10 March 2009

The beginning is always Today, Today Design

The cases of Stad Antwerpen, Pegase, Brussel Airport, Veritas en Indi are courtesy of LDV United. Redstar Design is a division of this agency.
Today let me know they never intended to claim this work as theirs and they disclaim all rights for the work they performed during the time working at Redstar Design for LDV United.

Next Shapeshifters (12 March 2009, Brussels)
Thursday I'm off for a new Shapeshifters edition. This week Sint-Lukas is featuring Joshua Blackburn who studied crime, consumerism and political philosophy. And Randall. C who would love to live like people say he draws comics.

Today Design
Belgian Craftsmanship in Brand Design


Small summary
This post describes my meeting with Tom Andries of Today Design, a small screening of his lecture at Shapeshifters and some insights on brand design, his company, and the relation between design-agencies and ad-agencies in Belgium.
Tom Andries is the co-founder of a small but great brand design agency based in Leuven, Belgium. Tom is very fond of Olins and it's Brandbook. He specialized in typography and works with a focus on brand design. One of his favorite fonts is the Grotesk, basically that's how we relate, and owh... I admire him because he worked in an ad-agency as a designer for several years. Rest assured, there are better jobs in advertising.

Today Design: 8 beliefs to learn by heart
» Specialize and know your trade
» Go for quality, aim for the top
» Creativity is 20% of talent and 80% of sweat
» Keep it simple and long lasting
» 1 + 1 = 11 Work togheter
» Always look for the big idea
» Creativity is solving problems
» Don't promise what you can't deliver

To me, Today Design might be the best brand design agency in Belgium. Yes, the best. Sorry, Base, Coast, Flink, Today is now. Off course all of this is just my truth, not The.

Meeting Tom Andries
Already looking forward to the next Shapeshifters my mind was drifting off to the talk I had at the Beursschouwburgs' bar last time. I was very inspired by speaker and co-founder of Today Design and arrogantly told him that he uses too much modernist fonts in his work. No, sorry that's a lie, but I opened the long talk with marking that he is clearly a big enthusiast for Berthold Akzidenz Grotesk, as I am as well. It is my all time favorite. I used it for the title of this blog, and I used it for the title of my kids blog and greetings-card. Of which, by the way, I still owe you concept and design walkthrough. Eurgh, well soon to come, I promise.


Who is Tom Andries?
He started his career at Marketing Design Brussels and later founded the creative hotshop Vulcan. He became creative director of Redstar Design Antwerp (design department of LDV United, a WPP company) where he created some famous logos and brand identities like the well-known A for the city of Antwerp, Veritas, Indi, O’Cool, etc. He then set up Today Design, his own brand design agency that features companies such as Sony, Brussels Airport and Gamma on its client list.


Shapeshifters and the history of Today
After dwelling a little on his influences and his formative years, he moved on to show the work he had done for various bureaus and clients. This included some very well known identities in Belgium. The second part of his work dealt with assignments for his own office Today Design. Especially interesting were the many “before” and “after” examples he showcased, and seeing the brands in real-world applications. Seeing the incredibly simple and tiny doodles which were at the origin of elaborate branding campaigns was fascinating. Furthermore I was shocked to find out how many logo proposals he actually submits to his clients. One example he used had 36 variations!


If you're not a designer you might think of proposing 36 logos as evident but tweaking the same logo representing a brand enough to have a destined look from another proposal enough and making 36 of them is one hell of a job! You should be drooling with respect already. Anyway, after putting all effort into making several proposals comes the hardest part: killing your darlings. If you work in advertising (as a designer) more often than not other people decide for you which can be liberating yet frustrating at the same time.


Talking about this with Tom. At the bar of the cafe. I told Tom how I struggled the reign of the ad-agency when I was a designer. Putting all your energy into the making of several proposals, being overruled in decision making by some fancy 'smanshy' fart director who never designed himself, and never having the feeling they are really happy with whatever you came up with killed me at some point. It made me never want to design for somebody else but myself. In the end I became an art director myself, lucky those designers working with me...
Anyway when I asked Tom how he survived he said: "patience, stamina, endurance and biting the dust until you're respected enough to overrule them". Hmmn, well all I could think was "good things come to those who wait".

Specialize and know your trade
Tom and Today focus on Brand Design. They, Tom and Geert, sail their studio under the flag: "Craftsmanship in Brand Design". By singling out this one expertise they acquired an expert skill in creating a graphic brand image. Over the years they worked for several bigger ad-agencies around the country. But while sipping beer and gin I noted that Tom and Geert, who were both at LDV at the time they dreaming about a start-up, weren't too eager to get things going. Starting up a studio and focusing on 1 facet within graphic design is a rather risky thing to do if it turns out you don't have enough skills or network to sit it through. Jan Baert, creative director of VVL-BBDO, encouraged them to do so. Ensuring them with a load of jobs to get the studio going. The backup and insurance of someone holding a strong position within the industry is golden, especially when that industry is called advertising. You must understand that no ad-agency really has brand specialist designer in-house. They're too expensive, or can't bear the eye on the shoulder at work.
I think choosing the Brand Design specialty is their strength. And there are several reasons to explain:
» strategically there are no questions asked about what your business is
» specialists can focus on what they do best, and work with higher hourly costs because they're considered experts
» ad-agencies love small expert studios like this because they can deliver quality work that pays off, by taking a large fee on jobs they don't have to spend much running time at. Ones the creative director and strategist give their blessing the job is frankly done.

Being an independent studio might be considered taking a financial risk at first but growing mature the founders can largely benefit from it, or sell and move out. Also creatively it comes with a large freedom as designs of expert studios are considered a good job more often than not. So, whole different ball game than working in-house as a designer.


The brake of dawn starts Today
I think designing your own identity is very liberating. You are your own, you are the brand, you breed the brand. But with all this freedom comes it's burden. Namely, all other designers judge you on your own identity. The agencies rather look at your work first, but with all the fame you can reap with the work you do your own identity will pop into the picture one way or another.
Building a new identity takes 3 major and markers to put down: your name and logo, your strategic story and accompanying baseline, and, a very recognizable creatively visual style.
» name: Today
» the logo: the negative space of the letter "o" in "Today" is filled and the letter is dropped down the baseline on which all letters of that line 'stand'. By doing this the letter "o" abstractly looks like a rising sun. The big idea here is shaking hands with the line: "the beginning is always today".
» strategic and baseline: Craftsmanship in Brand Design
» style: large modernist typographic elements, using the Proxima Nova, combined with a firm body serif, using Berthold Akzidenz Grotesk. The typography in the identity is always combined with destined full color solids to work with the forms of the fonts in use.

The work of the day, Today
I'm just going to briefly walkthrough and complement some cases with additional info. In my opinion the work must speak out for it's self.

caption: a serious facelift of the Pegase identity. Today literally beamed this brand from the fifties into the 21st Century. Fresh and strong with a tasteful touch of decency.

caption: the logo represents Brussels at the crossroads, the junction, the hub, the center-point of a united Europe. Also, bit tongue in cheek, it represents the top of an umbrella because Brussels tends to beat London when it comes to counting the gallons of water falling from the sky.

caption: a very important id for the Belgian economy is this one, Brussels Airport, bacause there has always been a bit a controversy where and what it actually was. People used to use several names for the airport before this brand settled, so a clear marker was a warm welcome to many travelers landing in nescience of Belgium, Brussels, Zaventem and it's surroundings (geography).

caption: all of the staff operating in the airport became part of the idea of "airport as a safe haven, a place to feel comforted, not to mention at home"

caption: city marketing is more often than not a blank laugh but in Antwerp they got off to start with a good base, namely, a logo that was manly enough to stand and totally in touch with it's feminine side by being very spontaneous and hospitable.

caption: this identity had to be fixed and locked into a system that would lend the possibility to keep playing around with in order not to tire the identity to wear off soon after it was launched. So Today deadlocked a very solid baseline grid that leave open a broad myriad of opportunities to whoever designer later has to work with these assets.


I hope you have enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed Tom's lecture and don't forget: today is the beginning of the rest of your life.

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  1. The examples and images were very clear. This is a post that it "pays" to read. Thanks.

  2. Thanks for the kind words Marg. By the way: THIS IS NOT A SPONSORED POST :)

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