Tim Fowler is the designer responsible for the Isle logo. After we'd discussed a number of different ideas for what would become one of the most important parts of our brand, Tim was the man to make everything come together perfectly.
We went over to see Tim one lunchtime in East London to find out a bit more about his background and design process.
Photo by Tansy Drake
Could you tell everyone a little bit about your background? Where do you work and how did you get started in design?
My background is in graphic design and photography: I studied graphic design at Camberwell College of Arts. I was always interested in design and photography from an early age but it was skateboarding and the world that went with it that got me really excited. I'd spend hours pouring over any skateboard magazines that I could get my hands on – remember, this is pre-internet, so my obsession was limited to the monthly publishing cycles of R*A*D, Thrasher and Transworld with a bit of SK8 Action thrown in for good measure.
When I left art college, I did a short stint as the manager of a Snappy Snaps – which meant I pretty much developed everyone's photos for free. I remember going into Slam (City Skates) and Seth and Fos giving me bags of 35mm film from their holidays to get developed. During this time I was also teaching myself HTML and CSS and playing around with it. I can't remember what happened exactly but Tamsin (who was looking after the Slam site at the time) was going away for a bit so I took over from her and slowly became a full time Slam employee. Because of my graphics background, I quickly ended up doing all the adverts and web stuff and also started work on the Rough Trade website and design side of things. I've just finished the 3rd iteration of roughtrade.com which I designed and we had built by a really good dev guy called Al.
I still work for Rough Trade on a freelance basis, which means I'm coming up to 16 years of doing it which is pretty crazy and I've done a tiny bit of work for Slam in the last year.
After I left Rough Trade full time, I went and worked for the Evening Standard which was a massive change from being at the Slam warehouse or in the Rough Trade office in Brick Lane: it really opened my eyes to the horrible world of commercial design and marketing. Luckily for me, I had a really open manager and was left to get on with stuff and suggest loads of new ideas. I also got to work with Mark (Carroll) and together we slowly pushed stuff through, like suggesting they got a Twitter account and managing to re-design a ton of stuff. Working for a newspaper is a great place for any designer to learn to get faster at what they do, due to the crazy deadlines.
Is identity design and branding a specialism of yours?
In the last few years, I made a conscious decision to move away from coding and concentrate on the graphics side of things which makes it odd that for the last two and a half years I've been the digital manager at innocent drinks. The crossover of graphics and digital at innocent is huge and it was a great place to work and I met some amazing people. I left innocent two weeks ago and moved to a company called FutureGov to take up the role as Design Lead.
Our initial approach to Isle's aesthetic identity was to maintain an openness: instead of going down familiar or comfortable routes, we looked at a lot of contemporary art, fashion styling, and interior design which helped us work out what Isle is and isn't. What were some of your inspirations while working on the identity for Isle – or did the design come naturally without any direct influence?
I think the whole process was made easier by us sitting down and just looking at stuff and chatting. If you went back over all the visual inspiration we pulled together and sent around at the time, I think you could probably see design cues in these and how we ended up where we did. More indirect inspiration than straight-up 'let's go down this route'.
Initially, I thought it was going to be really hard to come up with something but once we'd agreed straight-up type wasn't working and I began to play around with the letter forms a bit more, it slotted into place quickly. I remember sending you the first draft and you coming back with suggestions that made it even stronger. I enjoyed the collaborative nature of the process. I'm a huge fan of working out stuff in black and white first and then working on the colours afterwards. If it doesn't work in black and white, you're in trouble.
Did you sketch your ideas out first or do you prefer to develop on the computer straight away? How many versions of the Isle logo did you work on before coming up with the final page of designs?
Firstly, I just looked at tons of stuff – everything from book covers to buildings – trying to find as much visual stimulus as possible. When I was at art college, I used to get some much grief for not sketching stuff out on paper but for Isle I did a few roughs first. 95% of the time I will go straight into Illustrator or InDesign and start moving stuff around and see what happens – everyone has different processes. Most of the designers in the creative team at innocent would sketch stuff on paper first. I'm not a very good drawer. I think I did about eight versions of the initial design and then a further four after you guys had fed back. I'd have expected to do way more but it just worked and minor tweaks each time made it better and better.
I think we each see different things in the logo. We can see some of the time-based ideas that we initially explored (using elements from clocks and compasses) and a slightly nautical style, connecting nicely to Isle, a word that means 'land-mass surrounded by water'. Were these concepts intentional, or just happy accidents?
I'd like to say they were intentional but I think it was more subliminal than anything else. Obviously I had the whole compass, time stuff floating around in the back of my head so somehow this crept through and influenced the final design. When I showed it to my 6 year-old son he just saw a smiling face. I love that it's different things to different people. People read things differently and, like Rorschach tests, they mean different things. I think we've managed to create something that's robust enough to work across multiple touch points.
Did you – or do you – have any other ideas that you'd like to explore for Isle? How does it feel seeing your logo brought to life?
I've had tons of ideas none of which are fully formed. When I was designing the logo, I was getting excited about how it could be used in motion based material – someone could do some cool motion graphics with it. Equally, I think it would be cool to deconstruct it a bit more and see what you can do with the shapes and how you can weave these into other graphics. I'd love to work on this collaboratively with you both and see where we get to. Also I think it would be nice to spend some time creating a colour system for the logo.
What other projects are you particularly proud of?
I think the Isle logo is one of my proudest moments over the last few years – and also the amount of work and time that went into the new Rough Trade website which launched in February 2013. It's hard when you work for companies like the Evening Standard and innocent to push change and create design that you are super proud of. You find yourself making small incremental design changes across a long period of time. Sometimes you get to work on things that break the norm and look and feel slightly differently. I think the last thing I did at innocent that caused a mild stir and was quite different from all the other stuff was a campaign called 'Healthy Jan' in January 2013. Rough Trade is great as the parameters are quite wide and everyone is up for pushing them.
What are your favourite brand identities, both skate-related and not skate-related?
This changes on a daily basis but one brand that's consistently good is Monocle magazine: I've been a fan since day one and follow what they do very closely. People like to hate on this brand but it carries itself across everything they do really well. I'm also a big fan of the Tattly brand. They have cornered a market so well and the design is perfect: I'd never wear a temporary tattoo but my kids love them.
It would be remiss of me to not mention innocent in here. Before I started working for them I was a fan. Over the years, the design and tone of voice has been copied by so many companies that it's diluted the original. They are acutely aware of this and I know they'll be moving things forward over the next few years: it's an exciting time for them and Dan Germain is still at the helm design/creative wise and this is a good thing.
Skate company wise there are so many. M-Zone/Anarchic Adjustment were so groundbreaking at the time, along with Ged's stuff (Insane), and then pretty much anything out of the Girl/Chocolate camp. Look at how much of a tangent Diamond has gone off on and it's consistently good. Plus all the smaller offshoots from the people who work there, Andy's (The Quiet Life) stuff just gets better and better. I've always been a fan of Don Pendleton's work and Micheal Leon's stuff he did as Commonwealth Stacks and Rasa Libra. I've recently started looking at all the old Stussy adverts. They were so good and captured a period in time so well.
Who are some of your favourite designers or artists? Are there any people whose work you make a point of following?
I guess I've kind of answered this in some form above, but I tend to follow a whole heap of people and blogs to keep up to date with people's work and new stuff. It's not always designers but crosses various fields.
Over and above the people I've already mentioned I will always keep an eye on Steve Harrington, Jessica Hische and Evan Hecox for illustration and typography. Ben Williams for his ability to see everything so differently. Nicholas Felton for his skill in data visualisation and what he's doing at Facebook. Shawn Stussy and all the new stuff he's up to with S-Double. Mark Porter and Mario Garcia for editorial design. Dan Hill for his take on all things design. The list goes on. Recently I've been listening to these hybrid design/tech podcasts: I've currently got 43 queued up.
What advice would you give to someone who was interested in pursuing design for the skate industry?
The best piece of advice would be to spend a lot of time looking and reading. It sounds obvious but I think there's a desire to jump straight into your Adobe application of choice and start designing. Look at the same genre you are working in, eg: skateboarding, and then move on. Don't let this define the direction you're going to take from to early on – you'll find way more inspiration from looking at some great packaging design or architecture journals than flipping through the pages of skateboard magazines. I realise this is a complete contradiction from what I did (see first answer) but I didn't have the luxury of the internet.