Part 3 of The Paper Cuts Series
Though the design industry has changed in many ways just since the 90’s, printing is still a thriving and vibrant source for connecting with consumers, and paper is the key. For this series, I’ve interviewed some of the best printers, paper reps, and designers to give their insights into how paper can strengthen your brand.
Jeff Fisher of Jeff Fisher LogoMotives has been designing logos and corporate identities for three decades, and he’s witnessed the changes that design and more specifically paper have gone through, all the while maintaining a focus on print as a predominant part of brand identity. Jeff has seen it all, and done it all when it comes to graphic design, and he was nice enough to share a bit of his experience.
Give us a little background about yourself.
My career as a professional designer began in 1978 as the graphic designer for the advertising department of the daily college newspaper at the the University of Oregon, where I was a design student within the School of Journalism. In an economic climate much like today, when I got out of school there were few full-time design jobs to be had. Informational interviews with the principals of advertising agencies and design firms soon led to a lot of independent work coming my way. Eventually, one of my clients offered me an opportunity to join them in-house to create and lead a new design department. In addition, I was the art director for the group of medical publications. My next position was as art director for a Portland advertising agency. Following a move to Seattle, was I hired as the creative director for a clothing manufacturer. Each previous position gave me the experience necessary to go out on my own in 1987. However, it wasn’t until 1997 that I officially adopted the business name Jeff Fisher LogoMotives, and began focusing on identity design and branding.
In the last ten years I have found myself writing about design a great deal through blogs, design sites, and industry magazines such as HOW. I’ve also written three books on design topics: ‘The Savvy Designer’s Guide to Success: Ideas and tactics for a killer career’ (HOW Books, 2004, re-released as PDF on CD, 2009), ‘Identity Crisis!: 50 redesigns that transformed stale identities into successful brands’ (HOW Books, 2007) and the upcoming ‘Logo Type: 200 Best Typographic Logos from Around the World Explained’ (HOW Books). Other books are in the works.
I’ve also been speaking and teaching about design, social networking and small business marketing for almost a decade. I often make presentations at design schools, universities, design conferences, AIGA chapters and business organization events. For a week this past June, I taught at the © CEDIM design and innovation college in Monterrey Mexico, something I would enjoy doing much more. In addition, I’m a member of the HOW Magazine Board of Advisors, HOW Design Conference Advisory Council and the Art Institute of Portland Advisory Council.
What first drew you to graphic design?
From the time I was five or six years old I was obsessed with art – and always told people that I was “going to be an artist when I grow up.” Of course, everyone discouraged me and told me I would never be able to make a living as an artist. Art teachers in junior and senior high took notice of my talents and abilities and gave me a great deal of encouragement to continue. In fact, after complaining that one of my high school art instructors had told me that I “wasn’t doing my painting right,” I was the first student put on independent study in art in my school district and my advisor, art teacher Ken Collins, had a huge impact in my determination to have a career in the arts. While a senior in high school in 1974, I came across the new book “Graphic Design,” by Milton Glaser, at my local public library. It gave a name to what I wanted to do and showed that someone could have a successful career in such work.
I began my formal graphic design education in the Fine Arts department at the University or Oregon in 1974. Frustration with the program led me to consider quitting school completely. It was suggested that I speak with professor Roy Paul Nelson, the author of well-known books on the design of advertising and publications, who taught in the UO Journalism School. In our first meeting he told me, “Get the hell out of the Fine Arts program and into the Journalism School where you can learn some marketable skills.” To be able to take classes in typography, advertising design, publication design and cartooning I was required to take all the journalism course work. All that I learned in the program still serves me well today. My junior year in college I started working professionally as a designer.
How does paper impact your design process?
I will often have specific papers, or a paper line, in mind throughout the design process. Colors, textures and other paper attributes are usually in my thoughts as I design an identity and consider possible colors and applications for the design. Often the desire for a specific paper color or texture will determine the paper to be used. I’ve appreciated situations where paper reps, or paper houses, have provided sample stocks – and even constructed mock-ups of some projects – allowing me to determine if my design and printing concept is evidence that I am completely out of my mind.
How has the way you spec paper for print projects changed over the years?
Early in my career I would spend a great deal of time in the paper samples rooms of local paper companies seeking out just the right paper for a given project. Later, paper reps would make sure I had complete sets of their paper swatch books. I always enjoyed getting together with them, over a cup of coffee or cocktail, to update my swatch sets. In recent years, I usually request samples of specific papers from the print house producing the final product. Much of my research of paper stock these days is done online, at conferences or by way of those annoying paper stock inserts in design magazines.
Can you think of a project where the paper stock has defined the project or increased the overall impact, and how so?
Selection of a specific paper can greatly impact the success of a designed project. Years ago I worked with a photographer who wanted an extremely unique card. Much of his photography work was black and white, and we ended up discussing a card that would be black on black. It was important to find a heavily textured black paper stock (I don’t remember the specific paper now) that would be almost completely smooth when the photographer’s name, title and phone number were blind embossed. A black foil was used to make the text info on the card “pop” even more. The card was also cut 1/4 inch shorter than a traditional business card; giving the illusion that it was a much different size than normal. It was necessary to work closely with the print house to “test drive” a few paper stocks to get the desired result and give the business card the impact wanted by the client. The card was very successful for the client and appears in several design books. To complete his stationery package, the photographer’s name was imprinted in black foil on a bright white letterhead sheet and envelope.
Can paper be used to define a brand, and in what way?
The texture, content, weight or color of a paper can be an important design element for a brand – just as important as color, type treatment, and actual design elements. How the paper stock is used in branding a business, product or organization can have a major impact on how that brand is perceived by the target audience.
Have you seen a case where a paper choice hindered the effectiveness of a printed piece, and in what way?
I have seen many cases of the wrong paper, or improper ink color, being used for specific project. Some heavy paper textures are not appropriate for the even ink coverage wanted. Ink sometimes soaks into paper stocks, muting the desired impact of a printed piece. I’ve seen nightmare situations where the paper cracked when folded after printing, resulting in an end product being rejected by the client. I know of cases in which designers didn’t take paper weights into consideration and caused postage costs to be much more than budgeted or anticipated.
What has been your proudest use of paper in one of your projects to date?
One of my favorite, and proudest, design moments occurred over a period of six months in 1992 when I was contracted to create the identity for The Governor Hotel in Portland, OR. It was quite an undertaking for a one-person design firm. I was responsible for creating the identity for the hotel and restaurant, and then applying the identities to all branding devices from signage to menus. The client initially looked at me like I was crazy when I proposed printing various project elements on totally different paper stocks. Papers from different mills – with varied textures, colors and weights – were used in producing various brand elements, creating a unique paper family for the hotel. The stocks included laid, linen, vellum and coated finishes, parchments, metallics and others. I designed every piece of printed material for the hotel including a stationery package, computer papers for the reservations office, brochures, a commemorative poster, direct mail pieces, stickers, coasters, grand opening invitations and much more. Many of the pieces were printed on recycled stocks, a bit more difficult to find nearly two decades ago.
Unfortunately, there was a great waste of paper in the process of having items printed for the hotel. For all elements of the project I suggested earth tone ink colors. The interior designer of the hotel butted into the project and recommend a much bright color selection. I did my best to discourage the hotel management, but they went with the brighter palette in the initial printing of 10,000 of all pieces. When the printed materials were delivered, the hotel general manager opened the first box and exclaimed, “Oh my God, it’s the Taco Bell hotel.” The ink selected by the interior designer printed a much brighter orange than she ever expected. All printed materials were scrapped and the entire project was reprinted in the colors I had originally speced. Much of the earlier printing was salvaged where possible to create half-sheets and notepads.
My printing rep, Tom Switzer, was instrumental in keeping me sane (and the client happy) during the months of the project. I still work with him as a printing rep 18 years later.
In what way do you collaborate with your printer or paper rep during the design process?
As a one-person design firm, over the years it has always been necessary to create a personal team of collaborators – often including print and paper representatives – to successfully initiate and complete a project. I have paper and printing reps that I’ve worked with for almost 20 years. From the beginning of my career, over 30 years ago, I have almost always made contact with my printing rep and the print house production staff a priority early in the project. I’ve never been one to finalize a design and then drop some production nightmare on my chosen printer. For me it’s always been important to share my concepts with the print house and learn how I can make the process, from design through printing, smooth for all involved.
Having worked professionally as a designer for 13 years prior to a computer appearing on my desk, I developed a very hands-on approach in working with printers and learned a great deal about the printing process. My participation in the process continued when I was able to hand projects over to the printer on disks. Throughout my career incredible relationships developed with print reps when we would be meeting at all hours for press checks for major projects. I’ve spent quite a few hours sleeping on couches in the lobby of print houses waiting for a specific project to go on press. In the two years that I designed all marketing pieces for the Seattle Seahawks professional football team, my printing rep Julie Beaver and I became great friends. All projects, printed in six colors to ensure NFL logo colors and with runs of up to one million pieces, required personal press checks.
Over the years, my paper reps have always been very helpful in providing samples, creating mock-ups of folded pieces and making sure that the stock desired is available. Often that meant the rep was responsible for tracking down examples of a specific paper and hand-delivering samples to my home-based studio to meet a client demand or deadline.
In what ways has your role changed as a designer with online digital printing, sustainability efforts and the economy?
With online digital printing, I do still need to babysit – or lead – the client through the process. I still make paper and printing method recommendations. I don’t like to completely step out of the process of a project until the final product is delivered to the client and meets their satisfaction. I appreciate that many of my clients feel much more comfortable being involved in the digital printing process, than the traditional processes of getting projects produced.
What’s your favorite paper stock and why?
I’ve always been a fan of ESSE – and have only been able to use it on client projects a couple times. I love the watermarked grid of squares in the stock. It’s one of those papers that needs to be particularly appropriate for the specific project to really pull off the desired effect. Your question made me realize that I’m a long-time champion of many Neenah papers. In the past 30 years, I’ve recommended that many clients use papers such as Classic Columns, Classic Crest, Classic Laid, Classic Linen and others in printing their stationery packages.
I would consider myself anything from the French Paper line, because it’s more utilitarian, unassuming and a little rough around the edges. Which paper stock would you be and why?
I also am a fan of French Papers, but if I need to be a specific stock I don’t want to copy you. I suppose it would be the Eames line from Neenah Paper. There’s an ability to convey sophistication or be a bit more pedestrian. The color palette, variety of finishes, patterns and weights, and the way the paper invites closer inspection by those coming into contact with it all seem to convey various aspects of my personality.
Is print dead or just playing dead?
If dead, I think someone forgot to make print aware of the fact. I think it’s funny, and telling, that David Carson’s book, “The End of Print,” is in something like its fifth printing. Print has not died – it is just constantly evolving.
If you’d like to find out more about Jeff Fisher LogoMotives visit jfisherlogomotives.com. Be sure to follow Jeff on twitter @LogoMotives, and become fans on facebook of LogoMotives. For the latest on upcoming design books and helpful articles on business and graphic design check out bLog-oMotives.
Check back next month when we talk packaging with a New Orleans graphic design firm for Part 4 in The Paper Cuts Series.
Like what you see feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and don’t forget to become a fan on Facebook. Check out the Creative Squall site to see how we’ve helped clients add a touchy, feely side to their brands with paper.