High Tide is a New York based design agency, led by Creative Director Danny Miller and Managing Director Jill Cole. We caught up with Danny to hear about their background and a few of their projects.
How did you come to starting High Tide and what made you want to do it?
Shortly after graduating college, I moved back to New York and began working as an art director for a big record label. It was a great experience and I learned a lot, but like many creatives working in a corporate environment, I quickly yearned for more freedom and flexibility. I had a great mentor named Kallen Yan who taught me a lot about the design world and the importance of creating meaningful work that is more than just a set of graphics. This coupled with being raised by a set of parents who were both self-employed — my father was a painter and my mother was involved in real estate — provided me with the initial confidence to start something on my own. Around that time (the late aughts), I was meeting a lot of startup founders who seemed to understand and appreciate good design — they saw how much it could enhance their customer’s experience of their brand. When I first went out on my own, this community offered many opportunities and challenges that helped me to establish and evolve High Tide. I still find it really satisfying to work closely with founders, helping them translate their vision and ideas into the world.
How has the agency evolved since you started?
On one level, we’ve grown our team from 2 quasi-generalists to 10 folks who are really, really good at their specialty. This, in turn, has allowed us to create more multi-dimensional work across more mediums. On another level, we’re continuously evolving our processes to reflect changes we perceive among consumer audiences and clients’ needs.
Why did you choose to reference Scandinavian design for the Dig Inn branding?
When we received the brief from Dig Inn where they shared their newly defined values and such, we were struck by the affinity between their brand and certain aspects of Scandinavian design. There is something essential and sincere about both, where warmth and community are high priorities. The Nordic countries have an interesting relationship to light given the short summers and long winters, and their designers are always devising ways to maximise it. This was also very important to Dig Inn. They wanted to keep the cozy feeling one might expect from a place serving such wholesome food, but lose any sense of darkness or heaviness. Light and warmth were guiding themes.
What’s the best part of being a design studio in New York City?
It’s so easy for us to find inspiration in the city just by walking around, popping into one of the many amazing bookshops, museums and galleries. Even seeing a great concert can be super inspiring and motivate us to be creative the next day at the office. New York is so culturally rich, and I think the mix of so many different people and cultures generates a lot of unique and interesting things.
Do you have a typical studio process for tackling a new brief?
The process we lay out really depends on the project, but for branding, it typically starts with a series of interviews or a long download session with the client. We’re looking to understand why the brand exists, who their audience is, what their priorities are, etc. Once we feel we understand the client’s perspective, we go through an extensive research phase, presenting the results to the client in order to ratify the strategic thinking that will inform the visual direction. Moving into design, we start with mood boards to align on an overall look & feel. From there, we begin developing various identity systems, making sure that all the design decisions effectively communicate the brand’s story while addressing its business needs. From that point on, it’s about continuing to refine and distill, working everything out until it looks and feels cohesive and harmonious.
Why did you choose to use copper foil throughout the Sweet Whistle brand?
For Sweet Whistle, the unboxing experience was so important — we spent a lot of time exploring all the ways we could accentuate the tactile and visual experience of receiving one of their gifts. Copper or gold foil, when used tastefully, can add a layer of sophistication and feels classic and modern at the same time. In this case, we felt that the copper foil provided a nice contrast to the multi-textured matte papers we used for the printed pieces.
Which of your projects do you feel represents you the most as a studio?
That’s a tough question. We’re always evolving, and each project presents unique challenges and opens up new ways of thinking and seeing that change us moving forward. In an ideal sense, though, I would say that the Warby Parker identity best represents our work in that it hasn’t lost its impact despite many imitators. Meaningful design choices really stand the test of time — it’s been almost 10 years since we created Warby’s branding, and it still feels as fresh and relevant today as it did then.
With most of your projects having print and digital outputs, how do you work on them across your team?
Everyone on our team brings their unique experience and perspectives to a project, so it’s important that everyone know their strengths and weaknesses. Operationally, we are avid users of Slack, Asana, and Dropbox, and have a killer project manager.
What’s on the cards for High Tide in the rest of 2017?
We’ve been working on a bunch of projects in the food & hospitality space that include branding, packaging, signage, and digital. These will launch later in the summer. We’ve also been working with a few fashion and accessory brands, something we’d love to do more of.
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