Editor’s note: Yesterday, Nancy Wu shared the first half of a set of business cards she’s been collecting for many years that show the evolving identities of a number of Vancouver, B.C., creative professionals…including herself. The graphical changes these designers have gone through reflect both stylistic developments and their own evolving career destinies. Here’s Part 2 of Nancy’s collection, beginning with a firm she wrote about at the end of Part 1, Ion Design.
[Nancy Wu] Ion Branding + Design was initially a two-man design studio, headed by communication design graduates David Coates and Rod Roodenburg. I was a fan of their brochures and poster designs for arts and music groups, as they used metallic inks and typography in such beautiful ways. I admit that I stole their work from walls once the events had passed and may still have some hidden away. But enough about my design thievery. I love their work and still have various self-promos and print pieces they designed that remind me why I fell in love with Emigre fonts and how to use them properly. I’ve even seen their GDC (the Canadian design association) typographic postage stamp designs at the fine stationery shop Itoya in the Ginza district of Tokyo! Interesting to see how Ion Design has evolved its identity from very textural elements and fine type to the current red circle logo, still framed by refined type treatments and high quality print production values. Their second card has blind embossed and red engraved type, while their current card employs a red foil for the logo on a deliciously tactile-to-the-touch premium paper stock.
Suburbia Studios used to operate out of the basement of a little cottage by the water on sunny Vancouver Island. Their focus was on illustration and design projects for boutique, retail, social and corporate clients. Idyllic and beautiful? Absolutely. I should know, as I had the pleasure of working there for three incredible years. Husband and wife Russ Willms (illustrator and art director) and Mary-Lynn Bellamy-Willms (president and strategist) were formerly employed at top creative agencies, eventually working out of their home studio until expanding to their own “modern barn” (my description) in beautiful Victoria, B.C. Suburbia is now a leading retail branding agency, specializing in shopping mall advertising, packaging and advertising campaigns. The variations in their card designs (above) show how the personality of Suburbia and design trends evolved over time: Where the first iteration used hand illustration and the photocopier to create textural elements, the current red plastic credit card version cleverly tells where their business is now focused.
Roy White and Matthew Clark of Subplot Design first met at DDBCanada/Karacters Design Group, and as legend has it (or what I was told upon starting my job there), they hated each other. As they worked together, however, they soon became allies and found themselves sharing a passion for smart, strategic, hardworking brand design. Eventually the time came for the pair to go out on their own, finding continuing success and a steady stream of awards for their brand identities and packaging design. Focusing their respective strengths towards a united front is their recipe for a successful team. Out of the gate, they chose a very deep pink as their brand color, distinctive in the local market and as boldly loud as some of their favorite attire. But I digress…this collection starts with their temporary card, and then rolls on to show variations of their hand-applied labels on makeready cards. (Makeready is the term for sheets of paper that printers run through the press multiple times to check on ink coverage, registration or other print testing; typically it’s recycled once the printer’s finished with it, as too many passes through the press rollers can make the paper brittle and tear on press.) If you look closely though, you’ll see that these aren’t just random makeready sheets. They are from a single printer, and the color combinations and patterns were chosen deliberately, to a degree. No two cards are the same, but when they’re placed together, it’s evident they belong to a set.
Another duo united by design and marriage is Steven and Jane Cox, who make up the multidisciplinary creative agency Cause+Affect. Their Gastown studio has produced great modern brand design, social, cultural and environmental projects for a diverse range of clients. Steven also leads the wildly popular and enlightening Vancouver Pecha Kucha Nights. (If you’ve never gone to one, you really must. Each evening has a different collection of amazing people on stage talking about subjects that matter to sold-out audiences.) I picked up the first set of cards at their EPIC Sustainable Living Expo project; the cards cleverly convey the balance of partnership and individuality in the graphic treatment of the cut X. However, their new card uses their current logomark (designed by Free Agency Creative) with tasteful black foil type on a black uncoated card, with stunning results.
I first met Jane Hope, one of the founders of TAXI, when she judged a design competition in Victoria. Since then, TAXI has opened offices beyond Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and now Vancouver, expanding beyond advertising into design and interactive projects. Although the agency brand design has evolved over 10-plus years, their cards demonstrate a consistency in using black in a modern streetwise way, very graphic and bold. The current TAXI identity features various text messages on the backs of each employee’s card, using the studios own custom font; I have several of them, and so far, no doubles.
There is much to be learned from considering what evolution in business cards has to teach us about change. When it comes to visualizing an identity, you can see that design firms do quite well evolving their card designs, and yet I think designers may have a tougher time of it, since they know how limitless the opportunities can be. Print isn’t what it used to be, but letterpress and design craft have returned, while high quality digital printing has improved by leaps and bounds. What is important, though, is that regardless of the design trends or favorite new font flavors of the month, designers must be true to who they are and the brand story they want to tell. And, as I said before, there isn’t just a single way to do something…there are sometimes better ways than others, but you don’t have to limit yourself. I hope you enjoyed this look back, and my apologies for the long delay in this latest installment in my series of pieces about business card design. If you would like to send me your creative cards for possible inclusion (sorry, they won’t be returned, and yes, they must be real printed samples), please contact me.
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.