Meet Print’s latest Designer of the Week, John Hayden, creative director and partner at Agent, who’s all about rebrands, building brands and finding inspiration at the heart of brands. Plus: Hayden reveals the specific desire that he believes should be paramount for all designers.
Name: John Hayden
Name of Studio: Agent
Location: Lincoln, NE
Design school attended: University of Nebraska
How would you describe your work?
My work is conceptual. I insist on working from a distinct point of view based on an insight about a brand and its audience. My method is to try to strip away unnecessary elements until the expression is in its purest form. People crave simplicity, and the best brands revere it. This approach has been an evolution throughout my career.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration at the heart of a brand. Creating an experience based on a brand promise, which engages consumers emotionally, has always been at the core of my approach. My job, as I see it, is to first understand and then express that promise with type and visuals. I always start there. Everything should spring from that promise. Along the way, many things can inform that process; research, gut feelings, conversations with consumers and past experience. Of course, I’m always consuming art and media for inspiration. Trying the product never hurts either. Especially if it’s for a beer client.
Who are some of your favorite designers or artists?
I’ve never really kept a list of favorite designers. Saul Bass is a favorite. Aaron Draplin is a favorite. Craig Stecyk and his work for the Bones Brigade definitely had an influence, but I was absolutely unaware of it as a kid. I’ve always been more likely to pay attention to specific agencies that continually turn out the best work in the industry. I’m interested in learning about their creative process and applying it to improve my own. Mother New York always does great work. Crispin Porter’s emphasis on creating leverageable ideas is another. Of course, Chiat Day has always been an influence.
Do you have a favorite among all the projects you’ve worked on?
The AMC Amazing rebrand which I developed with two of my current creative partners, Raleigh Drennon and James Strange, is probably the most fulfilling and interesting project I’ve worked on. It fuses the AMC red ball logo with classic movie genres and icons, turning them into characters that can be reinvented over and over in static form as well as in motion.
From winning the pitch, to the time our work appeared on the screens, took over a year. It was unusual to have the luxury of so much time. We developed the brand system for internal and external audiences, which included: the creation of a custom typeface called Zing, all of the red ball characters which inhabit that world and multiple pre-show animations. We also had the opportunity to create a co-branded spot with Coke featuring the AMC cast of characters. Working closely with AMC, Psyop and Coke were definitely high points.
Is there a project that stands out to you as having been the biggest challenge of your career so far?
The biggest challenge would have to be the creation of the Oculus brand for Bass Pro Shops. It was a unique process because we were allowed to build the brand from the ground up. The name, identity and brand personality were developed long before the product itself was developed. We worked with the product design team during prototyping to select finishes and to determine final application of the brand on the product itself. This is actually the right way to do it, but it presented unique challenges. We had to be conscious of how our recommendations affected the unit cost of the product as well as the packaging. We worked with stakeholders throughout Bass Pro Shops, not just marketing.
What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
Stepping into my new role as a partner in the last year has expanded my focus to include more than just stewardship of my client’s projects. I hope to make Agent as successful as possible, to work with the most talented people we can and to create a culture which enables great work.
What’s your best advice for designers today?
The best advice I’ve heard was from Lee Clow. He said, “Care. Care deeply.” As communicators, we are creating a conversation with other human beings. Our desire to connect with them in meaningful ways should be paramount.
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