[Nancy Wu] 1983: I was in high school and got my first business cards printed, 100 linen cards for $15. Yes, I know, my first attempt is so bad. And not Michael Jackson BAD. The type was created via dry-transfer lettering sheets from Radio Shack, and I drew the logo by hand. (Not terribly original, but I was told initials work well as a mnemonic device.) Many years have passed, as have the various card designs…interesting that I came full circle unintentionally, and yet the change in how the current design works is much more satisfying.
Change is a part of life as well as business, relationships and of course design. Styles, technologies, people and firms come and go, while others stand the test of time, moving along with the trends. This collection of business cards demonstrate the visual evolution of companies; the cards were collected in the years following my graduation from design school, around 1988. Most are Vancouver, B.C, creative firms, many fronted by married couples or dynamic duos, with a few surprises thrown in for good measure.
Dave Mason was one of the first “real” designers I showed my student portfolio to. Dave did really well in Vancouver, being recognized as the local annual report specialist dealing with corporate companies of all sizes and disciplines. He eventually moved to Chicago to join up with Greg and Pat Samata to create the successful design firm SamataMason, while maintaining a busy Vancouver office with designer Pamela Lee. Of course, things change quickly, and that’s already old news. They are now brand communication design firm Smbolic (unfortunately, when I last saw Dave, I forgot to ask him for a new card). Dave still returns to his hometown for family, friends and various design functions, as well as to support the Vancouver Canucks hockey team. And his design always stands the test of time with integrity. Both of his cards demonstrate professionalism, elegance, tasteful typography and an admiration for clean, white space.
Husband-and-wife team Yves Rouselle and Daniela Wood started Bau Wow Design over 25 years ago with offices in Downtown, Yaletown and Gastown (sounds like Vancouver has many towns, but really we don’t). A love of furry four-legged friends and pixellated typography made their mark in these three card evolutions (designed over 15 years ago). The variations in design configurations within the distinctive diecut shape really stood out from the safety net of 3-1/2 x 2-in. white corporate cards. I heard they took a bit of a break for some idyllic living on Salt Spring Island, but I found their new incarnation online: Stimuli. The website still carries the same colorful energy as their previous identities…and there’s still a dog to be found, too.
Herrainco Brand Strategy + Design was started by the talented husband-and-wife team Ray and Casey Hyrnkow. As the story goes, people had difficulty spelling or pronouncing their last name. Naming their firm with a phonetic spelling put the confusion to rest, and informed the early versions of their business card designs. I admit, I used to be scared of them when I was a design school grad, as I felt they could do no wrong and they were the living example of design excellence. To me, they were design superheroes. Their names were synonymous with beautiful packaging design, striking corporate communications and Canadian design awards.
Over time, I bumped into them regularly at design functions and got to know them better, realizing they were just as awesome as I thought they’d be. The shy reverence on my part turned into warmth, laughs, smiles…and friendship. Sadly, Ray recently ended his battle with cancer, but the amazing wealth of work and influence of his legacy was evidenced at the standing-room-only celebration of his life last year. Gone but never forgotten. And Casey continues to lead the design charge through successful leadership of Herrainco and teaching at Emily Carr University. The images on their current cards leave a visual testament of the enduring impact their design has had on a proud Canadian design community.
Former Herrainco senior designer Matt Warburton is principal of his own firm Emdoubleyu Design. He is heavily involved in the national and local design chapters of the GDC (the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada), all things related to design education, bikes, hockey and beer (sounds like a cliché, but really it’s not). Behind the scenes is his lovely wife Lynn, who handles new business and copywriting duties. Matt is a fellow typophile and design book/magazine-obsessed friend. He’s also a lover of letterpress printing, bright rich reds, and his favorite typeface is Cooper Black, as evidenced by his more recent business card design (meticulously printed by David Clifford of Black Stone Press) The backside is solid red and deliciously thick from laminating two sheets together. I quite love the effect of the deep impression of type on the front; laminating another sheet to the back of the card also serves a functional purpose to hide the visible impression on the back surface of the front sheet.
The legend of a flying saucer crashing near Roswell, New Mexico, made its impact in the Vancouver design community, both in name and identity. A trio of creative types—writer Nigel Yonge and designers Vida Jurcic and Sean Carter—started Hangar 18 in 1996, and they’ve never stopped growing. Many talented people have come and gone: Carter departed to start his own design firm, Carter Hales, and yet the diversity and quality of creative output remains. Their first cards were distributed at a studio opening party, playing heavily on the “something out there” concept. The last set of cards I got from them were of a more mature design, bearing a sense of sophistication with smooth black and white uncoated sheets, respectively. These “inkless” cards are also beautifully thick with blind emboss on both side of the laminated sheets. The finishing and production values of these cards were most impressive the first time I saw them. And touched them.
Business partners Ben Garfinkel and Mark Busse are not shy, quiet introverted types. They are brand communicators who are crazy (in a fun way), passionate about good food (they also founded the popular blog Foodists), who challenge their clients to think smarter and, in a totally unplanned course of action, who both have wives named Andrea. Behind the silliness, they are both good guys. Industrial Brand is their full service design, branding consultancy and communication firm. Although some human and four-legged staff have changed, the duo still work hard with clients and in design education, serving as instructors and mentors at Vancouver Film School. The identities of both card designs carry the same neon yellow-green and black palette, yet they are stylistically quite different, emphasizing the grungy look of “industrial type” from the late ’90s, when the studio was founded, to 2008 with a brand revitalization.
Signals is a small independent firm focused on health and corporate clients, founded by principal and creative director Kosta Tsetsekas. The first card was from then-senior designer Bonne Zabolotney (now the dean of Design and Dynamic Media at Emily Carr University), when they were focused on communication design for business and the arts. I like how each card expresses the concept of communication signals in a very direct way, and yet I find the current letterpressed card more playful with the iconic approach.
Although Eddie Bauer is not directly related to Vancouver design, I felt it was interesting to see the same content (logotype, illustration and address text) used in different graphic approaches, with changes to the visual tone while staying on brand. Eddie Bauer’s current website looks like your typical online retailer, but back in the day when they were all about outdoors, textural, high quality, rugged, trees, wood, stone, camping and thick wool sweaters…you get the picture. Their identity was a true reflection of that sentiment. Both cards were acquired within two years of each other, but in different cities—I was living in Victoria at the time I got the lower card, which I personally prefer the richness of. Their bags were also gorgeous, using the enlarged engraved illustration in the same cropped manner.
One of my favorite independent paper mills, French Paper, had one of the best-designed and lushly produced identities upon their launch in the late ’80s. These slender cards were printed on premium kraft paper with four-color printing and thermography on the front side and a simple hit of black on the back. Charles Spencer Anderson (formerly of Duffy Design, and now principal and creative director of CSA Design and CSA Archive) was responsible for the retro look that became so wildy popular at the time and evolved their identity in the lower card version. Still using the stylized illustration of founder Jerry French, this card is letterpressed coarsely on purpose, complete with blobby edges and mottled ink printing. The phone number stamped separately in red provides continuity to an unpolished design sensibility while keeping costs down.
Emily Carr was once an institute of art and design, but has proudly become a university…from sculpture, fine arts, design and mixed media, now expanding to interactive and motion graphics. I love the chunky Institute logo above, created by Fleming Design in 2003, even with the quirky bold “jumping letters” treatment and the thick lines above and below. Based on the typeface Blender (which the rest of the text is set in), I find it appropriately edgy and industrial, in some ways matching the metal, wood and concrete construction of the campus buildings, as well as the experimental output and creativity coming from the student body.
However, before that incarnation, there was this version designed by Ion Design (more on them tomorrow), who can tell their story best: “We did that rather short-lived identity during the transition from College to Institute—circa 1995?—when a new building was opened. The name change, halfway through the process, adversely affected the syncopation and radiation of the design from the central C of of the word college.” In other words, the addition of more letters to the acronym threw off the center point and where the curve dissected the letterforms.
The story doesn’t end there. Amidst much controversy, the current university identity was designed in-house, taking on a different emphasis altogether. More was made of the name Emily Carr (a Canadian artist and writer recognized for artistic contributions and her painting style, which captured the lush forests and natural beauty of British Columbia), as well as the introduction of a circular icon—a punched hole in the corner—and a lime green/grey color palette.
Tomorrow in Part 2, I continue my exploration of the ever-evolving Vancouver business card design scene, returning with Ion Design.
Nancy Wu is an award-winning designer, art director and illustrator with experience in the development of logo and brand identity systems, packaging design, custom typography and print/online communications. She has over 20 years of design experience with established firms, and her talents have been recognized by Communication Arts, Applied Arts, Lotus Awards, HOW and Identity, and in 30-plus international design publications.