From Berlin with Love

From Berlin with Love

Feel free to take your time, but make sure you stamp your ticket or beware the ticket collector’s unsympathetic wrath, representing just one side of the many sided Berlin. Berlin has a special, peculiar, and particular history, and although it’s described by countless guides as the design city of today, it’s always been a design conscious city. In the early 20th Century, it was the first place in Europe to slice ornaments from building facades in a committed embrace of streamlined modernism.

Much has changed across the city’s façade since, but underground on the U-bahn you can clearly observe the blended traces of Berlin’s design history: some stations are Art Nouveau and German Jugenstil in style, others Bauhaus, 70s futurism, or contemporary, pastel-colored minimalism. It’s been nearly 30 years since the fall of the wall and above ground any signs are mostly gone, but the Cold War era’s clash of opposites remains on the U-Bahn: austere Soviet designs adorn former Eastern stations, and elaborate floral motifs carved in stone are preserved in the former Western ones. The only period not present along the platforms is the Nazi era, when stations were used for bomb shelters. Then again, as you pass through the morose platform of Mohrenstraße, you might feel a little chill learning that the red marble encasing the platform is recycled from Hitler’s former Reich Chancellor Building.

Finding your way—way finding—in this design conscious city, with its design conscious subway, is no simple task, but the U-bahn’s network system, organized by the renowned German typographer Erik Spiekermann and his agency MetaDesgin since 1992, attempts to ease your way and get you to where you want to go. It’s a riot of colors, and a brew of squares, circles and pictograms: This noisy system inherits the chaos of 19 different S-Bahn and U-bahn lines. Berlin is not so much a city formed around a central core but a constellation of separate planets each with its own peculiar forms of life, abstractly linked together by the network of subway tracks.

Because it’s Spiekermann that first guides us through Berlin’s underground, our first stop will be Bhf Bülowstrasse, to take a stroll up Potsdamer Strasse to Spiekermann’s p98a gallery and letterpress workshop. The street was once the locus for the edgy ambiguities of 1920s Weimar cabaret culture and Marlene Dietrich androgyny; today, it houses galleries, non-descript office blocks, and one euro bargain stores, as well as a conspicuously slick Acne shop, and the workplaces of local design studios like the modern, sophisticated HelloMe and the riotous, ramshackle illustration duo 44Flavours. World’s apart in style, but neighbors here in Berlin, which loves to mix things up.

Spiekermann’s p98a is the area’s most popular destination for visiting designers, and plenty of agencies book master-classes in letterpress with this master designer. Glimpse through the window, and you might spy Spiekermann himself high fiving and punching the air with his fist: his old school “no-bullshit” attitude makes him the champion of many, and an irritation—the dad rock of design—to others.

A short walk away from this letterpress haven—or at U-Bahn station Nollendorfplatz—is the great Bauhaus Archive, perched above the canal like an impassive white wave rising from the water. Erected in the 70s, the museum’s architecture draws is loosely inspired by an archive conceived by Bauhaus founder and architect Walter Gropius in the 1960s. Inside, a study in patience and precision, hushed art historians and design researchers sit bent over books, and the permanent collection displays iconic relics from Germany’s early modern years: great weaves by textile artist Anni Albers, paintings by Paul Klee, steel armchairs by Marcel Breuer, and other objects of design from the 20s and 30s produced by the famed and influential Bauhaus school.

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The Bauhaus Archive. Image by BBB3viz.

Close by, on the other side of the sprawling Tiergarten Park with its dense cluster of pine trees, sits Berlin’s Hansaviertel. If German’s cool modernism emerged from the Bauhaus in the 20s, then this neighborhood was one of modernism’s climaxes: the housing development was built after World War II in a derelict area, constructed as part of the International Building Exhibition of 1957. Along the leafy, quiet streets are batteries of tower blocks, ribbon buildings, two modernist churches, and a glass library, designed by the period’s most significant architects.

After a morning at Spiekermann’s p98a, it makes sense to visit the Hansalviertel not only to see this plastic clad “city of tomorrow” but to seek out the Buchstabenmusum (called the “Alphabet Museum” in English) situated quietly under the tracks of the over-ground station Bellevue. The first museum in the world to preserve and display letters from public spaces and provide information about their origin and construction, the Alphabet Museum was founded 11 years ago by graphic designer Barbara Dechant, who began collecting after she first rescued from a dumpster a car radio sign reading “A U T O R A D I O”. Hundreds of letters destined for scrap heaps have been salvaged and preserved in a dusty storage unit; there’s neon, metal, and wooden characters in a variety of styles and colors— amidst the letters and dirt, you can construct a story of Berlin and sense a few ghosts.

Back on the U-Bahn, following the many symbols devised by Spiekermann, head to the station Kottbusser Tor, in the Kreuzberg district, for lunch. This bucolic, graffitied neighborhood teems with bars, co-working hubs, dentists, falafel shops, gambling houses, fruit markets, ice cream shacks, as well as concept stores like the stylish fashion destination VooStore, and the chaotic zine shop Motto books, but walking along the area’s wide pavements, you can easily ignore how packed together everything is. There is a kind of discreet harmony to it all, as though it was always meant to be this way; Berlin as energy, and disguise.

Berlin, kottbussertor, ina-hiehoff

The Kottbusser Tor transit stop and the market hall. Photos by Ina Niehoff.

From here, head towards Markethalle Neun, a market place or “culinary epicentre” situated under a large, broken roof and crammed with international food vendors advertising their fair on home-made posters and handsomely scribed blackboards. Today’s signs framing another Berlin: Cheese platters & Olives. Veggie Wurst. Craft beer. Kimchi Burgers. Ginger Lemonade. Freshly Baked Ciabatta.

This is a lunch spot for co-workers busying themselves behind the glass windows of storefronts, or trickling out from former factory buildings that have been converted into spacious offices. Spot a group of women who whimsically but provocatively call themselves “Parallel Universe” sat together in the market hall drinking ginger lemonade on a wooden picnic bench: this group of six female illustrators have gathered to swap advice on art directors—who pays on time, who is best to work with—and to collaborate on illustrations for an upcoming Antifa march. Since 2012, Cynthia Kittler, Kiikka Laakso, Kati Szilágyi, Laura Breiling, Ji Hyun Yu, and Barbara Ott have banded together to form this important all-female collective, using their social media platforms to promote and highlight one another’s output. Better together, stronger side by side. Another Berlin in motion, up-to-date, but part of its historic momentum.

Nearby, after sipping organic lemonade and planning with Parallel Universe, the Museum of Things. A small curiosity tucked above an art bookstore on Orienenstrasse, this collection of glass cabinets features simple, everyday but also marvelous things from the past and near present: every blue Nivea jar since the company first began, biscuit tins, plastic at the back of the museum as if it were no big deal at all—an original Frankfurter Kitchen, a milestone in domestic architecture that’s considered the forerunner of the modern fitted kitchen. All of this finds its home in Berlin, where the elsewhere, the other, the uncanny and the new, whether practical or impractical, always belongs.

The Museum of Things will inspire you make your own things, and luckily, there’s a place close by to help you. Towering above a roundabout near the U-Bahn station Moritzplatz sits the great Modular—the ultimate art supply store, artistically stacked with pens, markers, pexiglass, plywood, stationary, pompoms, and anything else that you’ll ever need to make any thing you’ve ever wanted to make, even objects from your dreams. The German designer and illustrator Sarah Illenberger is in Modular today, intently collecting bright colored supplies that she’ll use for her next still-life cover commission for ZEITmagazin. She and her intern pick up yellow paint and blue and pink cardboard, before heading outside to the community garden on the other side of the road, where they cut great leafs from bushes. Illenberger will paint these with geometric patterns and then photograph them against the bright card later today. Yes, signs of another Berlin.

Wherever you’re staying in Berlin—the boutique design hotel 25hours Bikini Berlin near Tierpark, a colorful and energetic hostel near Schlesische Tor U-bahn, or a relatively cheap Airbnb in the Neukölln district with tall windows, wooden floors and a sunny balcony—on your walks to and from the U-Bahn, you’ll notice the posters. Berlin is a city where posters really mean something to a neighbourhood: where people stop in the street to carefully write down the information on prints as if they were hung on a community billboard. Posters communicate what’s happening around the corner, maybe a new club night, an exhibition, or a vegan burger pop-up event. Posters wrap around street lamps layered over all old ones, becoming dense, ghostly rolls that echo event’s and fashion’s long lost—in winter, these rolls get heavy and wet, sliding down towards the pavement like pulp, only to get propped up again by kids on bicycles in the summer, who use glue trays slung over their shoulders and large brooms to slap up each month’s new run of prints. In 1855, the city began erecting rounded advertising columns on the street corners to house the continuous flux of new poster designs. If the U-bahn is Berlin’s design history, then these advertising columns—although built long ago—are home to the design of today. New Berlin constantly appears through its posters.

The Berlin poster is naturally an especially beloved medium for the city’s designers— it’s not simply a mundane advert that people indifferently stroll past but a vital activating communication tool necessary for navigating nightlife, the gallery scene, and local events. It’s why Berlin clubs, generating the city’s dancing heartbeat, invest so much in their creation: the fabled Berghain, which legend claims is the world’s best techno club with its weekly congregation of black clad regulars wearing BDSM studded collars and Adidas caps, plays careful attention to the design of its monthly fliers and listings. Each month’s new posters feature a dark and atmospheric slice of original artwork, articulating and amplifying the club’s mythical night-life pull. A call to action for the great Berlin night, where the city begins and ends.

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Visiting Mitte, the central borough in Berlin. Photo by Ina Niehoff.

The walk back to the U-bahn, to start again after one of those nights, you’ll pass an advertising column featuring a particularly neat, eye-catching placard—the poised influence of Swiss design is unmistakable, and its gorgeous serif typography is paired with an elusive background image, hinting at yet another Berlin yet to come. It’s the work of graphic design studio NODE, based in Berlin and Oslo, Norway, an intellectual and meticulous studio whose considered and theoretical output is a hallmark of Berlin’s contemporary art world. On this modern poster, large letters read “HKW,” standing for the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, a conference hall and exhibition space that hosts art, culture, and design events. Depending on what month it is, perhaps the yearly Typo Berlin conference is taking place, or Transmediale, a cerebral technology and art festival. Berlin, where conferences never end.

HKW was constructed as part of the International Building Exhibition of 1957 project and resembles a bright orange oyster rising form the ground. An event titled Miss Read is typical of events held there; a busy art book and self-publishing fair that draws in book lovers from around the country. German publishers and independent magazine makers sit behind their make-shift stalls, showcasing intricately bound tomes, sleek poetry chapbooks, colorful manifestos, risograph comics, monographs with knitted covers, experimental type specimens, and endless other papery surprises. Berlin is made of paper as much as memory, metal, and concrete.

The magazines available at this crowded, popular event are similar to those you can purchase in a store in the Mitte district of the city, close to the Weinmeister U-bahn station, called Do You Read Me?! It’s niche assortment of magazines sit on minimal black shelving. There are magazines here for every mood and every taste: one for redheads, another for dog lovers, another for female soccer players, another that tells the history of a different street each issue, and also more enigmatic, challenging, consistently well-designed choices. Mitte is a tidy district, a place of cafes that serve impressive slabs of classic avocado toast and that’s home to ambitious start ups which dot the streets under the shadow of the TV tower’s vigilant orb. If there is a center to proudly centerless Berlin, then perhaps it’s Mitte, which literally means “center” and is, at least in the prosaic geographical sense, in the middle of the city. The tall office of Freunde von Freunden perches snuggly in one of the area’s clean streets; the ultimate go-to blog for motivated lifestyle dreamers, Freunde von Freunden records the energetic lives of Berlin’s creative scene with breezy, sophisticated photography. Berlin: always aware of itself, without giving too much away.

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A swan chillaxing in Berlin. Photo by Ina Niehoff.

It’s while traversing the neat, methodical streets of Mitte (passing by the KW Institute of Contemporary Art, a four-story gallery with beautifully designed exhibition catalogues, and Viktor Leske, an avant-garde hair dressing salon where few leave without an undercut) that you stumble across the neat, methodical studio of international star illustrator Christoph Niemann. He works with his spectacles perched on his nose in his white and silver office behind a storefront’s glass window—a literal spectacle for passers-by; children press their faces up to the glass to watch him sketch. It’s so immaculately clean in his studio, a kind of comment on Berlin’s dirt, and he’s penning away on Post-It notes bought at Modular, devising a plan for his next New Yorker cover. From Berlin with love; design for the rest of the world.

After standing and watching, enthralled by process, by the materializing of yet more Berlin, you might then spot another poster, another message, and be directed somewhere else, somewhere new, the Berlin still being made, still being invented. Or you might dive back down into the U-bhan, taking refuge in the depths of history. Moving on, without rushing, because Berlin time takes its time, to another brunch, to a beer on the canal, to something crazy underground or enterprising on the streets—moving slowly, not quickly, surrounded by designs and designers, form and content, interpreting the language and style of Berlin, a city always becoming itself, where something new always seems to be starting.


from 99U99U

A Guide to Design Book Publishing for the Non-Rich and Non-Famous

A Guide to Design Book Publishing for the Non-Rich and Non-Famous

Every designer has an unwritten book in them, or at least dreams of writing the ultimate ode to their particular obsession. The rise of self-publishing platforms and the success of independent publishers has made that fantasy seem more attainable than ever, but if you’re penning your next opus, don’t do it for the money. Producing a quality design book—particularly a picture-heavy volume—is an extremely laborious, emotionally draining enterprise that won’t result in big bonuses, or even equitable compensation, sometimes.

Steven Heller, the design industry’s most prolific chronicler with over 130 titles to his name, cautions that writing a book is largely an act of love. “Realize that this is not a way to make a living or a way to burnish a reputation,” he says. “It is an act of generosity.”

Indeed, producing a design book today is as complex, as it is exciting. The first thing to know is that a good idea is not enough.

“A good idea can get your foot in the door, but it’s not enough to get an offer from a publishing house,” says editorial consultant Caitlin Leffel. A former editor at Rizzoli, Leffel says interesting proposals would be turned away if they didn’t have a clear audience or were too expensive to produce. “The acquisition of a trade book is a business decision based on projected performance in the marketplace and cost of production, among other factors,” she says.

PS1, book, book-design, publishing, Unit-Editions

Spread from PS1 book by Unit Editions.

Phaidon’s editorial publisher Emilia Terragni explains that rarely does a book materialize from a new author’s pitch. “Most of our books are the result of our own research into people and projects that interest us,” she explains. Publishing houses like Phaidon have teams that monitor design trends and hot design studios they can potentially build a monograph around. Editors then generate a roster of topical titles that they commission professional writers to develop.

“Over the years we’ve built a robust network of authors and people in the fields of architecture and design who refer us to others who are doing really interesting things. Through this community, we continue to cultivate remarkable new authors and exciting new projects,” says Terragni.

In other words, if you’re not already famous or well-connected, it’s going to be tough to land a plum book contract from a major publisher. And for the few who do get the green light, a book project isn’t exactly the road to fortune.  

Writers hired by mainstream publishing houses typically get an up-front sum that pays for their time to work on the manuscript, at least in theory. The fee is usually paid out in chunks as writers meet editorial milestones over the course of an average 18 month-production (or longer) schedule. Writing a book is so time-consuming—from pitching, to research, writing, and round and rounds of editing—that a minimum wage worker would earn more per hour and would have better sleep.

High on the list of headaches is obtaining image permissions, especially for the history-based books, says Heller, who until recently, woke up at 3:30am each day to get a leg up on his writing. This step alone can take months of correspondence and negotiations with archives and image banks—all tallied in spreadsheets to account for every photo and illustration in a book. “With electronic rights and intellectual property issues, it’s much more difficult to get the material I need without killing myself in red tape,” he says.

This reality hit first-time author Nick Kokonas, who recently co-authored a book with Alinea chef Grant Achaz. In May 2017, Kokonas bore his grievances on a Medium post, tallying the true costs of making a book. “Having never published a book before I was fairly mind-blown by the terms of the offering and my inability to properly and easily research the process, costs, and revenue potential of a cookbook,” he writes.

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Spread from The Moderns book published by Heller.

After the allure of a six-figure advance check wore off, Kokoknas started to crunch the numbers. “For every book sold after 30,000—and let’s be clear *very* few cookbooks sell more than 30,000 copie —we would recoup at a rate of $7.20 per book and need to sell another 12,222 books before we saw another dime.”

So is there better way to get your dream book out to the world?

If mainstream publishing sounds arduous, self-publishing isn’t any exactly a cake walk either. Apart from skipping editorial gatekeepers, crowdfunded authors go through the same toil as all commissioned writers—and without the help of an editorial and publicity team backing them up.

Crowdfunding guru Alex Daly describes mounting a successful Kickstarter campaign as a “full time job.” The author of the The Crowdsourceress: Get Smart, Get Funded, and Kickstart Your Next Big Idea, Daly is the go-to advisor for many designers yearning to see their names on the cover of a book. “One thing I’ve told everyone is that you’ll need to be prepared to invest blood, sweat, tears, hundreds of hours, and a ton of strategizing to ensure your campaign succeeds,” she says. “My big piece of advice is get ready to put a lot of time and resources into launching a project.”

A designer seeking to fundraise a book is essentially using Kickstarter as a platform to audition their talents and taste, and no winning campaign is complete without designing graphics, taking photographs, and filming a witty project video. “If you’re appealing to a design crowd, your campaign page needs to look the part,” says Daly. “It needs to look and sound exceptional, so that backers can expect to get an exceptional book too.”

And even after all this work, many well-presented book projects still fall short. German photographer Frederik Busch ran a compelling and well-publicized Kickstarter for a genius tragic-comedic tribute to neglected office plants, but ultimately failed to meet his €25,000 goal. “My team and I are truly grateful for the overwhelming support you gave us… we received many lovely emails from you and your friends. Unfortunately, we didn’t meet our goal,” he writes, dejected on Kickstarter. Only after a fortunate interview with the BBC did he manage to attract a private donor to help him print his opus, German Business Plants.

Daly says an aspiring U.S. author needs to raise at least $50,000 for their book to see the light of day, and this only funds the design, printing, and shipping. “If you overfund, you can use that extra money to enhance the book, produce extra copies to sell later, or pay yourself back for your time,” she explains.

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Spread from The Moderns book published by Heller.

The burden is even greater for valiant designers who dare to write, design, and finance their own books.

New York-based imprint Standards Manual and UK-based publishers Unit Editions and Volume are new book publishing arms run and operated by graphic designers. Like crowdfunded projects, self-publishing gives designers control over the design specifications—niggly but crucial details like format, paper, inks—and the subject of their books. For instance, making luxurious coffee table books from the internal brand guidelines of government agencies like NASA or the Environmental Protection Agency, may sound ridiculous to editors at traditional publishing houses, but former Pentagram designers Hamish Smyth and Jesse Reed have proven that design fans will pay $45-$79 for the repackaged content. The duo, who formed the imprint Standards Manual in 2014, has raised $1.75 million on Kickstarter.

“Making all our books requires hundreds and hundreds of hours of work—photography, retouching, specifying paper, ordering book dummies, print tests, and the design and layout process itself. We’re always struggling to get the right balance between text and image on the page… And then there’s the cover. We agonize over covers,” says graphic designer and writer Adrian Shaughnessy, who co-founded Unit Editions with Tony Brooks and Patricia Finegan in 2010.

And after the first, beautiful box of books arrive,the selling them presents another back-breaking hurdle. “The traditional model of supplying books to distributors—waiting months to be pai, and having to deal with unsold copies when they’re returned—is unworkable for small independent publishers. I’d dearly like to see a different model. But I’m not holding my breath,” says Shaughnessy, who sells titles exclusively through Unit’s website and a handful of bookshops around the world.

Despite the colossal costs and challenges, every author says going through the infernal process is worth it—if only for the simple joy of seeing their name on a bookshelf.

Some firms use handsome design books as a marketing tool—like it the fanciest, most permanent calling card ever. “A monograph is the most interesting and the least invasive way to insinuate yourself in front of someone’s face. It’s a very smart way to pitch yourself,” explains Molly Heintz, who’s worked on several monographs for high-profile architecture and services firms.

Heintz, who co-founded the editorial consultancy Superscript, says that helping a design firm codify their story is another way to feed her design writer’s curiosity. Work-for-hire authors also typically have a greater chance of expecting an equitable salary because studios can tap into their marketing budgets for these types of monographs. She advises that writers carefully negotiate their credit line. Only names listed on the cover page—not necessarily the cover—are eligible to be registered with the Library of Congress.

For Heller, who just published The Moderns, a new volume about the pioneers of American mid-century graphic design, the rush of holding finished volume is without compare. “I get joy when I know an idea of mine has come into existence. I’m also joyful that my material is in the world,” he says.

NASA, Graphics-Standards-Manual, book, publishing, design-books

NASA Graphics Standards Manual published by Standards Manual.

At a time when most visual communication has gone digital, the labor of birthing a beautiful, well-researched printed book is nothing short of heroic. A counterpoint to opinion blogs and images published out of context, book authors go through the rigor of scholarship. “Art and design are better served on the printed page than they are online,” argues Shaughnessy. “The dynamism that can be achieved on a double page spread by combining text and image is many times better than most of what we see online, where everything is shoehorned into a rigid template.” But of course, “Nothing good is ever easy.” he adds.

Heller has valuable advice for first-time authors preparing to embark on that noble odyssey of book publishing: “Be certain of your ideas. Read other books. Find the niche where you’ll find without redundancy… There are proforma books and there are books of passion and expression. Try to do the ones that have passion.”

from 99U99U

When Should You Get an Illustration Agent (Hint: Maybe Never)?

When Should You Get an Illustration Agent (Hint: Maybe Never)?

A good relationship between an illustrator and their agent is like a marriage. “If it’s going to work, it’s all about the long-term,” says Jon Cockley, co-founder of Handsome Frank, an agency based in London that represents over 30 illustrators internationally. “You’ve got to be sure that your agent’s long-term relationship is with the artist, as that’s the one that really needs to be maintained and nurtured.”

Like marriage, an agent isn’t necessarily for everyone, and career longevity and success don’t depend on finding your way onto a big agency’s books. “It depends on the artist’s desire to be involved in both aspects of business and creative,” says Jennifer Gonzalez, co-founder and business director of New York’s Hugo & Marie. “If you like numbers, negotiating, and navigating difficult conversations with people, and you have a tolerance for the administrative aspects in addition to doing the work, then hire an in-house producer and work as a team. If you hate everything I just described and want the support of an established team, get an agent!”

Hugo-&-Marie, Hisham-Akira-Bharoocha, Adidas, illustration, agent

Illustration by Hisham Akira Bharoocha represented by Hugo&Marie for Adidas.

Unfortunately it’s not quite that simple; securing representation vs. going solo are both full of pros and cons, and depend a great deal on an artist’s skills, experience, and the kind of work they want to pursue.

“There’s a certain amount of satisfaction that comes from handling it all myself,” admits Laura Callaghan, an Irish illustrator working in London who’s been freelance and agent-free for the past seven years and counts Adidas, Nike, and Refinery29 as clients. “I enjoy dealing directly with clients and getting a sense of who they are and what they need. On the other hand it’s not so fun to be emailing them a month and a half later enquiring about a payment I’ve never received.”

Like many young illustrators fresh out of art school, Callaghan was keen to get on an agency’s books. Immediate access to an established network of potential clients appears a more shrewd move than cold calling art directors. “It seemed like the done thing, and I really didn’t think it was possible to get steady work without one. But my work was in its infancy and a bit confused, so I received little or no response. It was a blessing in disguise because figuring out how to get clients and market yourself makes you learn quickly and become a bit more ballsy.”

Cockley believes it’s essential for every illustrator to have first-hand experience managing clients solo, if only to have a firm grasp of what an agent could and should do for you. “All of the things we do for our artists—like negotiating contracts and fees, sorting out licenses and project management, and chasing debt and invoices—you should understand and know that if you need to do them, you can do them yourself. Then, if you ever have an agent, you can appreciate what they’re doing and know how time-consuming it all is.”

Italian illustrator Sarah Mazzetti knows only too well how stressful managing clients can be. After single-handedly building her career by contacting art directors and hustling for new business with clients like The New York Times and The New Yorker she was picked up by an Italian agent and signed by two more, one in France and another in the U.S. “Now I don’t have to bother with estimates, discussing fees, and putting boundaries in with clients, which is a great relief.”


Illustration by Sarah Mazzetti for The New Yorker.

Working with three agents gives Mazzetti a unique position to reflect on the difference in service provided by each. “My French and Italian agents are perfect,” she says, “because they only take a commission when they handle the job. With my former American agent it got complicated, because their commission applied to all the jobs I took in America, Canada, and Australia, regardless of whether they handled it or not.”

Fee structure varies from agent to agent, but is usually split roughly 70/30 between illustrator and agent. Some agencies insist on a percentage of every job an illustrator takes, but this approach is decidedly old-school and overbearing, and plenty of agents are much more progressive with their finances. This was one of the founding principles Cockley established at Handsome Frank, surprised in his previous role by agencies demanding payment for jobs they didn’t instigate or even handle. “I thought that was really unfair and not conducive to a good relationship,” he says. “Our deal from day one was that if you have a contact or an ongoing relationship, or if someone contacts you direct and you wish to handle it direct, then you’re free to do that.”

Of course, Cockley hopes that his artists will pass the work his way, and his aim is to keep his roster of artists so busy that they don’t have time to worry about managing client relationships. “Over the years, we’ve found that most of our artists pass on the work to us, which is great because it shows they appreciate and value what we do and there’s no resentment there. It’s not like, ‘Shit, I’ve got to hand this over to my agent!’”

Agents also offer a level of expertise that it would be hard for a solo practitioner to maintain on their own; keeping on top of changing usage rights and billing best practices alone can be overwhelming. “There are more factors involved now,” says Gonzalez, “including multi-media content creation, multi-format deliverables, artist participation and ambassadorship, and more. Editorial usually has a baseline regardless of size and scale of publication, and generally fees are lower and determined by page size, story depth, and cover visibility. Advertising is more complex and depends on how, where, and for how long [an image] is used. Size and scale of campaign and media buy are important, and the global nature of both brand and campaign visibility factor in.”

“It’s also easier to get commercial clients with an agency,” says Mazzetti, an opinion echoed by Callaghan, who is considering finding representation in the near future.

Illustration, Laura-Callaghan, illustrator, agent

Illustration by Laura Callaghan for Phlox.

“I’ve been thinking about agencies more recently, because even though I’m pretty established there are still some jobs that almost always come through agents rather than art directors. Big advertising or branding jobs can be more exciting and interesting to work on because (unfortunately) the bigger the budget the more creative risks they are willing to take. So it would be great to work with an agent who could get me some work with fashion brands and big clients. Longevity is also a concern; it would be nice to have someone to talk this through with and plan for the future, work-wise.”

It’s not all about big bucks though, says Cockley. Though an agent can certainly help you to find better pay, they’re also keen to help you find an interesting balance of projects. “We’ve got some illustrators who have turned round to me and said, ‘Right, this year I just want to make money.’ In which case we’ll just actively look for ad work for them and turn other stuff down. By and large people are looking for a mix of work that represents them and allows them to continue to grow.”

Before you jump the gun and start looking into representation, the final thing to consider is whether an agent wants to represent you. Recent graduates should concentrate on building their portfolio. Agents are looking for artists who are established and have a signature style to boot. “It’s sort of a purity,” says Gonzalez of what she looks for in an artist. “That sounds romantic, but there’s an artful, expressive, unquantifiable quality about our artists’ work. They have a love of craft, a unique gift and technique, and a dedicated commitment to the quality of their work. They are determined and have a point of view, and they are professional and communicative. It’s a constant dialogue we love.”

Jean-Jullien, Handsome-Frank, illustrator, agent

Illustration by Jean Jullien, represented by Handsome Frank for Majestic Wines.

Cockley is more pragmatic. “We need the finished article. They’re going to be dropped in at the deep end and we need them to perform under pressure. Can you work quickly? Can you take feedback? Are you up to being on a Skype call with six people halfway across the world who are tearing you apart and making you go away and change your work—do you have that mental toughness?”

If the answer is yes, Gonzalez offers this advice before you start sending out portfolios. “Consider the group dynamic and how you impact the team. Do the other artists inspire and intimidate you? That’s a good thing. Do you respect their work and love their clients? That’s great.”

If the answer is no, then it’s probably best to wait a few years. But don’t fret. “To be honest, you don’t need an agent to be a successful illustrator,” says Cockley. “And if you’re not at a point in your career where handling workload is the biggest problem you have, then you probably don’t need that help.”

from 99U99U

It’s Not All About the Logo, and Other Lessons From the Studio Redesigning the NBA

It’s Not All About the Logo, and Other Lessons From the Studio Redesigning the NBA

The NBA redesign business is booming. In January 2013, the New Orleans Pelicans unveiled a new logo to go with their new name, and in November of the same year, the Charlotte Bobcats followed suit with a new emblem that has served the franchise well on its journey to take back the Hornets nam (which had traveled to New Orleans a decade earlier). In 2015, the looks of the Hawks, Bucks, Wizards, Raptors, 76ers, and Clippers underwent major overhauls during the off-season. And not to be outdone, the Nets, Magic, Thunder, and Golden State Warriors have also tweaked, polished, and embraced their branding redos. Of the NBA’s 30 teams, nearly every one has unveiled a new uniform, logo, or court design over the past few years. And in the digital world, the NBA is launching the NBA 2K e-sport League in May with 17 franchises. 

So how did a single designer, Rodney Richardson, founder of the Hattiesburg, Mississippi-based RARE Design, play such an outsized role in the NBA rebranding frenzy? With a small team of seven, he’s responsible for the brand identities of the Sacramento Kings, Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, Memphis Grizzlies, New Orleans Pelicans, and Minnesota Timberwolves, as well as all 17 teams, and the league itself, in the NBA 2K League.

We spoke with Richardson, whose company’s office is located in a restored bakery building from the 1920s, about what goes into redesigning an NBA team identity, how his small team takes on such big projects, and how a regular guy from Mississippi came to have such an impact on the NBA. 


Rodney Richardson in this Hattiesburg office with NBA team jerseys he helped design. Images courtesy of RARE Design.

How did you get involved with the NBA?

I was in Nike’s Organized Team Sports division in the mid-’90s. Team sports apparel was blowing up during that time: football jerseys, hockey jerseys, basketball jerseys. It was part of the fashion. One of the first projects I had the opportunity to be a part of was the Denver Broncos redesign, and, as a young designer, I felt blessed just to be able to get the printouts off the printer for the big guys, you know? Looking back, what I could see them working through, and what I was learning, was how you take what Nike has done so successfully, which is knowing and being able to clarify and communicate its brand story, and apply that to someone else.

Most of my time at Nike was spent in the basketball division, specifically the NBA group, and our team managed 10 NBA team brands. A profound moment, at least for me, happened during this time. I was traveling with a guy from Kentucky whose dad was a legendary coach at Alabama and athletic director at Kentucky. We were on our flight, having a good time, and poking fun at ourselves saying:

“Here you have Nike, this masterful, global athletics company, meeting with the NBA in New York, and they’re sending a redneck from Mississippi and a hillbilly from Kentucky!”

And then my buddy got serious. “Look,” he said, “I’ve seen too many kids from our part of the world come out here, and they get embarrassed and intimidated because of where they’re from, and they start trying to hide it. They forget who they are and the character and values that have been instilled in them. It’s true you’re going to walk into one of these meetings, and they’re going to hear your accent, and someone’s going to think you’re an idiot. You can see it on their face. But by the time they realize they’re wrong, you’ve already won.”

That stuck with me, not because I didn’t expect that kind of interaction—I had already experienced that—but because it caused me to reflect on and remember those values he was talking about. I took that and channeled it into RARE, and I think it’s that ethic that helps us continue to work with folks like the NBA.

How do you design, or redesign, an NBA team’s brand identity?

There are four steps that we go through. It’s to Understand, Think, Create, and Manage. When people see the outcomes of our process, the identities themselves, they tend to only think about the Create phase. “You’re a designer; you draw things. You drew this wolf. Let’s critique your drawing.” But that’s not what a brand is. In the work of discovering and building a brand identity, it can be several months into the process before we get to the Create phase, because we have a lot of work to do—some of the hardest work, frankly—prior to that.

For instance, every one of these teams is located in a special place in the world. We need to be able to understand that place and learn how its uniqueness impacts the story and identity of the team in a way that we can define. Then we look at their totem. We want to know why and what that totem represents. And then there’s the organization itself. What are they about? What do they value? What’s important to them? As we understand the traits and characteristics of each of these areas, we’ll start to see things rise to the surface and find threads of consistency through them. That’s usually where the sweet spot of their brand story resides. 

How closely do you work with the NBA? What about the players?

The NBA is usually involved every step of the way. The league and the teams work closely together and with us. Every time we’re talking about things, we’re usually participating in the meetings together. It just helps ease communication and ensures that we’re all aware of everything as decisions are being made. We can explore, expand, and do all sorts of things, but there’s also accountability, because these identities have to represent the teams, the league, and the game of basketball.

“I can’t think of a project where we haven’t gotten the players involved, too. We need their insights, and not just about the game, but on the aesthetic side, too.”

With color palettes and how they’re brought to life, graphic styles that are authentic to the game and the culture of the game, and what parts of the story get them fired up. We want to know how they see these things authentically lived out in a way that’s going to impact the game.

There seems to be a heavy focus on research for RARE Design. How does the design team work? 

We’re a tiny shop. We do it all. My account manager is doing research, and the designers are doing research. As everyone does their own research, you notice creatives are going to look at things differently than the account folks. As the story develops, I want everybody to learn and know the narrative of how important this story is. It can be hard work, and quite honestly, I’ve had people quit working for me, saying, “I don’t want to work this hard.” So we have our in-house team, and, depending on what kind of work we’re doing, different contractors we’ve worked with throughout the years. If I need to expand and be a little more agency-like, we have the relationships to do that. But I don’t keep all those people on staff, as our involvement in some of those areas of the industry is not as consistent.

As a younger designer you said you compared your work to others. Do you still do that sometimes?

No, I don’t compare our work to others, especially as a form of judgement, because there are simply too many variables and people involved in the process. Designers don’t get to make the exclusive decisions on these projects that people often think we do. We are working within the context of a larger team. We’re working with decision makers from each of the involved organizations. The relationship dynamics are vitally important, as we’re working with unique personalities from each team, their ownership, and the league. There are a lot of factors at play in the development of these identities and why they’re designed the way they are.

It’s not fair, and probably a little naive, to look at someone else’s work in this arena and critique it based solely on your own unlearned opinion. In fact, I tell my folks here: Our opinions don’t matter. People aren’t hiring us for our opinions. They’re hiring us because they believe we can work with them to help discover, understand, and bring to life their right story in ways that will convey who they are. You must get beyond yourself to do that. 

Of course, as a creative, you can’t help but evaluate the work you see coming out. But rather than espousing a subjective opinion, I want to first know the story. When you know the story, then maybe you have the merits on which to critique.

Most recently, you led your team in completing the logo, the jersey, and the gyms for the Timberwolves, along with other pieces of collateral. How did you master the continuity of the brand across the different platforms?  

Part of what we try to help teams understand is the value of taking some of the pressure off the primary logo. Too often, when evaluating a potential logo, people say, “But it doesn’t show this small part of who I am,” or “It doesn’t say this or that.” And they end up trying to make the primary logo do and say everything. It can’t, and it shouldn’t, and if we try to make a primary logo do everything, it does none of them well. That’s where the continuity of the brand across the entire identity system, and the different platforms on which that system is brought to life, comes into play. The personality of an organization, much like our own individual personalities, is complex.

“We aren’t all aspects of our personalities at all times.”

What I mean by that is, sometimes we’re silly and sometimes we’re serious, sometimes we’re happy and sometimes we’re sad, sometimes we’re contrary and sometimes we’re congenial, but we’re never all of those things all the time. But there are parts of our character and personality that we are most of the time—sort of our “steady.” Understanding what that “steady” is for an organization is what that primary mark should represent—the day-in and day-out core of who they are. Then by knowing the other aspects of who they are, we can create the additional marks and elements within the system to allow them to live out those aspects. Then it’s all about knowing what parts of your story the collateral, the courts, the experiences should tell, and building them so that they work in concert to tell those stories.

Do you plan on expanding your team anytime soon?  

I’ve always said that my desire for RARE is to have a small team of passionate and talented people with the ability to wear different hats, and who are willing to dig in and do the hard work, and we really do operate and create best that way. As for whether we expand anytime soon—if we continue into this year the way we closed out last year, we just might have to do that.

How does a small team take on such big projects?  

For us, it goes back to that willingness and ability to wear multiple hats. When you’re a small agency, you can’t just say, “This is what I do, this is all I do, and it’s all I’m going to do.” Of course everyone has their own unique area of talent and giftedness, and that will be their greatest area of influence, but, at the same time, we all must be willing to pitch in and contribute where necessary. In fact, one of the things I tell folks whenever they want to come and be a part of this, is: There’s no such thing as “That’s not my job” here. It’s all hands on deck.  And, of course, we work a lot of overtime!

Why do you choose to stay in Mississippi as opposed to moving to a major city as you continue working with the NBA?

I was in a major city—an amazing city—when I was with Nike and lived in Portland, Oregon. The decision to move back to Mississippi was a life move. My wife and I are both from this area, and we’re both from large, close families. Family is very important to us, and we wanted to raise our kids where they would be around and know their’s and experience the value of that.

When we first left Mississippi, I left like most kids leaving any sort of smaller rural area of the country. I said, “I’m outta here!” We were going to live in all the fun cities. At the time, I didn’t recognize or respect what it means to live life and be a part of a place like this: the character traits I was taught and the heritage that’s ingrained in those traits. And this isn’t unique to my place in the world, obviously. We all have a rich inheritance from whatever unique place in the world we’re from, if we would just recognize and embrace it.

Part of what I appreciate here is the creativity and ingenuity that perseveres and springs from this place. Historically, we’re one of the poorest and most downtrodden in the country, and very often that’s only a result of our own actions. So how do you overcome that? You have to make the decision to overcome it, to not be defined by the stereotypes, and to push through.

You can look across our culture here—the flavors, the textures [of art], the sounds [of music] that have originated from this place. I mean, not only did we give the world fried catfish, the Blues, and Rock & Roll (no kidding: Rolling Stone, in its Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, traced the birthplace to right here in Hattiesburg), but innovations in medicine, science, and technology have also sprung from here.

Probably what’s most special about this place is what’s behind all those things, and it’s this grit that, if you’re willing to do the hard work, drives you. That’s where that ingenuity comes from, and it can be very beautiful and very real whenever we learn to embrace it.

*With additional reporting from Dan Friedell.

from 99U99U

Will Cheesy Stock Photos Soon be a Thing of the Past?

Will Cheesy Stock Photos Soon be a Thing of the Past?

Stock photographers are the unknown artists behind some of the most replicated images in the world: the winter wonderland from your first desktop background, a woman laughing over a smoothie, a colorful umbrella in a sea of shiny black ones. Whatever their subjects, stock photographers share a replication-based business model a world apart from gallery shows or editorial spreads. But with the rise of crowdsourcing and unlimited replication, the business is quickly shifting, which begs the question: what’s the value on an image in an age when everyone carries a camera in their pocket?

Stock photography has come a long way since the 1930s, when Otto Bettmann fled Nazi Germany for New York, hauling two trunks of prints, photos, and negatives with him. His timing was good; photo-heavy magazines like LIFE and Look were on the hunt for pictures worth a thousand words. Editors hammered on the door of Bettmann’s New York office for access to filing cabinets with images of monks, mothers, and Marilyn Monroe. Bettmann rented the photos out for single use to monetize the collection. In 1995, Bill Gates bought the archive to bulk up his collection at Corbis, the photo library company he owned.

Around that same time, Mark Maziarz, a Utah-based photographer with a love of the outdoors, began to corner the stock photo market in Park City, where he built his portfolio by capturing his extreme sports pals cliff jumping. By now, he has 190,000 photos of slopes, storm clouds, and streams in his stock files and he’s licensed nearly 10,000 of them. On a typical day, he sends his kids off to school and then tramps around in the mountains, searching for the perfect shot to spark the fancy of clients like Disney, Dell, and Hyatt. “It’s a beautiful way to spend time,” he says. “It’s good for your body, mind, and soul.”

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This is what your office looks like when you work in the backcountry. Photo by Mark Maziarz.

Maziarz estimates that 99% of his income comes from 1% of his photographs. The former Northwestern economics major says the recurring revenue model is part of what led him to this line of work. His business has come a long way since he started, when he averaged $327 a sale for licensing photos. Now the highest price Maziarz ever licensed at for a single photo is $13,800 for an image of a bobsledder speeding around a snowy track. “It was a fun and good way to make a living until basically the Recession,” he says. But the average sale rate has dropped significantly since. 

Two key elements have reshaped the industry. The first is microstock, which uses the internet’s crowdsourcing principle to open the playing field to any photographer who wants to license an image. Microstock came to fruition as the Recession hit, when both hobbyists and editorial photographers discovered a new income stream in a struggling economy. Microstock sites allow customers to buy images with almost unlimited usage rights, often for single digit costs. Photographers can upload their images to a platform and the marketplace takes it from there. The mid-tier of photo licensing is royalty-free, which offers similar liberal usage rights but typically charges customers in the hundreds of dollars per license. 

Then there’s rights-managed, where very specific usage (like a billboard) and time constraints are set for an image. If a client wants to use the image again after the contract dates, they’ll have to renegotiate the terms. Whereas Maziarz licenses on a rights-managed system, charging hundreds of dollars per photo use, microstock photographers have swelled digital databases with photos available at a fraction of the cost. All in all, the pricing contrast is about as drastic as the difference between buying an e-book from Amazon, and a signed limited edition from TASCHEN. 

In 2012, Barcelona-based photographer Antonio Guillem shifted his career towards microstock, and has sold over a million licenses across various platforms. This past year, his stock photo of a “distracted boyfriend” became a viral meme. Guillem’s goal? Snapping a photo that will sell thousands of times on microstock sites like Fotolia (which, like 99U, is owned by Adobe). “This is my full-time work,” he says. “My idea is growing my business without increasing the fixed expenses, taking a few photos with many sales of each one.” In 2016, Guillem netted $220,000 in revenue.

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The infamous “Distracted Boyfriend” photo by Antonio Guillem.

To plot which image will take off, Guillem illustrates intangible concepts, like “success.” (One of his biggest sellers shows a woman pumping a fist as she receives good news.) Keywords are incredibly important. People creating slides or brochures may know what concept they want to illustrate, but not necessarily how. The title of the photo of the woman getting good news is “Euphoric winner watching a laptop on a desk winning at home.” He has 6,900 photos in his portfolio and is selling 1,600 images a day. 

Antonio-Guillem, winner, home, girl, stock-photography

The “Euphoric winner watching a laptop on a desk winning at home” photo by Antonio Guillem.

Guillem may be good at anticipating what will lead prospective clients to his photos, but Latoya Dixon, a former supplier quality engineer from South Carolina and one of the top selling photographers on Colorstock, an ethnically-diverse image marketplace, uses data to predict what will make a best-selling photo. Dixon holds focus groups and sends surveys to business owners in the health and wellness space, asking what type of images they’re missing. Aware that not every single customer is a clean-cut model from central casting, clients “want to see edgier-looking people,” she says. “I do as many options as possible that don’t look like everything else that’s already out there” That basically means less boring white people, and shooting tattoos, women with shaved heads, bodies that are larger, and skin that is darker. One of her most popular health and wellness images is of an older woman with short hair graying at the temples.  “It did really well because that photo was unique,” says Dixon.

Latoya-Dixon, stock-photography

This is one of Latoya Dixon’s best-selling health and wellness-themed stock photos.

There’s an element to stock photography that feels like ghostwriting. A photographer is responsible for a massive body of work with little recognition. In Guillem’s case, that doesn’t matter to him. He does take artistic photos, but his stock photos are a business venture. “If it doesn’t translate into sales, recognition doesn’t interest me at all,” he says. “I never think about art when I shoot.” Maziarz, on the other hand, is disappointed by the moments when he sees his work in the wild without credit. “I put heart and soul into my photos,” he says. “It’s important to have my name associated with it.” In Dixon’s case, artistic identity doesn’t always come from the work she puts out. Sometimes, it’s the images she holds back. “I try to keep something for myself,” she says.

“Whatever type of artist you are, always maintain something for yourself.”

Looking at the industry through an artistic lens, Maziarz sees a lot of positives. Cheesy, staged stock photos are dropping off in favor of more natural scenes. Maziarz suspects it’s driven by the culture of spontaneity that sprung up with Instagram. “The photos that are successful on Instagram convey a real emotion,” he notes, “They don’t have a set-up feeling.”

While these photographers build businesses models independently, the success of people like Guillem and Dixon activates strong market forces across the industry. Maziarz doesn’t mind a little free-market competition from the other photographers who have entered the stock field. “There’s a lot more competition, which in itself is actually good, but I want it to be smart competition,” says Maziarz. Otherwise, it can lead to an overall devaluing of the market. “Once you start giving away photos for so cheap, it’s hard to ask for more money,” he says.

from 99U99U

Raveevarn Choksombatchai – San Francisco, California

Raveevarn Choksombatchai – San Francisco, California

The glass building, shielded from the street by a sheath of perforated aluminum, is the creation of Raveevarn Choksombatchai, founder of the architectural firm Veev Design and a professor at UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design. The Thai-born architect, who is inspired by everything from the films of Tarkovsky and Ozu to her hometown of Bangkok, bought the building with the intention of tearing it down before deciding to transform it into the light-box-like residence and creative lair it is today. “I was looking at the old footprint and I tried to see what was good about it because I had lived in it for five years. I knew it would be great if we dug out a little bit of a courtyard like a piece of cake, taking out the middle part. That courtyard made every single square foot in the house and also in the office downstairs very airy,” Raveevarn says of the structure’s most significant addition, which floods the space with light while maximizing natural ventilation.

The dark wood of the staircase leading up to the spacious second floor continues as the main flooring, a somehow grounding element when contrasted with the mostly white walls. A bright magenta pony wall at the end of the kitchen separates the living area from the more private bedroom area while also giving the entirety of the space a vibrant focal point; at night, its fabric-wrapped top acts as a source of soft LED lighting. And the blue room, whose walls and ceiling are painted the same cobalt blue, is further evidence of the architect’s unbridled imagination. “I don’t use color as only pure graphic. It is actually a special device to define volume,” says the architect. “The wall and the ceiling are usually two different colors, but I don’t like that tradition. I like it to be almost like there’s no definition between them, so you read color as a volume rather than reading it as a plane.

Another unique attribute of the house is its two-story custom metal shelving unit, which acts as a second layer of privacy for its curtain-eschewing creator. Its final form was an act of serendipity. “I think that I tried to use a much thinner section than I should have. And so we needed to have a lot more bracing – a lot more vertical structure to create the kind of stiffness that would hold a lot of books and heavy objects,” she says. “When it was originally designed, it was a two-story unit without the bridge on top. But when we were doing the construction, the contractor needed to make a temporary bridge so they could construct a wall on the other side. And as soon as they put that bridge on, I said, ‘We need to keep it.’”

As for the building’s exterior aluminum skin, Raveevarn says she was inspired by the use of deep lattice work in houses in India and the Middle East but did not know how well her own perforated wall would work until she built it. It exceeded her expectations, with a site-specific ambiguity Raveevarn relishes. “This kind of perforated aluminum allows the transparency to play a very interesting role with the urban condition and things that happen on the street,” she says. “During the day, you can’t see in at all. It is extremely opaque to look into the interior. But when we’re working inside, we can see everything.”

from 99U99U