What Brands Make You Tick?

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Feeling the need for a design escape more than ever? Us too. For that reason, as our dev team works on the new PRINT website behind the scenes, we’ve decided to start releasing some of our brand-new columns and recurring features early—such as The Brandventory, by Jason Tselentis.

If you had to count the number of brands you interact with on a daily basis in real time, could you keep up? We come into contact with them from the moment we wake to the moment we land back in bed—and sometimes even in our dreams, if we pay close enough attention—only to restart the cycle the next day. This column, the Brandventory, explores not only brands themselves, but how and why we connect with them, and what those relationships say about us.

Those relationships start early, before we even know the word brand. As children, we accept and trust the brands presented to us. Perspectives sharpen during our formative years. We define ourselves by being for or against a brand. Parenthood changes everything with the onslaught of new products, services, foods, even cleaning products. (Are you a Huggies or Pampers parent? Scented or unscented wet wipes? You don’t have a Diaper Genie? WTF?)

We present our brands back to our children, and the circle goes round.

With infants, it’s easy to find yourself spending money like crazy, but one designer asks: “Do you have to?” After what he calls “the gnarliest year ever,” here, type designer, educator and brand-new parent James Edmondson shares his views on life, design, parenting and, of course, the brands that are ubiquitous in his life.

The OH no Type Company principal confesses that he can’t necessarily buy clothes off the rack—owing to his six-foot, seven-inches stature—so he’s less than enthusiastic about fashion. At home in his studio, in the classroom and at type conferences, you will likely find him wearing his own merch: like, say, the Ohno baseball cap above. “It’s fun to design that stuff,” he says. “In my marketing I use Life’s a thrill, fonts are chill and Death to weak fonts on occasion, and I’m constantly putting stuff out there. But I’m starting to think about Ohno more loosely—not as a brand—I don’t paint myself into a corner. Ohno is adaptable. I think the best thing I can do for the longevity of my own curiosity, and the sustainability of the business as a creative outlet, is to make Ohno interested in change. This can mean genres that are new to me (learning more about existing conventions) or new to everyone (experimental). The worst thing I could do is double down on similar-looking things over and over. That might make for a faithful audience that likes those sorts of things, but eventually I would end up bored.”

Edmondson has his finger on the pulse of his own creative endeavors and how to move them forward, but he says he has a hard time identifying with many brands. “At the end of the day, I’m pretty anti-consumerist on many things. This makes me really critical of marketing and advertising across the board. Even among font foundries, there are only a select few that really move me.” So what brands do matter? For this San Francisco native, it comes as no surprise that typography at large matters a lot. Form and function have significance too, whether it’s an Apple computer or his cherished vacuum.

“I do love my Dyson. It is probably one of my favorite purchases, and the only Dyson product I’ve ever owned. It’s a Dyson V7 Animal+ and it makes all other vacuums I’ve ever used look completely stupid. I don’t love the visual look of it—a bit too steampunk for my taste, but it’s quite powerful, and the battery life has been pretty good. I will be buying Dysons for the rest of my life probably, but I am not a huge fan of other Dyson products I’ve come into contact with. Namely, the Airblade that you see in a lot of public bathrooms. I don’t think it’s that great. Also, the brand feels a little pretentious. Before the Dyson, I had a Kirby vacuum that I loved, but it was built like a WWII tank, and about as heavy. The Dyson won’t last as long as the Kirby, but is so much more mobile.”

As for tech, “I’m definitely a Mac person. I remember getting my first iMac G5 when I was a senior in high school—I was 17 or 18—installing all the design software that you dream about using! My Apple thing is tied up in some amount of nostalgia because I first experienced graphic design on an iMac. I remember looking through the manual thinking, They’ve printed it with grey text.” Edmondson currently uses a 2017 MacBook Pro 15-inch, with the newly designed but much-maligned butterfly keyboard, plus what some have dubbed the gimmicky Touch Bar. “The keyboard doesn’t bother me a bit. The Touch Bar is lame, but it doesn’t really bug me either,” he says.

And then there’s the tools of his trade. “Robofont is where I’m most comfortable. I know how to write scripts, and it was created by some dude, Frederik Berlaen, in Belgium. I also use Adobe software. I like their fonts—they care about type.” As for the Bay Area at large, “There’s this farmer’s market, so to speak. A type community. Years ago, San Francisco had this influx of type people, and Stephen Coles hosted these picnics, these community gatherings. I also want to do what I can. I want to support that world. The more I love type, the more it loves me back.”

Tunes? “Funk and soul music. Tower of Power, also Earth, Wind & Fire.” Edmondson also plays. “Guitar. Fender. … Seeing Fender’s logotype, they had the best script. All the other brands with a script—Coca-Cola, Lucky Grocery, Ford—those were just the b

Image via Stokke.com

Finally—the baby gear. “We were stoked to get this one highchair, the Stokke Tripp Trapp. It changes sizes, fits a child for years, eventually becoming a chair for a 4-year-old. So needed! It’s not planned obsolescence, it’s planned adaptation. There’s also this crib, the Stokke Sleepi, that can become a bed—we are not $800 crib people; we got it used on Craigslist for a good deal. But we don’t use the crib—we thought we were being smart, but the crib’s become blanket storage. Everyone wants what’s best for their baby. People will spend like crazy. I’m more of a minimalist.”

Edited from a series of telephone and email interviews. A previous version of this article contains a Robofont image that has since been deleted.