Sweeping, film-quality images transporting you through the seasons to dynamic views of remote vineyards on the West Sonoma Coast… This is how we begin to tell the unique story of Red Car Wine in their just-released website. CDA collaboratively developed each element of the brand identity, from the artistry of Red Car’s wine labels and packaging, to the strategic tasting room print collateral and signage — each design detail marrying well with the sophistication and subtlety that Red Car Wine pours into their refined craft — and making all the difference.
At the close of 2014 we celebrated in style Max Spector’s 15 years of working at CDA. Full speed ahead into 2015 and we’re eager to see what fresh work he’s got for us all going forward… for another 15 years at least! Enjoy this January’s staff highlight including personal stories from CDA’s tried and true brand storyteller.
Q: How was creativity explored and encouraged in your upbringing? Your early education had some pretty formative influence, yes?
Creativity was thoroughly encouraged by my parents and the larger community. My grade school allotted hours each day to creative pursuits, everything from woodworking to weaving, pottery to painting. I spent most of my time in the art room drawing hideously violent comic books with my friends. I’d say my first foray into graphic design however, was drawing football and baseball players as a child, crafting unique combinations of colors, stripes, helmet logos… I loved the constrained space in which to create — all football uniforms have lines running down the legs, but will you use a thick double line? Three thin lines? How many different colors? etc.
Q: Having started out in Architecture at Cal Poly, how did you know you needed to switch? What was it like after you changed majors?
The reasons to leave architecture were so numerous… eventually it just became crystal clear, it was not the field for me. I fell into graphic design in a way that was almost by accident, but in another way represented one of the single best life choices I’ve ever made. Once I knew I would be leaving architecture, I figured most likely I would graduate college without a career path, so I simply asked myself, “What classes will I enjoy the most?” The answer was a no brainer: art! As it turned out though, Cal Poly didn’t have a studio art major at the time, so I ended up picking the next closest thing: graphic design. It’s safe to say I loved it from the very beginning. And of course, my two years of architecture proved immensely valuable.
Q: As Design Director, what aspects of your role do you especially enjoy? Are there types of projects you particularly love to tackle?
The thing I value about my role, more than anything else, is that I get to take a leadership role in our projects, and with our clients, without sacrificing the thing I love the most: doing the work of graphic design! I’ve found more and more over the years that I love directing our team as well. And the project management component comes with its own rewards as well: shaping the arc of a project and building relationships with clients. I appreciate the role I’ve been given so very much. I don’t think it exists very many other places.
Q: Advice for designers starting out? Lessons you’ve learned?
There’s just no substitute for killer chops. Make sure your portfolio shows your immense talent. If it’s wild and off the wall, even better. I want to see the coolest, craziest stuff you can come up with, not some stiff buttoned-up book that follows all the rules and takes no chances.
In terms of attitude or approach, there are two main attributes I value: eagerness and conviction. If you’re a young designer who can believe in your work without losing your open-minded spirit, and if you can stay enthusiastic without turning into a push-over, then I want to hire you.
Q: Any funny/unusual/harried project-related stories to share?
One of my first really cool projects was for WebAppFactory. We made this super cool business system -- metal business cards, debossed folders, wrapping labels -- and only received a handful of samples. Not long after the project ended, during the dot com bust, the company went under. We called them up asking if we could get a few more of their samples (now that they didn’t need them anymore), only to learn that they had thrown everything in the trash. We cried many tears.
I also remember spending a frantic afternoon down at Apex Die, assembling promo pieces for the Mohawk Show Party that was slated for that night. Two of Mohawk’s reps were there helping me get it done. During down time while the presses were running we played tag in their warehouse.
Then there was the project (which shall remain nameless), toward the end of our relationship their feedback on our cover layouts got so awful, we started intentionally making the worst cover design we possibly could. They loved it.
Q: I remember when our office was on Howard and 2nd — you came into work and your home had been burned down!
I did have two separate homes burn, but actually got really lucky. Never lost everything. In fact, in both fires, my room was somehow miraculously spared. In the first fire, which happened after I’d lived in the city for barely two months, my room was literally the only one in the apartment that wasn’t completely destroyed.
That’s amazing Max. I hope Michaela and Nina don’t play with matches like your old housemates!
Q: You were single for much of your tenure here... How has marriage and parenthood affected you and your working at CDA?
I actually don’t think it has affected my work here at CDA very much. It’s true that home holds more of an appeal for me than it used to, but being at the office is also a sanctuary of sorts.
Q: In what ways have you evolved as a designer over the last 15 years?
I’ve certainly learned to pick my battles, learned how to play peacemaker with clients (Softly Catchee Monkey, as Josh calls it), and overall learned that essentially everything we do here is branding, at one level or another. Brand storytelling is how I see our work here, and I’m prouder every day of what we’re able to accomplish with our little team.
Somewhere along the way I also started to recognize where the real joy in the process is for me. It’s not in the finished product, which can be quite rewarding sometimes but often falls short of the potential I see for it. The real joy is actually somewhere mid-process, when a little creative breakthrough happens and I’m almost surprised by the images I’ve just made. There’s a kind of jolt of excitement when something really cool comes together -- whether it’s on the sketch pad or the monitor -- and it’s something really personal; it belongs to only me. The work may get pushed in one direction or another from there, as other voices join the mix, but in one little moment it’s perfect.
Q: Who have been your design heroes and inspirations?
Charles S. Anderson, Martin Venezky, Laurie DeMartino, Stefan Sagmeister, Mary Blair, Jason Schulte, Charles Wilkin, Tolleson Design, Cahan Associates, Elixir Design, Psyop, Aesthetic Apparatus, David Carson, and so many more that I can’t possibly list here.
My work is influenced by different things over time, often by whichever designer or designers I’m most inspired by during that period of time. Some of their style or process filters its way into mine. I’m very ok with that.
Q: What keeps design fresh for you? How do you re-charge?
I’m happy to say, design has not really ever needed a recharge for me. Every new project comes with the promise of new growth and discovery. It’s a happy marriage, I just love it.
I absolutely love doing my own screen-printed projects (when I can find the time). I get to be the client, designer, and printer all in one. It’s a beautiful sense of freedom.
Q: Where are you and what are you doing when you’re not here?
When I’m not here you can pretty much bet that I’m at home with Nina. Or maybe at the climbing gym.
Q: Your dreams, aspirations? What might the next 15 years have in store for Max Spector?
Here at CDA, I envision an ever-increasing leadership role here on the team. I would love to carve out my own little screen printing workspace at home. And who knows, maybe another little Spector down the road.
Max’s Favorites +
- Color: Blue (growing up), then orange (in college), currently brown.
- Comfort Food: The chicken bread salad from Zuni Cafe.
- Book: Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins
- TV: The Wire, The Simpsons, Arrested Development
- Movie: The Shawshank Redemption, The Incredibles, Wall•E, Big Night, The Big Lebowski
- Pet Peeve: Safe design, clients as art directors, dishonest whiskey
- Best stress reliever: Playing soccer or climbing
- You’re happiest when? Nina is laughing
Your most obvious characteristic? Probably my intense stare (which is entirely unintentional)
A favorite journey? Tanzania and Zambia for the solar eclipse, 2001
Essential tools? Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign (did you mean physical tools? No way!)
Guilty pleasure? Whatever addictive iPhone game I’m currently playing, which undoubtedly is driving my wife crazy because I won’t put my phone down.
You’re currently reading? A Movable Feast, Hemingway
Great place for R & R? Yuba River
A key moment in your life? The day I started taking design classes in college (see above).
You knew you had grown up when… Still waitin’
Your favorite city? San Francisco on a hot sunny day. Otherwise Paris.
What you’d do if you had another life? Graphic Design. And maybe I’d surf.
What you’ll be remembered for? My students will remember me for pushing them toward wildness, weirdness, and risk in their work. Nina will remember me for being silly, inventive, and relentlessly loving. Oh, and most likely I’ll be remembered as the greatest designer who ever graced the planet earth. Ever.
Managing the studio at Chen Design Associates is not for the faint of heart. The pressure of deadlines, meeting preparations, travel arrangements and unwieldy schedules… you might just need the patience of a bread baker or the strength of a fisherman. Fortunately the team at CDA has both in the friendly voice and organizational mastermind of Deborah Ogburn. A Kansas City native, she came to the City by the Bay via Boulder, Colorado where she studied Humanities. On weekends you might spot her walking in The Mission District where she lives or perusing the bulk section of Rainbow Grocery.
Q: I’ve seen you be efficient, calm and kind under pressure. What experiences have prepared you for this role of keeping the hub of CDA running smoothly?
My past jobs have included other administrative positions, high school academic counselor, deli counter person, hotel maid (worst job ever — I try to always tip when i stay at a hotel!), and most importantly mom. In my previous workplaces, I’ve had to work for and with a variety of people.
Q: As CDA’s studio manager, what aspects of your role do you especially enjoy?
Here at CDA, I interact with designers, interns, vendors, potential & current clients… It’s a good fit for a “people person” like me. I enjoy the variety of work that I get to do — human resources, product research, accounting, party planning. Every day looks a little different.
Q: In the last 2 years you’ve worked here at CDA, what have been your top 3 projects?
1. Gramr Gratitude Co. — This was such an interesting project and one that has broad appeal. I liked it so much I was a Kickstarter supporter. My Gramr box sits in my dining room and occasionally as a way of saying “grace” before meals, my family will write a thank you note.
2. Creative (un)Blocks for Neenah Paper — This project was just finishing up when I came on board. There was an amazing amount of work that went into it — everyone played a part. It was satisfying to see the final product.
3. Craftsman and Wolves — As part of my duties, I “have” to stop in occasionally at Craftsman and Wolves to pick up snacks for client meetings. It’s great to see CDA’s work “in the real world” not just in the studio. This image shows some recent Halloween visuals the creative team worked on for some spooky treats.
Q: So what do you recommend getting at Craftsman and Wolves?
The cube cakes. Those designs!
Q: What recharges you after a full day at CDA?
I love good food and good conversation. I’m thoroughly recharged when I have a chance to go out to dinner with my family, have lunch with a friend downtown, or go on a hike with a group of people.
Q: Tell us more about your passions.
On a day off I’ll go fishing. I also enjoy baking bread. I love food and cooking for others — my language of love. I like to be with kids of all ages, my own and their friends. Much of my volunteering has been with kids. Our family lives in a co-housing arrangement and it’s wonderful to have the neighbors’ younger kids around, interacting with my teen daughters.
Q: An early childhood memory?
When I was little I pretended to be Julia Child doing cooking demonstrations. I was surrounded by good food growing up. My parents and grandma especially appreciated eating well and passed that on to me.
Deborah’s Favorites +
- Comfort Food: homemade sourdough bread
- Book: The Lord of the Rings
- Movie: Notorious
- Music: Dave Brubeck
- Getaway: my family’s cabin in the national forest of Colorado.
- Journey: service trip to Guatemala helping build houses for the Ixil community
- City: Venice, unlike any place i’ve been before
- Best stress reliever… good zombie books and movies. Recently read World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (much better than the movie!) and got hooked on The Returned a French zombie TV show.
- Essential tools… a sharp knife, Chaco sandals
- A song that reminds you of someone you love? You are My Sunshine — my husband
- A key moment in your life? pregnancy, realized my life was not my own anymore
- What you’d do if you had another life? nothing different
- What you’ll be remembered for? oh golly… probably jumping out of closets scaring my husband, especially the time I was 8 months pregnant (read: huge) with my first child.
In the business of growing healthy customers, Project Juice itself is thriving. With five locations and two more on the horizon (not to mention they can ship anywhere in the U.S.) — it was high time for Project Juice to gain a more sophisticated, well-thought out brand to cater to an increasing, energetic following. Chen Design Associates was brought on board to elevate Project Juice’s existing brand and to create an exciting, strategic system that sets up the company for further expansion.
To date, CDA has developed the fresh overall branding campaign, including new identity, multi-level packaging, merchandise, retail store interiors and complete signage program. CDA’s design solutions convey Project Juice’s unique selling points and educational tidbits graphically and with a lively tone that expresses the products’s benefits. The results appeal to an urban, health-mission minded audience that appreciates the difference organic, locally-sourced, nutrient dense ingredients provide. Look for the roll out of future branding pieces in this comprehensive campaign.
Grand Opening / Saturday, November 15 — Join the celebration at Project Juice’s newest location in The Mission, at Valencia and 19th. Step up to the Superfood Smoothie Bar, try out the Plant-Based Meals and Snacks, and soak in Project Juice’s vibrant new look! 100 free juices starting at 11am, Superfood Smoothies 50% off all day, and other happy surprises.
“Strengths of Chen Design Associates? Too many to list. They make great looking work that is always unique and distinctive. They’re very team oriented, patient and understanding with me. I enjoy the real dialogue we have about a piece. Working with CDA is always a joy and a pleasure… not really working anymore, it’s like getting together with friends and creating something beautiful at the end.”
—Angel Alvarez, Executive Director, Congregation Beth Sholom
“It was a huge honor and privilege to work on a brand refresh and web redesign for such an iconic San Francisco institution.” —Joshua Chen, Principal & Creative Director, Chen Design Associates
San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square, visited by 12.4 million tourists every year, has just unveiled a website by Chen Design Associates [CDA] worthy of its national historic landmark status. The global attraction is home to the eponymous chocolate company’s U.S. flagship store and boasts unique local shops, restaurants and a distinctive property by the Fairmont Hotel.
Atlanta-based Jamestown Properties purchased the 99,551 square foot retail complex last September and engaged CDA to overhaul Ghirardelli Square’s website in Jamestown’s plan to bring the historically significant complex to greater potential for neighbors and vacationers alike.
Key features of CDA’s redesign of Ghirardelli Square’s website include:
- Easy navigation, high interactivity. Rollover images, text and icons offer multiple channels to getting the information viewers are seeking like current events, press, Instagram and Twitter feeds.
- Brand identity aligns with Ghirardelli’s iconic signage. Elements of the actual place like the lights, historical maps, and typography echo throughout the site’s design, tying back to the real destination.
- Empowered way-finding. The online map is interactive and changes in color when the viewer rolls over various spaces linking to helpful information about the store or leasing contact information.
- The new site functions beautifully on all devices, of course.
The Ghirardelli Square Brand — Before
Over the years, Ghirardelli Square had been represented by no less than five different logos and brand expressions on site, in various collateral, signage and its website. The latest large-scale rebrand iteration was a script logo that evoked a spa getaway — certainly a beautiful idea but not accurate to the Ghirardelli brand or the unique experience near Fisherman’s Wharf.
Brand Refresh — After
The new brand expression developed by CDA is rooted in history while at the same time relevant and contemporary for today’s visitors.
“We brought back the authenticity of the place, with the logo based on the original rooftop signage which still stands today and that everyone recognizes as part of the landscape and representative of the Square. While on one hand it seemed to be something of a ‘no-brainer, of course we’d do that’ — refining the letterforms and paying attention to the details of each letter and its relationship within the word itself, further updating it for a new generation was something we relished and took joy in crafting.” — Joshua Chen
There are a total of 12 buildings on the site, built over a 100-year period beginning in 1864, with seismic retrofitting and updates in 1966 and in 2009. Jamestown is renovating Ghirardelli Square, adding new retail concepts and amenities aimed at distinguishing this world-renowned landmark as both a neighborhood and vacation destination.
“We are planning to improve the property and hopefully return the asset to what it was once known for. It does have a national and internationally following,” said Michael Phillips, chief operating officer for Jamestown.
“I think that it’s great for the city of San Francisco that the property was acquired by a company like Jamestown. They know retail very well and are a hands on company, which will be good for the future of the property,” says Kazuko Morgan, a vice chairman with Cushman & Wakefield’s retail services group in its San Francisco office. Jamestown has partnered with CDA on websites and environmental graphics for three others of its California commercial real estate collections.
No doubt that in today’s marketplace, a strategically-designed, world-class website and identity — authentic to who the company is, engaging, informative and easy to navigate on any device — is an indispensable tool in getting those real visitors actually there.
El Ladrón is shrouded in mystery. Born and raised in the states, with roots in Mexico, there are more questions than answers: who is this notorious thief, and what is he intending to steal? Is he actually a she? Who exactly is the villain in this story, and who is the heroine?
Themes of deception, intrigue, and betrayal play out in the bottle design; clues are everywhere, almost hidden but impossible to miss.
Modern and sleek, yet natural and approachable, The Epiphany Hotel is the latest luxury property towering above downtown Palo Alto. Inviting you in at street level (just a block from University Avenue) is the relaxed indoor-outdoor seating of Lure + Till — the boutique hotel’s hip and equally innovative restaurant and bar branded by Chen Design Associates.
“Isn’t it great looking? People love the branding. It suits us really well — and the restaurant has been a huge success.”
—Lorenz Maurer, General Manager, The Epiphany
CDA developed an identity for the restaurant and bar that fits seamlessly with the concept of the hotel which exudes the casual entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley. We created the custom wood-carved boards with a banded menu system and clipboard-style check presenter, artful coasters and popular matchboxes, as well as business system and web splash page.
Executive chef Patrick Kelly, formerly of Gitane in San Francisco, Angèle in Napa, and La Folie in San Francisco says, “It’s a renaissance for the area, for Silicon Valley. Conceptually with the food, we’re going to be taking advantage of the local purveyors out here, with a nice fluid menu that changes as much as it can.”
Lure + Till offers craft cocktails, a seasonal, locally-sourced menu, catering and room service. Open every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner at 180 Hamilton Avenue, Palo Alto, CA.
“Live simply. Buy ethically.” Easier said than done, perhaps, but Trade As One is on a mission to provide convenient ways to make social justice a habit. How? With easy-as-a-click committing a fraction of our consumer spending toward ethical practices. Trade As One offers a subscription that delivers a tasty assortment of fairly traded foods to your door every 3 months — making a difference in your life and the lives of others. By promoting sustainable businesses each purchase is actually helping break cycles of poverty and dependency worldwide, rather than perpetuating these systemic problems.
Trade As One needed a contemporary look and feel to communicate its revolutionary idea and tapped CDA to reposition its branding identity, packaging, website and educational printed pieces. In collaboration with the organization’s leadership, CDA led a creative process that determined Trade As One’s brand archetypes as decidedly Mentor and Citizen. Essentially seeing themselves as trustworthy teachers and trainers who support not only learning but also character development in order to meet life’s challenges, the organization is at its core, driven by a deeply instilled sense of personal integrity, fairness, equity and responsibility to the community, finding its meaning in the alignment between beliefs and actions. With these two main representative characteristics to guide our design process, CDA developed an authentic voice for Trade As One that is as relevant as its content.
The simplicity, quiet confidence and humility that the logo speaks to is just right for the brand, as is its ability to convey a high quality product. Great job! It was terrific to work with you…our thanks to everyone.
Nathan George, Trade As One, Founder
CDA’s integrated re-branding for Trade As One communicates the opposite of marketing slick, and rather, proximity to the food’s source, and the by hand, organic processes that embody the “live simply, buy ethically” motto. Recipients of this intentionally-designed packaging sense a friendly, global connectivity and being part of an achievable “one world” way of life. To achieve these goals, CDA featured stories of the farmers who source the food and useful recipes showcasing lush photography that gives a sense of geography and specific place.
Every aspect of the new identity and packaging expresses quality and value through attention to detail and craftsmanship: a nature-inspired palette, wood grain patterning, hand drawn illustrations, subtle ivory screening on cardboard, custom designed packing tape. Environmental style portrait photography is embellished with line drawings, pulling the reader closer into the Trade As One story.
Distinctly opposite to feeling heavy-handed or didactic, CDA’s creative work treats the complex subtext of systemic issues such as human trafficking, global pandemics, extreme poverty and environmental concerns and represents Trade As One’s invitation to consumers with simplicity and genuine hopefulness. In its mission to use fair trade to promote sustainable businesses in the developing world — Trade As One simultaneously addresses a crisis of meaning through vacuous consumerism in our world.
CDA’s approach to branding is to align with the clients’ business values and enhance trust with its audience. Integrating Trade As One’s most important values and vision with its branding, design and communication strategies, they now have effective visual tools to tell their genuine story and spread the word.
Craving some “connected California cooking?” That is what Chef Casey Thompson calls bringing the best ingredients of the season from farms and local artisans to the table. In other words, her kind of food — “seasonally influenced American, focusing on sustainable proteins while utilizing fresh, organic, and local produce” — served up in her dream come true Aveline, the exciting new restaurant adjoining The Warwick San Francisco just steps from Union Square shopping, galleries, and the Theater district.
What’s on her San Francisco-refined menu? Expect innovative creations like the visually stunning vegetable garden of radish tops, snap peas, and purple romanesco resting atop turtle beans and chicory “soil” with mustard-seed cream… or raw amberjack fish enlivened with flavors of salted banana, black lime and ham “snow” (think pig-flavored ice), accented by sliced daikon and cherry blossoms… how about a show-stopping extravagant duck yolk beignet wrapped decadently in thin sheets of Wagyu beef and silky-fat lardo with trotter sauce?… phenomenal.
Reflecting the style of cuisine, CDA collaborated with Chef Thompson to create a sophisticated yet organic feel to Aveline’s branding through our design of the logo, pre-opening construction wrap, business cards, signage, menus, soft leather-covered wine and spirits books, and the website. The restaurant name is derived from a combination of her influential grandmothers — one of whom was named Hazel and the other of whom was French (“aveline” is French for “hazel”). Thompson wanted a handwritten logotype reminiscent of her grandmothers’ writing. It was Chen Design Associates’ honor to custom design the branding and identity for her visionary restaurant.
“Food has played a momentous role in my life starting when I was much younger,” explains Thompson. “Coming from two very different families, one influenced from the south and the second from a heavily influenced French cuisine. I found cooking to be my calling.” Thompson, formerly of Dallas’s Shinsei, is now based in Napa and earned fan favorite and finalist status on Top Chef.
As deeply invested as she is to the conception of Aveline, Thompson remarks: “The staff is a talented group of people that I have sought out or collaborated with before on past projects. They have all worked for talented chefs and trained hard to get where they are now. I couldn’t be happier and more excited that we get to experience this project together. It is as much theirs as it is mine.”
Aveline is open for dinner at 490 Geary St. (and Taylor). And will soon be serving breakfast!
Sunday to Thursday: 5:30pm to 10pm
Friday & Saturday: 5:30pm to 11pm
Call or email for reservations: 415 345 2303 (2pm to 11pm) or firstname.lastname@example.org