way to show that designers aren’t mad scientists, we’re business partners. Also, if the client has seen the evolution of this new identity, it will likely avoid a blow up at the end and being sent “back to the drawing board” by an angry client.
Below is a sample of Prescott’s design process, from initial sketches to finished identity concepts.
Starship Design, NJ