It’s time to celebrate! We look back with Forth + Back as they reach their five-year anniversary
When you launch your own studio, any milestone (first client, first year, first award) is always significant, so at The Brand Identity, we love to highlight big achievements. Celebrating their fifth birthday with a new site and brand refresh to boot, Los Angeles-based studio Forth + Back have plenty to talk about. When we caught up with Founders & Creative Directors Nikolos Killian and Tanner Woodbury, the duo revealed what the studio has been up to, and how they reflect on the studio’s first five years.
PT Congrats on the five-year anniversary! How do you feel?
FB Many thanks! Five is big for us – and we’re feeling stronger than ever!
PT What do you think the biggest changes have been throughout that time?
FB So many changes. Probably one of the most significant changes we’ve gone through with being a small studio, has been our capacity to scale our team up in size through our curated network of contractors/collaborators when a project demands it. The ability to grow our team as needed has allowed us to expand our services and offer more all-encompassing design packages for our clients. Now the projects, and the possibility for what we can accomplish within those projects, have been growing in all directions, and as a result, have been evolving the studio in really exciting ways.
PT What about the biggest challenges? What did you learn from them?
FB Changes and challenges sometimes very much go hand in hand. The challenge of needing a larger team led to the change in our hiring process and the way we build specific teams for specific projects. As creatives, a lot of times the business side of the studio does not come as naturally. So all of the little things – hiring, conducting interviews, payroll, tax forms, etc, can be arduous initially (especially when there are also creative deadlines to be met), but ultimately are all a part of the necessary growing pains. And as we’ve found, once the foundation is set, building on top of it becomes much easier.
PT Out of all your projects, which ones would you put in the Forth + Back hall of fame?
FB We truly do love most of the projects we’ve worked on, but we think a special place is reserved for those projects that came with a larger shift in our studio around being able to offer something that maybe we hadn’t fully been able to before.
In our minds, it was the rebranding project for the University of California Riverside’s art museum UCR Arts that fully tested our ability to create and implement a full-scale identity system over all aspects, both physical and digital, of an organisation’s brand. Being rather young and fairly green to running a studio – after the completion of that project, we felt like we could take on anything.
Additionally, when we produced our first book, Dreams of New York, we learned incredible lessons about the print process. After not only going through the design process involved in a print publication, but also the actual printing and distribution process – we came out on the other end feeling both humbled and extremely confident about the next print project. We still always encounter a jolt of pride when we enter a shop/home/studio and find a copy of DONY.
Again, there are so many projects where we’ve had these types of learning moments – both large and small. Honestly, one that comes to mind as of recent is the design and development of our current site. We’ve of course done digital projects and designed for the web in the past, but the scrutiny (for better or worse) on the design and implementation of our own brand through web, came with invaluable lessons and takeaways that we will most definitely bring to our digital work as we go forward.
(We) allow ourselves to constantly fall in love with the process.
PT Getting introspective, how would you say you’ve changed alongside the studio?
FB We think aside from the actual work and our process, as individuals we’ve become much more patient with both ourselves and our clients. Our younger selves were much more eager to get results. Now, we are more at peace with sitting in the moments of a process. This not only translates to the actual design process, but even our day-to-day of running a studio. Things like wanting a bigger space, wanting higher paying gigs, wanting that dream project etc, and for it all to happen right away – we have become much more content with understanding that these things come in time and need not be rushed. And really to allow ourselves to constantly fall in love with the process and continue to appreciate our ability to be a part of this living and breathing thing that we’ve built, where we get to be creative with friends on a daily basis, and bring ideas into the world.
PT What do you think your biggest strengths are now compared to when you started out?
FB That’s a great question! However, our response might sound quite simple – experience. Not that we’re such seasoned veterans, but really for the simple fact that we’ve experienced so many different types of projects, people and processes compared to when we first started out. Throughout our careers, we’ve worked for in-house brands, in small studio environments, and for large to huge-scale corporations. Additionally, with a bit of experience comes the skill of adaptation. We’ve worked with large budgets, small budgets, and at times, no budget. The through-line being we’ve strived to create great work in all scenarios. Each of which comes with unique limitations. The navigation of these varied situations has helped to bring us our distinctive voice.
PT Is there anything that you’d like to work on or think you could improve on?
FB So many things. We think just staying up with the times is incalculably important. Our ever-shifting times – current events, art, fashion and new tech. It’s a good thing we’re naturally curious by nature! More specifically, staying on top of current capabilities in software and technology that can directly affect our industry we find very important. We’re currently fascinated/terrified with the use of AI as a tool within design, and the seemingly exponential applications of it as we move forward.
PT If you could describe Forth + Back in three words, what would they be?
FB Simple. Bold. Curious. We always strive to cut directly to the viewer in a simple, yet not simplistic way. Being bold is both an ethos and sums up our approach to visuals – yet being bold doesn’t always mean shouting. Finally, like we mentioned, we’re quite curious by nature. But more so, we want to provoke a reaction in our viewers. We aim to create work that inspires a second look and a deeper dive. However, we go back to our first pillar of simplicity and always try not to overly complicate on first glance. Maybe a better word for us should be ‘paradox’?
Now, if a brand decides to print something – it is treated as more special.
PT What did you want to communicate with your new website?
FB Probably, the above answer on an emotional level. On a more practical level, we wanted to communicate that our studio has grown up. We’re more experienced since when we started and our offerings have increased. At the same time, we’re just as hungry and excited to play around with new ideas. We really love our ‘Studies’ page where we will continue to showcase outtakes, WIP, and sidesteps from our projects.
PT Looking outwards, would you say the industry around you has changed much?
FB Definitely. In our relatively short time working in this industry, we’ve seen many changes. The stigma around freelance and WFH as we progressed through the pandemic, saw ever more acceptance around these modes of working. As a whole it feels like the importance of design for the non-designer is at an all-time high. The language of designers (things like typefaces, software and design-related trends to name a few) seems to be ever more important to potential clients.
Additionally, and this has been a long time coming, but the roles of digital and print design have fully shifted. We started out at the tail end of this shift of graphic design being largely produced for print. Now, of course, digital-first is the necessary way of the future. Designing for brands is designing for multiple arrays of dynamic digital environments. Print is not dead however, it is just generally not the first-case scenario for branding and graphic design work. It is a bit sad to see print becoming less and less prevalent, though now print is handled as a luxury addition to most brands. What we mean by this is that now if a brand decides to print something – whether that be a book, brochure, or even letterhead – it is treated as more special. There is now more intentionality about what is being printed, which for the graphic designer means exciting new importance to what we all know and love about print.
PT Can you tell us about what you’ve been up to lately?
FB Yes! We’ve had the pleasure of working on a variety of fun projects recently. As we mentioned, a big one being the visual refreshing of our own brand which we hadn’t done since we started. That felt like a needed update and we’re really happy with where our new brand is at currently. It was important for us to not abandon what we had originally created, but evolve our brand to a level where it can live, adapt, and flourish in a variety of new settings.
Aside from that, we had the opportunity to collaborate again with our good friend and talented director Jess Colquhoun on her project with Stept Studios for Smirnoff titled The Sound of Bed-Stuy. The project was a documentary short shot in Bed-Stuy about a collective of musicians and sound system aficionados who go by the name Dub-Stuy. We helped find the visual language for the project which culminated in titles for the film as well as peripheral collateral for the rollout of the film.
We’ve also recently been fortunate enough to work with The Athletic on a handful of projects for both print and film. The first being a commercial campaign with the talented folks at Ways & Means. We helped design and animate a collection of screen visuals that play out in a nail-biting crescendo for two spots for both football and basketball. Additionally, we’ve been assisting the internal team of The Athletic with a series of books that will be produced with a handful of notable publishers down the line.
In addition, we’re also looking forward to sharing a handful of case studies later this year for various projects we've recently completed for clients in architecture, fashion and film.
PT Outside of your client projects, have you been working on any fun side or passion projects?
FB We have two typefaces that we’ve been meticulously grooming for release – hopefully both this year. This is really exciting for us as we’ve never officially released a typeface and are excited to see how designers use them in the years to come.
PT Moving forward, what can we look forward to seeing from you?
FB Hopefully, projects that continue to surprise both our clients and our passionate viewers. We’d love to produce more studio-related projects/products and develop our brand as we continue to grow :)