Sawdust Creates a New Logo and Identity for Converse
Converse is as an iconic sneaker brand as any other. The brand was at the forefront of athletic sneakers, and Michael Jordan’s favorite brand to play in before he hesitantly joined Nike. Decades later, Converse is under the Nike umbrella and continues to be at the forefront of lifestyle footwear. They’re on trend but thought they could use one update: their logo. So Conversed asked Sawdust to help them do it. “Trust is the keyword, the Converse team put their faith in us to explore ideas with them,” explains Rob Gonzalez, who created Sawdust with Jonathan Quainton. “They made us feel like part of the family rather than putting the weight of the world on our shoulders — it was very much a team effort with discussions about what works and what doesn’t.”
Converse’s logo has gone through some transformation in the century the brand has been around. They’ve had wordmarks and stars, but Sawdust brought everything together, simplified it, and created the new star and chevron look. It’s no small job to take a logo that’s been at the forefront of cultural conversation for decades and bring new life to it. That logo will be seen on shoes, advertisements, stores, tags, teeshirts, everything. It’s an undertaking the Sawdust understands. “It was a great honour to work on a project of this magnitude with Converse,” Jonathan says.
Not only is it a huge job to shuffle the identity of a brand like Converse, but it has personal implications. As kids both Rob and Jonathan either owned or were well aware of converse as products. Long before they were designers or working with the brand, the shoes were a part of their world. “I still remember the day when I was a kid and my sister bought some Converse Chuck Taylor high tops — blew my mind! I always copied her because she was cooler than me,” explains Rob. It reminds us that the icons walking down the street are all created by hardworking creative minds like those at Sawdust.
Sawdust Makes Everything Possible for Wired UK
As a publication, there’s very little that Wired doesn’t cover. Begun as a technology publication, at an age when tech touches every aspect of our lives, covering tech means covering the modern condition. It’s impossible to describe life without tech, and tech without life. So Wired does it all. The UK imprint of the magazine, Wired UK, recently underwent a redesign and with that comes a refresh for their typography. The last time the magazine redesigned they went to Sawdust to create some new typography, so they did the same this time. Sawdust’s response was an emphatic Yes! and a style that’s able to engage will the myriad of topics the magazine engages with.
“We set ourselves the task of creating a typeface that worked efficiently in both flat color and three-dimensional form, however the 3D version needed to work directly over imagery, and without the need for a device within which to hold it. This created a whole new set of challenges,” Sawdust told It’s Nice That.
Since Wired’s focus is so broad and changes every day, Sawdust had to anticipate issues that we can’t even imagine. Technology shift so fast that anything is possible, so Sawdust had to imagine infinite uses for their work and make any of those executions possible.
“We needed a typeface that would work in black and white both flat and three-dimensional. For the flat version, it goes without saying that the color could be adjusted easily (it didn’t need to be set in just black or white) but changing the color for the 3D version, logistically become exponentially more complex and so we agreed a black and a white version was best. Therefore, when working in 3D it became important to keep tonal variants of white and black to facilitate its use across photography.”
Sawdust Imagines a Collective Future for Wired UK
What does the future look like?
This is a question that has inspired the imaginations of artists, scientists, historians, businessmen, and practically everyone else the world over for millennia. The exponential development of technology means that the future is coming at an ever faster pace and we need to be prepared. Few publications get access to what future technologies look like, and fewer still get the kind of access that Wired does. They’re well poised to help us see what the next evolutions will look like and so they’ve began publishing Wired Horizons, a special series to show off what they think is most exciting. They invited Sawdust to create their very first cover in imagery that blurs the line between typography and illustration.
The cover that Sawdust created for Horizons plays on the idea of horizons in a fascinating way. We think of a horizon has being the line between the earth and the sky. It’s that far off point where the future is, where we are going. But depending on where you are, horizons can be different – we may not all be marching in the same direction. In the image that Sawdust created there are a series of geometric bodies, each with their own hard line between their tangibility and the space beyond. They are all separate, implying different reaches towards a future, but embedded in them are the letters that spell “Horizons,” implying that they create something together, bonded by their proximity. It’s a visual reminder that even if we imagine different futures we’re all in this together.
Sawdust Leads for Creative Review
Creativity is something like magic, like a secret sauce. As a culture we regard creativity at an arm’s length, understanding it only from afar, studying it like alchemy, setting traps for clouds, or threading souls. We don’t know how to quantify it and so we accept it as a mystery often unexamined. But creativity is all around us. It’s in the single mother who finds time to go back to school, it's in the traffic cop who orders the lives and energies of thousands of drivers, it's in the math teacher who ignites inspiration in the patterns of numbers. Often the daily creativity in our world is overlooked, but Creative Review wants to bring these creatives front and center and asked Sawdust to help them do it.
For Creative Review’s special ‘Creative Leaders Fifty’ issue, Sawdust designed an icon out of the number 50 to emblazon the front page of the issue and act as a logo across branding to celebrate this collection. Sawdust delved into spatial depth, carving the logotype into the third dimension. Like a mash up of Frank Gehry and Brutalist architectures, the 50 pops and dives onto the face of the magazine, throwing shadows that shape the space and imply movement. In just one number made from two characters, Sawdust created a story in space without color or subject. A fitting first introduction to a list of creative leaders, although maybe it should have been ’51.’
Happy Holidays: 2015 in Review
As we come together with loved ones and friends to close the year, we’d like to take this time to reflect on some of our favorite moments from the last year. Included here is a list of some of our favorite stories we’ve had the pleasure to share with our community and friends. This year our artists helped usher in the next generation of Star Wars stars, discovered what bacteria lurk in NYC’s subways, sent hundreds of mean postcards to adoring fans, and put their own stamp on the 2016 Presidential campaign.
Our artists have done amazing things, so let’s take some time to remember some of the best stories from 2015 before turning our focus to the New Year.
We hope you have Wonderful Holidays, and a Happy New Year.
Weeks before Star Wars: The Force Awakens hit theaters, Marco Grob photographed the cast of the highly anticipated movie for Time Magazine. Not only did he get to photograph the human stars, he also got to spend time with the famous R2-D2 and meet the newest favorite: BB-8.
Riding the New York City subway can be a precarious situation, not because of the unpredictable riders but because of what lurks on the handrails. Craig Ward wanted to see what exactly he has holding onto every day and the answers were both beautiful and revolting.
Sawdust and Nike Reach New Heights
One project with international powerhouse Nike is celebration enough, but when Sawdust teamed up with the athletic juggernaut for three bespoke typefaces it was an honor. Not only were they creating these solutions for Nike, but they'd be paired with LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Durant, three of the most powerful names in basketball. What they created turly elevated the game.
This year Joey L joined Annie Leibovitz, Erwin Olaf, and David LaChapelle as a photographer for Lavazza's annual calendar. With the theme “From Father to Son,” Joey L examined how the tradition of sustainable farming is passed on from generation to generation, and how food gets to our tables from around the world.
People's Sexiest Man Alive is always a hotly watched and eagerly awaited issue, and frequently their most popular. When Marc Hom got the call to photograph their non-traditional choice this year, David Beckham, it was an honor and a thrill. And on the day of the shoot, Beckham didn't disappoint.
For more than a decade Stephen Wilkes has been pursuing his ongoing personal project of condensing an entire day into a single photograph. This year, Stephen showed off some of his favorite shots at the Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, a great way to look back on all the work he's done, and look forward to what's still to come.
Over the course of months with locations stretching from The Costume Institute to the Louvre's vault, and even the private archive of Yves Saint Laurent, Platon captured the epic vastness of the Met's latest blockbuster. "China: Through the Looking Glass" examines how China's history has impacted the rest of the world through design influence, and Platon was able to photograph every step along the way.
Mr. Bingo's ongoing series "Hate Mail" pits the artist against those who pay for the pleasure of being berated by him through the post. Enough fans have gotten their kicks this way that he turned them all into a book that catalyzed an enormously successful Kickstarter. Books are available for purchase now!
Living a life in the limelight isn't always easy, so when We Are The Rhoads teamed up with Taylor Swift for their latest Keds campaign, they immediately found common ground. By creating a safe space the mega celebrity was able to focus on the moments with Sarah and Chris, resulting in images that are effortlessly Taylor.
Style is communication and a stylist has the power to shape how their subject communicates to the world. For Uzo Aduba's cover of As If Magazine, Stacey Jones dove into feminine luxury, offering the Emmy Award winning actress the opportunity to step away from the orange jumpsuits that her fans so often see her in.
Paris is a hotbed of fashion and style, making it a dream destination for many and attracting artists from all over the world. Tom Corbett is no different. On his latest assignment for Somerset he really sank his teeth into the city, taking advantage of every block and street corner, capturing the beauty of the city and the ease of its powerful energy.
It's hard to describe Donald Trump's political rise, so sometimes the best option is to not even try. When The New York Times Magazine tasked Stanley Chow and Jamie Chung with an image that spoke to the story they got right to work on something that felt honest but was also a lot of fun.
When Marcus Bleasdale began his work as a photojournalist it was to make a difference, but an artist can never be sure if their hopes are going to come to fruition. Marcus' has. His work with Human Rights Watch has lead to changes in law, and even helped end a war. Their joint gallery show, "Impact," proved it.
Chipotle has seen better days, but before their troubles they made a very solid decision when they asked Harriet Russell, Sarah J. Coleman, Adam Hayes, and Dave Homer to create illustrations for their bags and cups. Each illustrator was paired up with a writer whose pieces were to serve as the inspiration, and the results are as delicious as you can imagine.
Ken Fulk is a master at interior design, and Douglas Friedman is a master at photographing interiors. When the two came together in a show-stopping shoot of Elle Decor, Fulk's vision leapt off the page thanks to Douglas' unique ability to translate space into flawless photographic composition.
Bernie Sanders represents one of the most interesting political stories this season, and like any political character his whole persona is hard to distill into a single image (even a photograph!). Ryan McAmis took his time, and dug deeply into his bag of tricks, creating a portrait for the cover of National Journal that is as honest a representation as we've ever seen.
It's not every day that passion projects turn directly into corporate campaigns, but when UPS saw Brian Doben's "At Work" series they knew they needed it for themselves. Brian extended the project, meeting with read UPS customers that happened to run their own small businesses, to see what it's really like to work with a company that caters to their needs.
Cinemagraphs are becoming more and more popular, but Chloe Aftel was there since day one. In fact, she's sort of become a go-to photographer to create these captive moments that she finds particular expressive because of their ability to inject more emotion and more story.
Sometimes the best way to talk about serious issues is with a good laugh, so when Todd Selby linked up with Evolve on a series of gun safety PSA they imagined what other things kids get into. Whether it's playing with condoms like balloons, or tampons like Wolverine's claws: the kids will get into anything and, most of the time, it can be hilarious.
Few artists are as closely watched as Banksy whose work is discussed and devoured the world over, so when James Joyce got the call to be included in Banksy's latest installation it was a no-brainer. James' contributions ended up including the cover of Dismaland's catalogue, a piece that has now been distributed the world over and marked as a coveted accomplishment for any creative CV.
We cannot pretend we know what the future will hold, but if we had to bet we'd bet on Roof Studios' vision. They were tasked with glimpsing ahead for a spot with Toshiba that envisions how our relationship with technology will continue to deepen and grow, and shows us what that will look like.
Ice Skating GIF by Nomoco.
Sawdust Gets Inspired by LeBron James for Nike
The comparison of LeBron James to Michael Jordan is a natural one. The world of basketball rarely sees talents like them, but LeBron has also engaged his business deals in the same way. Earlier this month it was announced that LeBron signed a lifetime contract with Nike, a move that is totally unprecedented. Even Jordan doesn’t have a lifetime contract (although no one is worried that he’s going to walk away from the company). LeBron and Nike are now paired for life. With that comes branding and products, both physical and digital, and they tasked Sawdust with bringing the LeBron brand into a typeface. If you know Sawdust, you know they’ve done this a few times for Nike.
Sawdust’s relationship with Nike started when they created the typeface for Kevin Durant. It grew into them applying the same process for Kobe Bryant and now for LeBron James. They take the logos that Nike has created to go along with these players’ brands and extrapolate them into full typefaces. But the project for LeBron proved to be a little different.
The Durant logo is two letters, so Sawdust designers Rob Rob Gonzalez and Jonathan Quainton filled the rest in. Bryant’s logo is a graphic shape that Sawdust was able to use as inspiration. With LeBron, though, there was a tricky combination. The LeBron logo features both letters and graphics, and the letters weren’t ready to be read; they’re not freestanding figures that can be dropped right into a typeface. “The ‘L’ and ‘J’ letterforms used within the logo are effective when used for that purpose, but were too simplistic for us to entertain as part of the actual overall design,” Rob explained to Design Boom. “However, they did provide us with a good base, namely having a low x-height, and being super wide and extra bold.” They used these logo centric letters as the launch pad to inspire a design that incorporates the original logo-mark with modern and classic elements.
As Rob explains, this typeface will be used all over Nike products that are crated to celebrate LeBron. “These can be anything from T-shirts, trainers, sweatshirts, caps, shorts, training bottoms, backpacks, basketballs, to socks,” he says. “This typeface was deployed for a season across those kind of products, however they would have been set or positioned by the design team at Nike, not by us. So for that reason we wanted to display the typeface in a light that allows people to see the details of the type design, rather than fixating on the Nike products themselves.” Take a look at what Sawdust created here before you buy it on your next Nike teeshirt.
Sawdust Throws Numbers Into the Future for Wired UK
Our world is changing faster than most of us can keep track of. Technology is developing at a hyperbolic rate, and anyone who can’t keep up is being relegated to the past. With the expectation of incredible evolutionary speed, so too comes a social shift as we want our world to move ever faster around us. Every moment is poised to be the next springboard into another unnamed era. For Wired UK’s The Wired World in 2016 issue the magazine needed to count down their anticipated future trends, so they went to creative studio Sawdust to help them visualize a completely new way of looking at numerals. Our number system is almost three thousand years old, but Sawdust needed to anticipate the future. “Our aesthetic choices were geared towards creating something that was unimagined, new, different, futuristic, innovative, even a little strange,” explains Rob Gonzalez, cofounder of Sawdust with Jonathan Quainton. “…Anything that would make people turn their head sideways or think about something differently.” They dove into a world that’s totally different from us, drinking deep from pop culture influences.
“Films are a big inspiration,” says Jonathan. “The combination of great cinematography with storytelling is difficult to beat. Design is similar in many ways: it’s about telling a story, often through limited imagery and words. I always love seeing the props people dream-up for sci-fi films set in the future, à la Back to the Future 2… Hover boards, flying cars… brilliant.” Combining the aesthetics of chrome and plastics into futuristic constructs draws the inspiration into legibility recognizable numbers that are of a totally different world.
When they were creating the designs, Jonathan and team didn’t have to worry about making a typeface in the traditional sense. They weren’t tethered by the obligation of making them all fit together into cohesive groupings and developing visually on a single line. The numbers were going to stand alone, and always be alone. That changed how they created them. “This immediately freed us up, because we didn’t have to worry about the relationship one number had to the other,” Rob says. “We still wanted them to feel like they were from the same world, so there were considerations about how we could achieve that. Once our aesthetic took shape, we followed our own system that allowed us to build the other numbers in a clear and coherent way. Same color, similar distribution of chrome to white, similar negative space and positive, and similar structural elements.” Blending the intimately known with the unknown creates a fresh experience that we can all benefit from.
Sawdust Covers Esquire's 1000th Issue
Few names in publishing command the same awe and respect as Esquire Magazine. The publication has been in print for decades, and October 2015 marks their 1000th issue, a distinction almost no magazines earn. To mark 1000 issues, Esquire released a very special issue as well as doing something unprecedented: they are now offering their entire archive online for anyone who wants to see it. To celebrate this magnanimous step while paying homage to their history, Esquire teamed up with creative studio Sawdust for the cover of the 1000th issue and surrounding media.
Esquire has been at the forefront of timeless culture all this time with covers and stories that have come to define almost every era since they first started running in 1933, something that the Sawdust team had the front of their minds when they got down to work. “We are big admirers of Esquire, of course, such talented people have worked with them over the years and graced the covers,” says Rob Gonzalez of Sawdust. “This was a great privilege.” They made sure to bring Esquire a collection of different ideas for Esquire to choose from, and the magazine was so taken with the work that they decided to include every design. “The most satisfying part of this project was when we presented three different ideas for the cover, they liked them all so much that they ended up using everything, throughout different parts of the magazine,” says Rob. “We’re still pinching ourselves.”
Sawdust designed two bespoke compositions of the number 1000 for the magazine that references their long history. Like a jump back to the 1930s, drawing references to graphic Bauhaus heritage and the weights of design from a pre-World War II era, the imagery is at once nostalgic and prescient, creating imagery that is as attractive now as it is rooted in history. “At the forefront of our minds was being respectful of the heritage and simply the amount of time that needs to pass in order to allow for 1000 issues of a magazine to be made,” explains Rob. “All those people that have contributed over the years… It was about finding something that aesthetically felt classic yet modern, timeless yet current.”
To get the full experience, pick up Esquires 1000th issue, on stands now, or click through to their website and see their entire archive with the lead in by Sawdust.
Kobe Bryant Chases Imortality with Sawdust
Sawdust is knee deep in creating a series of new typefaces for Nike’s signature basketball program. Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant have worked with the sneaker designers at Nike to create the perfect shoes to enhance their play, while Sawdust has worked with Nike to extend that flawless fit into their presentation. Each player has their own personal story, and the sneakers are an incredibly important part of that. The way Nike talks about them and presents them is just as important to the story as the games these players play, especially if the shoes are to have a life after their player’s career, like Michael Jordan’s.
The challenge with each of these projects is that Sawdust is brought into the project years after a visual language had already been created for each of the lines. Logos and advertisements have been running since the shoes debuted. But that offers a baseline of design for Sawdust to come into and work with, and a native space to find inspiration.
We already examined how they worked with the Kevin Durant signature sneaker to create a new typeface, but now we’re looking at their process for the Kobe line. “We worked closely with the designers at Nike to realize something that is unique, versatile and very much on brand with Kobe Bryant as a Jordan-signed player,” says Rob Gonzalez who makes up Sawdust with Jonathan Quainton. It’s crucial that each of these typefaces fits with the personalities that they’re created for to better serve the stories that these players, and Nike, are telling in their long game.
The Kobe logo was created back in 2007 and is referred to by Nike as the “Sheath.” It references the imprint designs on the blades of samurai swords. Kobe said himself that a sword is like raw talent, whereas all the work that goes into training and honing that talent is like the sheath the sword sits in. The basis of Sawdust’s typeface is drawn from this visual language, the language of work, effort, and the shaping of skill. “The design was inspired by the star-like negative space that is created in the central point of the logo mark,” says Rob. “It creates movement and energy, which is something we tried to capture in the type design.” Working off the inspiration that helped launch the line eight years ago guarantees a common thread from the first days to the latest.
“Heroes come and go but legends are forever,” muses a recent poster by Nike using the typeface. If past is prologue and we are seeing the new generation of sneaker brands that will outlive the careers of their namesakes, it will be thanks to work like what Sawdust did for Kobe’s brand. It is these elements that make these players’ stories available for wider application and the center of a lifestyle.
Sawdust Finds Their Greatness with Nike
Kevin Durant signed with Nike fresh out of an incredible college career. He was entering the NBA with an agreement with the top athletic company in the world and it was only going to get better. Pretty soon his signature sneakers came along, dubbed the KD, with new iterations releasing every year. But one thing has remained constant since that first year: the logo. A minimal “KD” has been the icon defining the KD brand. But this year, Nike needed a little more. They wanted to expand the logo into an entire typeface and asked Sawdust to help them out.
Sawdust didn't create the original logo themselves but they used it as the basis for developing the typeface. Since the original logo included only the letters K and D, there was plenty of work to do. And for a typeface that was poised to be as unique as this one, there was a lot of potential creative exploration. “It was about looking at clues to retain the feel,” Sawdust explains. “The reputation of Nike is so well known and progressive and dynamic and forward thinking. We were just trying to capture all that if we could through the rest of the alphabet.” They experimented with typographical details and played on themes until they started to find a direction they liked. And Nike liked it too.
They really explored their design instincts and Nike went right along with it. “Nike was pretty open to new ideas, actually,” Sawdust says. “A lot of the elements that you see, like the unique tails, they were inspired by the shape and the form of the KD, so that translated into the other letter forms where we felt we needed to include them.” They ended up with a full alphabet that drew from the logo but expanded on the design provenance.
Building custom typography is important, especially for brands as significant as Nike and for figures as large as Kevin Durant. If they opt for a premade font they run the risk of it becoming available to anyone else, which can dilute the messaging. By creating something that will remain exclusive to Nike, they can be sure the typeface will never be seen anywhere else and keep the integrity of the brand. “There is value in having something that’s completely bespoke and exclusive, because nobody else can get it. By having something completely bespoke for yourself, there’s a value to that.”
This isn’t the only typeface that Sawdust has created for a Nike basketball player with their own signature shoe. But we can’t give anything away quite yet. Stay tuned.
A Bible for the Religion of Art
Artists’ work is a residue of our culture and their time. The work stands after time has passed us by as a relic of what came before; an artifact of events reminding us of who we are, and eventually who we were. OFFF is a festival taking place in Barcelona every year where artists and scientists from around the world converge and speak creatively. There is little more broad structure than that. It is a consortium of curiosity with performances, panels, and social gatherings to swap ideas and build on creativity. It is boundless in scope and fenced only by the limits of imagination.
The residue of this annual festival is an enigmatic book that can be shelved and reinvestigated, as the ephemeral nature of the festival erodes to imperfect memory. Like some kind of biblical text, this artifact calls the future as if it were written during another life; a yearbook of a cult conference after meeting the shadow of god. OFFF Unmasked, as it is titled, was designed by design studio Vasava. Acting as the creative shepherd, an incredible volume of work by dozens of participants fit between the hardbound covers of OFFF Unmasked. The narrative shifts through each section from dogmatic scripture, to a personal investigation replete with evidence and exhibits, and even a section entitled “Believe” with a smattering of art that stretches the mind and challenges perception.
The roster of OFFF’s participants are represented in Unmasked as imagery created by Serial Cut in collaboration with Bartholot. These portraits are more figurative than photographic, displaying the essence of the creative as anonymous costumed force, draped in the tones of their surrounding environment. It is the surreal joining of figure and place, each holding a contrasting object that represents the work and passions of the figure. At once alarming and enthralling, these portraits provide a vision of what makes these creative valuable in a way their human form regretfully can not show.
The XV COMMANDMENTS were enriched by Rizon Parein, Vasava, and Craig Ward. Rizon helps us to remember that artists must “Give Change” with their work. Vasava encourages creatives to give over to the unknown. And Craig Ward’s filthy typography reminds us to get our hands dirty.
Sawdust provided the imagery behind the fifth and final sin in the “V SINS” section that outlines cardinal creative sins. “Complaining,” the sin reads. “Do not whine about challenges; instead, drink the wine of opportunities.” The composition shows the result of energy scattered by whining, struggling to return into the forms of letters. It wants to communicate, to come into focus, all it requires is the commitment to the artist’s moment and not their basest childishness.
In a conference that gives over to the divine power behind investigation, deeper exploration requires an almost religious adherence. Vasava’s OFFF Unmasked is the resulting bible of this study, and something we can all learn invaluable lessons from.
Sawdust Cracks the Problem of Change
Any change can feel like death. When a situation is in flux, what's different feels wrong, and what's obsolete feels missing. The march towards progress is unforgiving and lacks empathy. It is towards the future that we are forced, and its greatest casualty is our complacency.
Variety, the magazine that gives Hollywood its insider news, sees these small deaths all over LaLaLand, and has done what they can to get as many peoples' points of view on the matter. Compiling 22 opinions on the transformations currently at work, Variety's January 28 issue acts as a sort of symptoms list of what is sick in Hollywood.
For those in the business it's cruel work, and the story deserves proper telling, including a visual representation that makes the point clear: something, at least, is broken.
Design studio Sawdust was tasked with illustrating "Broken Hollywood," the result of a place whose ground is shifting underneath them. Like the earthquakes Los Angeles feels so often, the plates beneath the industry are shifting and that's going to leave those on the surface a little worse for wear. Sawdust used the iconic Hollywood sign to illustrate the point that, in their imagining, shows the damage these changes are leaving.
In Sawdust’s illustration, we see the sign from behind, as Variety lets us see everyday. In this issue as names like Harvey Weinstein, Gary Newman, and Alan Horn show what fissures they see in their short opinions, and Sawdust’s lettering reflects those fissures. What Variety offers aren’t answers, as Claudia Eller and Andrew Wallenstein, Co-Editors-in-Chief of Variety explain. The sign is still in tact, and isn’t threatening to fall over. But it does need to change; it cannot remain this way. "If there was a reoccurring theme among the testimonies you're about to read, it's that change must be embraced,” write Eller and Wallenstein. “The old rules are falling by the wayside, and the new ones aren't entirely clear." Perhaps the sign isn't broken. Maybe it's just letting the sun shine through.
Sawdust Helps Us Understand Our Own Brains
We know less about the human brain than almost anything on the planet. As a species to this point, we’ve mapped the moon better than we mapped our own grey and white matter. But we’re trying to learn more and more every day, and have a long way to go. Neuroscientist Sebastian Seung is taking all that on personally, mapping the human brain in a way that is so detailed it was considered a flight of fancy before he took on the challenge himself a decade ago.
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Gareth Cook was tasked with explaining Sebastian’s quest to the masses with a New York Times Magazine cover story this past weekend, and the design studio Sawdust was given the challenge of creating a cover for the story. The inherent trial with telling this story is explaining what Sebastian is even doing. Mapping the brain on its own already presents an almost impossible challenge, but to fully illustrate that it has to be explained and understood.
Using different techniques, Sebastian, his team, and a whole host of volunteers using a game that Sebastian had devised, set about doing the impossible: creating a literal map of the trillions of neurons in the human brain. But what would it look like? And how can we understand it? Those are the questions that Sawdust had to face in creating their cover.
The first question is almost incidental. At the end of the day, the design had to reflect the ideas of the project, even if it didn’t reflect the actual results. What Sawdust ended up working with was an illustration that was both deeply physical but also reflected the subtler electrical circuitry of the brain. Using watercolor in the hues of oxygen rich and hungry blood, they spelled out “This Is Your Brain.” Playing on both our visceral reaction to viscera, and the mystique of the proposal, Sawdust’s cover pulls us in while repelling us. It asks the same questions that brought Sebastian to the medical problem in the first place: What is our brain, and what does it tell us about ourselves? They may be questions that are unreachable to a daily reader, but they are inherently valuable and worth the struggle.
Sawdust Explores for IBM
Communication requires context. Any designer will tell you that no element of a composition can be wasted. Color, form, layout, every piece comes together to tell a part of the story, to exemplify or strengthen the message. For typography, there are yet deeper levels, as they interact not just within the composition, but also with the meaning of the words they illustrate. For any company, especially one as large as IBM, choosing typefaces can be an enormous challenge. So why choose? IBM asked Sawdust to provide them with three different engaging typefaces, and Sawdust ran with the order.
Off the bat, IBM put very little constraint on the design studio, asking only that they worked progressively and engaged experimentation. IBM was interested in seeing how technology and innovation could come together in the word “Solutions,” as this was for IBM’s Solutions Magazine. Other than that basic creative architecture, Sawdust was free to explore. “This is both a blessing and a curse because you can literally do anything you like, so how do you settle on something?,” muses Rob Gonzalez who runs Sawdust with his partner Jonathan Quainton. “We tend to internally set parameters for ourselves, for instance, thinking about the word ‘Solutions’ and how you can communicate that through visually engaging aesthetics.” Those parameters gave them the structure to illustrate IBM’s goals while still exploring.
Sawdust, Rob explains, wanted to start in a conceptual space. “In our minds it was all about creating aesthetics that somehow felt controlled or resolved,” he says. This concept of containment and completion found itself through each of the three executions.
The first, made from lines created by dots, expresses the energy through the word. “The design slowly becomes more energized towards the end of the word, shedding its outer conformities, and instead reverberates wildly,” says Rob. For this design, the chaos enters the word, exploding out from the boundaries of the implied lettering.
In the 3D preparation, the impossible comes from chaos. The spatial execution should be impossible but Sawdust revolves the impossible by presenting a solution. The solution is their presentation of the word, which both asks the question and answers it. Rob explains the design saying, “Something that seems impossible becomes natural and fluid, forming the letterforms. It’s like the impossible has been resolved.”
Finally, they drew inspiration from IBM’s own logo for a series of horizontal lines distorted by the lettering. “Again, it’s about ordering chaos,” Rob reminds us. The word “solutions” literally contains all the chaos. Talk about a solution.
The freedom IBM gave Sawdust allowed them to explore solutions as artists, rather than be bound by a limiting brief. Concept was king and they found their way through the challenge they posed themselves. Even if every viewer doesn’t understand the story behind each utilization, the story is still there lurking in the background. And they all look pretty cool, too.