DIA is a strategy and design consultancy based in New York. We recently caught up with Creative Director, Mitch Paone.
Life or Death was without doubt our favourite project last year. Where does it rank with you guys?
Life or Death was definitely great project for us last year. The team had a wonderful collaborative spirit during the creative process which ultimately drove the work to a solid place. At the approval/release of the project we all felt fairly confident both the concept and aesthetic of the work felt right but you never really know for sure until it hits the market. With that said, the public response of the work was very reassuring!
Did it chop and change much during the creative process?
We try our best to keep our creative process as tight as possible to make sure the project doesn’t derail. However, I would say the Life or Death team required a bit more handholding and wrangling, which made the process a little frustrating. We felt so strongly about the soundwave/heart monitor concept we were able to convince the client it was the right direction for them.
“The team had a wonderful collaborative spirit during the creative process which ultimately drove the work to a solid place.”
We’re loving the new DIA website, what inspired the Input/Output approach?
We wanted our site to lead with the ‘Why’ and ‘How’ we do things versus just attractive imagery or the ‘What’ (work). Our old site showcased our design portfolio nicely but we became unsatisfied with it since it didn’t shed light on our studio’s philosophical practice and creative process.
INPUT: Our studio’s ethos and creative process.
OUTPUT: The result of our studio’s ethos and creative process. Our work.
Additionally, we felt the OUTPUT would be best represented showcasing all the work we produce whether it’s an exhibition poster, typeface, or an identity project for a fortune 500 company in a mosaic of small thumbnails. We apply an equal level of intensity to everything we create so the work needed to be presented without highlight on ‘best projects’ or ‘big clients’. The OUTPUT page is a visual reflection of our studio’s INPUT giving the big picture of our evolving and shapeshifting body of work.
Overall, it’s important that we set expectations for both our clients and collaborators on how and why we work a certain way. Not to downplay the imagery of the work as it is still showcased in an attractive way but to us the process, thinking, strategy and concepts are the true value to our clients versus polished aesthetic execution. Thoughtful and polished execution is simply an internal mandate.
Can you describe your studio environment?
DIA’s environment and process was developed on an amalgamation of past experiences; mainly freelancing at a large array of design studios, ad agencies, and production companies both on the account and creative sides. We basically cherry picked what we thought worked best and mixed that into a formula for what we abide by at DIA (this is always a work in progress of course). With all this in mind we’ve put a lot of effort into creating an office space that champions collaboration, education and productivity while still being comfortable. Details such as the desk layout, light, plant life, organisation, cleanliness, healthy snacks… have all been carefully considered and maintained to support this.
Beyond the physical workspace our creative process is hyper-collaborative so it’s important that there is a positive familial chemistry with the team. We look at the work as a whole of DIA rather an individual’s creations so everything we do from design iteration, sketches, creative treatments… are sharable and all team members have access to iterate on each others files and ideas. This method dissolves individual attachment to work and ideas and helps push the work much further than expected. A positive side effect of this is that it kills any inner studio competitiveness, which we’ve found is always toxic to a studio environment. Additionally, we are all expected to share knowledge with each other whether it’s a simple technical skill in After Effects or learning to draw a typeface. Education reigns supreme at DIA and definitely helps keep us sharp.
To help maintain collective camaraderie we lunch together everyday and try to avoid critical work/design gossip and talk about life and share stories. We try to get out of the office every Friday for a team lunch and a beer.
Overall, we don’t take ourselves seriously but we take our work seriously! We feel by having a great environment where people want to work and a process in place where people want to collaborate, share, and want to learn not only results in great work for our clients, but it also keeps us improving and evolving.
What inspired the pastel and copper combinations for your recent identity for Le Mise?
Le Mise offers a personal approach to art collecting versus the cold austere nature of larger galleries. We chose the colours to carry that warmth and approachability into the identity. Overall the identity is very rooted in a cultural/arts sector visual language, however, with the pastel colours and subtle expressive touch in the typography it is definitely unique in its category.
Where do the DIA team look for inspiration?
Inspiration for our identity work comes out of our research on a particular subject. Generally we aren’t able to create any ideas worth merit until we have a solid understanding of the the subject matter we are working with.
I think our Greg Sorensen project is a good example. For that project we spent about a week collecting imagery and reading about all things related to photography. From photographic aesthetic methods to technical camera related things and everything inbetween. During the project we broke down just about every aspect of photography from cameras, lenses, lighting, aperture, film… and then began to sketch out ideas based on these specific categories. Eventually this led us to a very minimal striking concept that is abstract, but directly related to photography by the usage of the F-Stop marks, cylindrical shape of the lense, and the motion was based on the lens focus hand action. This concept then was worked out across all relevant platforms and design pieces both as a logo and informed the grid system for all the layouts.
“The Bauhaus, and mid-century design and post-modern design movements in Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands serve as a heavy influence on our work.”
We believe first and foremost before any aesthetic decision is made we need a strong visual concept. Once we have a concept figured out we then work out all of the aesthetic design decisions, which are made through our understanding of a project’s audience. Aesthetic inspiration primarily comes from a combination of historical design movements and an analysis of a brand’s competitive landscape. We want to make sure we are carving out a look and feel for the client that is striking and challenges convention while being empathetic to the desired audience. The historical design reference is helpful because it provides context to the elements we decide to use (especially the typographic component). Ultimately we want to make sure every decision from logo concept down to business card layout has a level of purpose and intention.
The Bauhaus, and mid-century design and post-modern design movements in Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands serve as a heavy influence on our work.
The obvious figures are Emil Ruder and Josef Muller Brockmann, who always provide a good point of reference for us. Additionally, Wolfgang Weingart, Karel Martens, and Hans-Rudolf Lutz are important in our study as they expand on modernism in a more expressive way, which we find particularly interesting in a branding context. We feel that if we are digging into the crates of tried and true design history it helps inspire us to evolve on those ideas rather than focusing on what is popular and trendy.
Would you say a different approach is required when designing for a creative to designing for a corporate company?
There are definitely slightly different approaches to our large branding projects versus the purely design projects. Our branding projects are all driven by strategy, which means both the visual concept has to relate to the corporation’s product or service and the aesthetic of the project is considerate of a target audience. This requires a lot of workshops and research before we dive into any creative development. On the other hand our editorial, exhibition or poster work is based on the subject matter/content providing the foundation for our design decisions.
For book covers and posters… it’s still very important that we have a conceptual approach to the work but we can definitely push the envelope visually because we aren’t too concerned with appealing to a specific target audience. The Brett Reif catalogue is a good example. The typographic illustration visually represents Brett’s usage of tiles in his sculpture work and conceptually relates to the name ‘Downpoor’. To expand on the cover concept we created a custom typeface of rotated letters that serves as headline typography throughout the book. While we created a ton of other iterations for this cover we felt this version was the most on point conceptually and was visually engaging at the same time.
As a whole for both design and branding projects we do believe in pushing our clients beyond their comfort zones and don’t believe in a ‘safe option’. We believe if we are challenging people’s visual vocabulary regardless of how polarising it may be it will lead to a more memorable visual experience. We would much prefer to hear ‘it’s ugly and I hate it’ than ‘it’s just fine’.
If we can push the level of experimentation in corporate branding and large scale design projects this will have much more cultural impact than our boutique work. Luckily we have progressive clients and do a lot of internal experimental work that serves as a platform for us to incubate these creative ideas for a bigger stage. This strange middle ground between corporate and experimental is our studios sweet spot, which coincidentally helps us avoid being pigeon holed by a style or getting stuck in doing work in a specific industry sector.
“The identity is a flexible typographic system using a monospace logotype that expands and contracts to dimensions of a layout.”
Can you describe the concept behind your identity for Parallel Projects?
A little context… Parallel Projects is a financial consultant for creative individuals and studios. We came up with the name Parallel Projects to reference their level of support and emphasise that is paramount in running a successful business. Quite literally they work in parallel with the individual or studio leaving them to focus on their creative work while they help with the business management and financial planning. The identity is a flexible typographic system using a monospace logotype that expands and contracts to dimensions of a layout. Parallel and Projects are always lined up on opposite sides of a composition to illustrate the idea of support, structure and organisation, which are core tenets of the Parallel Projects offering.
What’s the best part about being based in New York?
Best part of being in New York is the food!
Worst part of being in New York is the rent!