For this year's Core77 Design Awards, we're conducting in-depth interviews with each of our jury captains to get in a glimpse into their creative minds and hear more about what they'll be looking for in this year's awards submissions.
Last year was a grueling one for many, but imagine being an integral part of Hillary Clinton's campaign team last November. As Design Director of the 2016 Hillary for America campaign, this scenario was all too real for Jennifer Kinon. The 2018 Core77 Design Awards Visual Communication Jury Captain says what she learned from her experience working on the campaign has changed not only how she sees her responsibility as a leader, but also how graphic design can be effective beyond just spreading a message with excellent typography. In this recent interview, Kinon discusses these topics, the Core77 Design Awards and more.
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Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and the work you've been engaged with over the years?
I'm co-founder of OCD, the Original Champions of Design. Bobby Martin and I have been running the agency together for eight years now. We are a branding agency that provides research, strategy, design and implementation. We're industry agnostic. And we focus on brands with lots to lose.
So you work specifically on rebranding whole companies?
Whole companies. Discrete products. Publications. People. Events. Nonprofits. Anything that needs a graphic system.
And how do you go about choosing which ones you want to work with? I'm sure that you get a lot of proposals for different organizations you can work with.
We love to hear from new industries. We'll do everything we can to win the business, if it's something we've never done before. We're just really dorky designers who enjoy research. We also prioritize businesses that have sympathetic values. Progressive values. And we like working at scale, businesses with a broad reach, so we're able to deliver solutions to the broadest range of people possible. That's what feels meaningful to us.
[Running the Hillary for America design campaign in 2016] was arguably the busiest time of your life, but I'm just curious to hear about what you've been up to this year, and what you're particularly proud of having done in 2017.
In 2017, we launched several projects in fast succession. First, our work with MTV VMAs went live. We collaborated with Thomas Berger and his in-house creative team to develop a sustainable mark for the VMAs. They had a longstanding practice of redesigning the logo every year and they wanted to stop doing that and pull the brand back to its MTV roots.
OCD's graphic vision for the 2017 VMAs
Next was an NBA project. We've been working with them since about 2011 which has amounted to a nearly six-year analysis of their brand architecture. In 2017, we brought a new typeface into the mix and that affected the mark itself. They say it is the first adjustment to the mark in 48 years. It set the brand up for a strategic visual consolidation. They have so many properties in so many different countries. The consolidation allows the brand to deliver more of a firsthand NBA experience to people around the globe.
After that, our work with Ad Age went live. It was a broad implementation challenge. We looked at the identity system, the magazine, the visual design of the website, the social media program and the email sequence. Everyone in the studio was working on Ad Age at one point or another, each in their area of specialty.
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Then Dartmouth launched just last week.
It was a good year. A busy year. And a year of re-acclimation for me.
Right. And you're a small team, right?
We have eight people in New York City.
Wow, amazing. So it seems like over the past two years, and we've talked about this before, things have pretty drastically changed for you, and I think you talked to me a little bit about how your philosophy and priorities have changed since you worked on Hillary for America. How would you say things have changed in terms of your practices and priorities as a graphic designer since then?
Election Day was wrenching. I need more time to understand what happened and what design's role was in it all. But, as a small business owner, I have some clarity. We overhauled our employee agreement when I came back to OCD. We reviewed all of our policies and all of our operations to better align them with the policy learning I did at the campaign. At this moment in time, we can't rely on the government to deliver the services that people need, but as business owners, we can deliver the services ourselves.
"I'm With Her", Hillary for America's most famous slogan, was imagined and designed by Kinon and her design team.
So, what does that mean for you and OCD?
Specifically, we codified parental leave, we examined and expanded our vacation and holiday policy, and we expanded healthcare, among a few other tweaks to language including time off to vote.
Right. It's important for designers to be cared for, and sometimes they can also be exploited for their creativity and so that's good that you're paying attention to those things.
At the campaign, we supported some of the greatest minds in policymaking. Now I'm more deliberate about policy-related decisions and I will work to stay better informed going forward.
Absolutely. So for the 2018 Core77 Design Award, we'll be getting lots of submissions from people where the type of visual communication or design will really run the gamut.
I'm a fan of Core77 and how platform agnostic you are, so I needed a stacked jury for this awards program. Osi Imeokparia will keep us in check on tech. Louise Fili is the authority on craft. And Min Lew knows business and strategy. They all have impeccable taste. We will develop our guiding principles together.
And what are some new elements popping up, maybe from this year recently, within the field of graphic design that you're seeing popping up that you're excited about? Or maybe projects in particular as well?
I'm excited about organizing. It's a field I'm just learning about that has a lot in common with design. The "Time's Up" movement is a good example. I remember seeing the "Time's Up" social graphics spread across my feed when it launched on January 1, then the pins appeared at the Golden Globes on January 7. So many powerful movements have launched in the last year-and-a-half, I'm obsessively tracking as many as I can, this one was uniquely unified in its visual language.
I feel like graphic designers, and especially after what's happened in 2017, politically and whatnot, people feel a new type of responsibility. There's also the technological aspect of it as well. There's just a lot of different ways to look at it, I think.
On one hand, people feel a new level of responsibility, but on the other hand there's an opportunism that muddies the waters. It's a question of what are you accomplishing versus how are you just adding to the din, maybe even drowning out more important voices. It's easy to be loud when a lot of people are yelling, the question is how are you actually driving a specific outcome?
How can graphic design in these cases go beyond just the message?
Graphic design can do the hard and unglamorous work of turning the message into practice, into policy, into action. During the last week of the campaign, my team left headquarters to work in field offices. They were there to be helpful hands, but found design needs everywhere. Something as small as shifting the input fields on a form makes data entry more efficient and canvassing more effective.
I'm curious as to how you find inspiration for your own work, and if you have any advice for others on how to stay inspired within visual communication?
Hire for it. Or job search for it. Find people who are different from you and work with them every day. Make room for their voices to be heard and to show up in the work that you do.
And do you guys, I'm just curious, do you guys have lots of conversations in the studio, and then that just affects the direction of different projects? How does it go in your studio, from inspiration to actualization?
We could just sit and click all day, so we schedule time to talk and we have a predictable, not particularly revolutionary, process. It's just four steps: research, strategy, design, implementation. We are wholly dedicated to seeing it through with every project. The learning is important to the designing. It kills assumptions and achieves the most meaningful results.
Right. No brainer.
I'm a big fan of systems. That's where no-brainers come from.
Okay, so the last question I really have is, if you were to give any advice to designers who are hoping to submit to the visual communication category, what would you give to them in order ... What's a way for them to stand out, and what should be embedded in their work that you think will make it stand out?
Clarity of purpose is what graphic design is all about, and what branding is all about, and what communication is all about. What are you saying ? What do you want me to do? Why does this look like this? If an entry comes in with a clear purpose, it will be smart and it will be exciting. That allows for any kind of craft, any kind of style, any kind of application, any kind of implementation to blow the doors off.
Right. And that's the fun part about this category, too. It probably should be conveyed within a few seconds, the value of it.
Mm-hmm. Purpose and intent.
The Core77 Design Awards Visual Communication Jury
2018 Visual Communication Jury Captain Jennifer Kinon will be joined by these designers for the awards selection process:
Osi Imeokparia, Director of Product, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Min Lew, Partner, Base Design Louise Fili, Director, Louise Fili Ltd.
Thinking of submitting to the Visual Communication category in the 2018 Core77 Design Awards? Submit today—Regular Deadline ends March 8th!