The Brand Identity

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HOLT is the Sydney-based graphic design, photography and publishing practice of Australian designer Christopher Holt. His work never relies on a singular logo, and instead employs fluid systems that move between bold typography, considered colour choices, thoughtful tone of voice and beautiful imagery. We recently spoke to Christopher to find out more.

The Brand Identity: What experiences led you to start your own design practice?

Christopher Holt: I studied at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. It was a time of great change in visual communication, namely due to the Apple computer. It was, of course, making things more accessible and as a result, there were more independent studios. I was inspired by this new spirit and wanted to approach things in my own way. I was lucky enough to secure a client from my graduating show and a few more followed.

“I love ideas, it’s the thrill of it, the researching, the thinking and discovery.”

TBI: How would you describe your approach to design?

CH: I love ideas, it’s the thrill of it, the researching, the thinking and discovery. I have to say I’m not a believer in strategy documents the industry has become obsessed with. The strategy for me is part of the process, discussing and understanding the client and what they are trying to achieve. I like to distil things to their essence, I love geometry and structure, however, intuition also plays a big part.

TBI: ‘Strategy’ is a commercial repackaging of thinking. Would you agree?

CH: Yes, that’s a nice way of putting it. I would certainly agree. A thoughtful (strategic) approach is of course needed, as we are trying to help businesses communicate more effectively through design. I always laugh when I see what is clearly an internal strategic tagline used as part of the consumer-facing design solution.

TBI: Do you think the way a graphic design company labels itself – studio, agency, practice, consultancy – matters?

CH: I suppose, it’s about attracting like-minded clients, and this labelling can help to communicate an approach, for me, ‘practice’ suggests an everyday commitment to pushing and developing the discipline and craft, so I label HOLT as a practice.

“I am a strong believer in making things outside of commercial constraints.”

TBI: Can you tell us about your self-published book, Blessington Street?

CH: The book is one of those things that I always come back to. I have a photography book that I think I looked at every night over a period of twelve months. My partner wondered what I could possibly see in it after so many viewings. That’s the beauty of it, I would discover something different every time. I have been photographing and making books for over 10 years, it’s the entire process that I am drawn to. The book ‘Blessington Street’ documents the corner of my room, over twelve months, photographed from the same point of view. I was drawn to the idea of telling a story through a simple change in objects within the same frame.

TBI: How important do you think it is to create self-initiated side projects alongside commercial work?

CH: I am a strong believer in making things outside of commercial constraints, it helps refine your view, discover different ways of doing and seeing things which can, in turn, inform the commercial work. I initially started photography because I hated holidays and this gave me an outlet to be busy all the time. I also don’t like the idea that my creative output depended on what clients I could win.

I often collect things, subconscious arrangements, if you like, I find on the street, like a pile of tree branches, neatly collected, stacked and tied together. I photograph them in the backyard, process the film in the bathroom, scan them, and design a book. There’s something nice about simply making something because you want to.

TBI: Do you have an example of where something you did or learnt for a side project influenced a commercial project?

CH: It influences your approach as a whole. It comes through with every project. The kind of photography I do, which is the focus of my side practice, is somewhat slow and considered, it involves a lot of decision making. It’s this decision making process that influences the way I approach a commercial project.

“I started out as a designer and I’m still a designer however I’ve also evolved into a business person. ”

TBI: Can you highlight a challenge you’ve faced since starting out?

CH: Learning to confidently negotiate the business world would certainly have to be the biggest challenge. I started out as a designer and I’m still a designer however I’ve also evolved into a business person. 

TBI: What impact, if any, would you say Instagram has had on your practice?

CH: Instagram has allowed me to work with a great deal more international clients and has also provided an endless source of inspiration. I would say it has had a significant impact.

“I find a wordmark is more effective at being integrated into the brand as a whole.”

TBI: The identities you create rarely have a ‘logo’ and instead revolve around a larger typographic system led by copy, imagery, materials and colour. What drives that approach?

CH: Yes, I have never been a big fan of the logo as such. I find a wordmark is more effective at being integrated into the brand as a whole, driving the tone of voice and communicating the idea.

TBI: Are there any details you can share on what you have lined up for the rest of 2020?

CH: I am currently working with the founder of an American based law firm, he’s a great believer in the power of design and it’s been a very rewarding working relationship, so I’m looking forward to showing this work. I am also launching, after many years, an online store to sell the photography books I have been making, and a photography website that will include over ten years of work that I have rarely shown. A big moment!

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