Christian Cervantes

It’s not every 29-year-old who inspires
this kind of naked emotion in his boss: “I’m deeply, and
unforgivably, envious.” That’s the chief creative officer of
Ogilvy & Mather’s Brand Innovation Group, Brian Collins, talking
about new kid Christian Cervantes. As his dramatic name suggests, the
designer has an impossible dream: to reawaken brands as familiar to us
as our own faces.

Take, for instance, Coke. Cervantes forged a
radical new campaign for Coke Zero, which is marketed to young men.
“The word ‘masculine’ brought up images of dudes
bro-ing out over ‘chicks’ and football,” he groans.
“I wanted to do something a lot more subtle but still
powerful.” He commissioned the British studio iLovedust to help
create an iconography of playfully masculine illustrations
(“exploding fire hydrants, sensual lips, predatory animals and
their prey . . .”), adding silhouettes of snowcaps and ice
fishermen to provide the necessary chill. “I had so much fun
creating these little worlds within worlds,” he says, and notes
that the freedom the creative directors afforded him made all the

Another challenge was the re-imagination of Kodak’s
thoroughly imprinted logo, a gigantic job Cervantes tackled right out of
school with one other designer and a creative director. “My
childhood memories are all documented by Kodak,” he says.
“It’s more than a brand—it’s a significant
cultural phenomenon, and I was given the opportunity to participate in
the changing of the guard.” When he studied Kodak’s old
identity, he saw not outmoded letterforms but a powerful nostalgia,
which he incorporated into the type: A newly rounded a and its
friendly associates, tucked between the high-tech k’s,
become an homage to technology’s sentimental side. Cervantes and
his team also created a colorful new visual language for the brand,
based on the idea that however photography evolves, it will forever be
married to light. As with all big-cheese clients, Kodak’s redesign
required a necessarily long timeline. Cervantes says he has learned to
love the process, and finds inspiration even in projects that never come
to fruition. One of these, an (unused) makeover of Hellmann’s
mayonnaise, makes the white stuff with the stodgy design seem almost
cutting edge.

Cervantes made his way from a photography-mad Southern
California childhood to the highest end of advertising via the Art
Center College of Design in Pasadena. One of his most enthusiastic
teachers was Clive Piercy (head of Los Angeles firm Ph.D), whom
Cervantes credits with steering him in the right direction. Piercy calls
his former student a “totally hip cat” and notes admiringly,
“He was pursuing both graphics and photography courses with equal
interest. Apart from his work, the greatest compliment I can pay him is
that I always feel more energized and hopeful around him.”

Everyone who encounters the tall, cheerful Cervantes seems to agree.
Collins sums up his impressive range: “He can drive his ideas with
visual as well as emotional power. This ability is remarkable, and
I’ve only seen it grow stronger in his design work and his
photography. But he’s as likable as he is talented.” In
turn, Cervantes has a continued appreciation of his elders: “I can
hear [Brian] in the back of my head saying, ‘What’s the
story you’re trying to tell?’”