Underline Studio is a Toronto based graphic design firm who have worked with a wide range of companies including Youtube, Google and the University of Toronto. We recently asked them some questions, which were answered by their Founders, Fidel Peña and Claire Dawson.
What do you stand for?
We are committed to meaningful collaboration, and we seek out clients who, like us, have a genuine passion for what they do. We stand behind the belief that sophisticated and intelligent design communicates a client’s or own personal message clearly and with purpose.
What’s it like being a small studio in Toronto?
When we first opened Underline in 2005 being a small studio separated us from the competition. Back then most studios in Toronto were large and had many layers of structure. We were the younger, smaller, newer way of commissioning design — clients could deal directly with us, the partners, from start to finish, which was a novelty. It is less so now, there are many studios of our size or smaller in the city, but more clients are used to this way of working now. The conservative clients of years ago that expected account managers and agency-like structures seem to be phasing out or are stuck in very corporate boardrooms where we don’t really fit in anyway.
Simplicity shines through in your branding work. Why is it so key to your output?
By concentrating on the message to be communicated for a brand, we aim to strip all the unnecessary information away. This usually results in also removing all the unnecessary visual props and revealing the core message and idea by what it is. We are constantly hoping to work with clients who have a similar aim.
Can you talk about the development process of the Art Museum identity and how it resulted in looking like it does now?
The Justina M. Barnicke Gallery and the University of Toronto Art Centre were two separate galleries that were coming together as one entity with a new name. This presented a great opportunity for re-positioning the Museum as a unique university Museum that plays an important role in the cultural life of the people of Toronto and the students at the University. The University of Toronto is located in downtown Toronto and the Museum is at the heart of the main campus that consists of many beautiful historic buildings. In order to stand out physically and metaphorically, the brand needed to be modern and bold. By setting the logo at the same angle as the street grid of Toronto we emphasized both the connection of the Museum to the city, and to the University. Ironically it was a very complex process to get to this simple solution because of so many different stakeholders needs. The client’s commitment to have it be 'simple, simple, simple' was a huge part of the final solution.
Which company would you love to rebrand?
Any company with appreciation for design, taste, some intelligence and a healthy production budget. An example would be Anagrama, a Spanish publisher of great books with a great name. Maybe they’ll read this!
What are the references for the different typefaces used for the Scarborough Town Centre identity?
When STC came to us they had a personality problem and needed to look more contemporary while not alienating some of their current clients. We created a set of custom typefaces based on Circular that could be used interchangeably to provide them with a wide range of voices for their new brand. We balanced the 'coolness' of these new faces with the elegance of Chronicle as it was very important for them to be seen as a high end retail destination. The idea of the various typefaces came from the concept of representing the variety of brands within the space. This flexibility expanded to the acronym itself, which kept constantly changing and was even illustrated by Janine Rewell for their 2015 Holiday campaign.
Which of your projects means the most to you?
Those that go beyond communicating a commercial need, like our El Salvador Martyrs Newspaper or our current issue of Wayward Arts Magazine that deals with Canada’s Indigenous issues.
What things are essential in the Underline studio?
Collaboration, perfectionism, thinking, reading, feeling and lots of patience.
What was it like working with Google and Vice on the Go North publication?
For contractual reasons this is the first project for Google that we can publicly show but it’s actually our 6th project for them so far. A project with them is a dream project in many ways — high levels of expectation and taste plus very healthy production and photography budgets. However, as with any larger corporation there are challenges along the way with approvals, content creation and coordination. But these are challenges that we are half-expecting and don’t mind when we are as pleased with the final product as with are with these lookbooks.
Do you have plans for how Underline will evolve in the future?
Not really, we seem to do best when working hard to respond our current demands — whether that is for commissioned or self-initiated work.
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