Week Two: Task One | San Francisco Studio Research

Living in San Francisco presents loads of history of graphic design. 

The late 1960s with the “Summer of Love” in particular presented a response to post modern design unseen anywhere else through the exploration of psychedelic design. Designer and artist Bob Fried was innovative with print production for these posters in which the designs would changed based on the difference color of light projected onto the page. Far out…

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Work of artist, designer, Bob Fried

Work of artist, designer, Bob Fried

Four contributions made to graphic design from San Francisco, CA include:

  • Psychedelic design

  • Pacific New Wave design

  • Pre-Photoshop digital image manipulation techniques

  • Contributions by women in design (far exceeded those on the east coast)

A local studio of post-modern era that very much so remains today is Studio Hinrichs, led by former Pentagram partner, Kit Hinrichs - a Bay area and national design legend that has been in San Francisco for forty years. Kit and his studio are responsible for numerous branding projects including the California Academy of Science, Design Within Reach, Symantec and many more. A studio of four, their company statement is:

Whether the end purpose is a logo, packaging, marketing program, environmental wayfinding system, promotion piece, consumer magazine or a book, we believe that the most effective design has a narrative thread. It communicates rather than decorates. It promotes understanding of a subject or philosophy. It makes the complex simple; the opaque, transparent; the unstructured, concrete; the obtuse, accessible; the ordinary, beautiful, and, ultimately, the message memorable. Narrative design is a way to help our clients tell the story of who they are and what they value and do so in a way that holds the viewers’ interest and makes them care.

Here are a few pieces from his studio:

For me, the role of design is to make the complex, simple; the opaque, transparent; the unstructured, concrete; the obtuse, accessible, and the ordinary, beautiful.

-Kit Hinrichs

Another local agency, Manual Design, is one of my San Francisco favorites. Founded in 2009 by Tom Crabtree, a Yorkshire, UK native, Manual is responsible for local, national, and global work across all platforms. They prefer to work small, which I appreciate, with a limited number of folks contributing to their craft, versus a large firm. A studio of independent artists and designers, their company statement is:

Manual is a design and branding studio based in San Francisco. We help our clients express themselves and their products through iconic brand identities and beautiful experiences. Our work strives to clarify purpose, build meaning, and stir up curiosity and emotion.

Here are a few examples of their work. I love the work they did for Fort Point Brewing, a local but quickly popular craft beer outlet in San Francisco.

Another boutique studio is TheDepartment, headed up by Richard Leighton, and located right in the center of the city. Clients include some heavy hitters such as: CBS, Warner Bros., Sony PlayStation, Reebok, Toyota, Apple, Evernote, and Twitter, but also more local shops, start-ups, lifestyle, and hospitality. A small firm, their company statement is:

TheDepartment is an independent graphic design and branding studio in San Francisco, California. Our name sounds large — but we’re actually small, agile, and proudly boutique. We specialize in branding for restaurants, hospitality, and lifestyle clients. Our versatile creative approach spans several touchpoints resulting in unique solutions and memorable experiences. We enjoy working with all businesses that value tailor-made, visual solutions. Checkout more details on our services, restaurant branding, or view our client testimonials.

I like the idea of remaining small in terms of the team: to be nimble, tight with each other, uber collaborative, but working on a wide array of project scopes.

Here are a few examples of their work. I especially like the work they did for B Star through various illustrative textures creating a unique experience.

The fourth and final studio I’ve identified is Character. Character opened up in 1999 and has built a notable client base ever since including: Google, Adobe, Nike, wework, Peet’s, and many more. While a bit larger than boutique, their approach seems to be more intimate than other agencies in SF. Their company statement is:

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula for success. From startups just finding their feet, to established companies with decades of brand history, we shape our team and process around each client. Each assignment is unique, and should be measured against an individual set of objectives. We're more like a family than a company.

They approach each project as unique and outfit their project teams as such. Here are a few notable pieces to examine. I love the color pop and fluidity of mix, and Nike’s Don’t Think. Run. campaign. You can feel the energy in the work.

San Francisco also hosts an annual design week, that has local studios opening their doors to an international community of attendees. It’s coming up next week and I cannot wait to report back!