For the month of November, we spoke to founder and Creative Director of Jerry Kuyper Partners, Jerry Kuyper. With more than thirty years of brand identity leadership and design experience, the decision to feature Jerry—a long time member of the LoungeLounge.com—was an easy one to make.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and your work.
My education in graphic design started at the University of Cincinnati and was followed by four years at the Basel School of Design in Switzerland. I have over thirty years of experience directing, designing and implementing brand identity programs. My passion is bringing business and brand strategy to life through creativity and design.
Before establishing Jerry Kuyper Partners in 2004, I held senior creative positions with some of the world’s leading brand identity firms including Lippincott, Siegel & Gale, frogdesign, Landor and Saul Bass. Over the last three decades, I have designed iconic visual identities for AT&T, Cigna, Cisco, Cushman & Wakefield, Invisalign, Penn State, and Touchstone Films.
When did you know you wanted to be a designer? What are the worst and best parts about this profession?
I grew up in Cincinnati and one of my first memories of logos was watching them flow by on freight trains while I was trying to hop a ride. I was probably around the age of twelve or fourteen.
I discovered I wanted to be a graphic designer as I began my second year at the University of Cincinnati. I think at that time I think I was just looking for something I thought I could enjoy doing, in particular logo design.
The best parts of my work in brand identity are:
- Collaborating with talented strategic and creative partners, and engaged clients
- Working across many industries, countries, and cultures
- Creating work that endures. My identity work with AT&T, Touchstone Films, Banco Santander, and the World Wildlife Fund has lasted over 30 years, mostly unchanged except modest refinements along the way.
The worst part of the profession is seeing brand identity work that I have created in close partnership with my clients replaced after a change in senior management. AmeriCares is a recent example. Fortunately, that experience is very rare.
What designer or designers influenced you the most growing up? Has this changed over the recent years?
Initially, I was more influenced by my professors than professional designers. They included Gordon Salchow, Stan Brod, and Heinz Schenker at the University of Cincinnati; and Kurt Hauert, André Gürtler, Armin Hofmann, and Wolfgang Weingart at the Basel School of Design.
I was and continue to be influenced by the design work of Armin Hofmann, Steff Geissbuhler, Brendán Murphy, Bob Wolf, Gene Grossman, and Chermayeff and Geismar.
When assigned projects, what does your design process look like? Can you break it down for us in steps?
Create, present, refine, present, refine, present, refine, present ...
Most of my brand identity projects fall into these four basic steps or phases.
- The first phase - gather information, build understanding, and agree on objectives.
- The second phase - generate lots of different concepts, select and refine the most promising directions, present to the client, and incorporate their feedback until the key decision makers are excited with the results.
- The third phase - define a design system (use of logo, color, typography, imagery, etc.) by creating various prototype applications.
- In the fourth phase - develop brand identity standards that define the brand strategy, as well as the correct use of the name, logo, and brand architecture.
Sometimes, we also work on name and nomenclature opportunities, as well as develop comprehensive brand architecture structures, using a similar process.
Where do you draw inspiration from? Are there hobbies or other subjects that influence your work?
I draw inspiration from art, music, and nature. I enjoy making art from found objects and I have created and photographed hundreds of my stacked rock sculptures.
Most recently I’ve begun taking a class in oil painting which feels very liberating after the world of match colors, CMYK and RGB. I enjoy using humor in presentations to my clients and lectures at design schools. This past summer I completed a course in standup comedy that ended with me delivering a five-minute performance to 400 people: https://youtu.be/ZbNlaM4jVO4.
Can you tell us about a recent project that you have worked on? One that was challenging, and/or surprising in some way?
Several years ago I was asked to design a trophy for the first People Magazine awards show. This was clearly outside of my typical range of projects but I found the creative process described above was very useful. It was also a treat to sit down for two hours with a big bag of popcorn and watch an array of stars walk up to receive my trophy as the winner of that specific award.
Another recent project is the rebranding of Penn State University. The University has 100,000 students, 24 campuses within Pennsylvania, and 16 colleges. The project was to leverage and revitalize their Nittany Lion icon and create a more functional and approachable visual identity for the University. We then created an overarching brand architecture that unified all of the colleges, campuses, centers, institutes within the University. In addition, we worked closely with their Alumni Association to rebrand 200 alumni chapters that serve over 600,000 Penn State alumni.
What makes a successful brand? A successful graphic designer?
A successful brand is one that becomes better known and more accurately understood by its key audiences.
Brands become more successful when all of the key touch points are in alignment with their brand strategy as expressed through visual, verbal, and experiential means.
Graphic designers can find success in many ways including:
- Working with clients to help them achieve their desired results.
- Using one’s professional abilities for organizations or causes in which you strongly believe.
- Teaching students and mentoring young designers.
- Being compensated appropriately for their work.
- Receiving recognition for their work.
Occasionally, one just might be able to check off all five.
What makes you different from other designers and their personal aesthetics?
I continue to work on my ability to listen, translate, understand and empathize with my client’s perspectives. I never reject client suggestions without exploring them and am pleasantly surprised when they lead to areas I might not have investigated.
Initially, my aesthetics were very strongly driven by my educational experiences. Working with Saul Bass and Landor Associates early in my career enabled me to work with a wide range of designers from other backgrounds and countries which broadened my understanding of what a successful design could be. I have always strived for simplicity, clarity and meaning in my work.
What work or works are you most proud of and why?
As a designer, I’ve had the opportunity to work across a wide variety of businesses and organizations in North, Central, and South America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. I have done brand identity work for the largest businesses (AT&T, DuPont, ExxonMobil, GE), for startups and small organizations you don’t even know exist, and every size in between.
Each client engagement has enabled me to learn something about my client’s business and their culture. To pick specific work is difficult, here goes:
- The original AT&T logo that I designed in 1983 while working at Saul Bass, Herb Yager and Associates. This logo has been modified several times over the last 35 years. When the latest incarnation was reviewed, one of the comments was that the original one was better than all of the subsequent revisions. They appreciated the power of the “flat design” of the original which now has come back into vogue.
- The Touchstone Films logo for Disney that I designed while at Landor. The Touchstone name was created at Landor, embraced by Disney, and has been used for over thirty years. The logo visualized the striking of a touchstone used to judge the quality of a metal symbolizing the broader meaning of a test or criterion for determining the quality or genuineness of a thing.
- The World Wildlife Fund logo which I directed at Landor and worked with Jenny Leibundgut on the design. The panda symbol has been recognized as one of the top fifty logos of all time. This is an organization with a mission that I strongly support.
- The Cisco logo which Joe Finocchiaro and I redesigned in 2005. This design captured the equity of the existing Cisco bridge that had been in use for the previous 20 years in a way that is simple, strong and timeless. Being asked to partner with Joe on this project sent me a clear message that large corporations are open to working with small firms.
- The recent rebranding of Penn State University. We are proud of this work for the logo, brand architecture, sheer scope of the endeavor and the collaboration with the Penn State brand teams. I also got to work with my dream team which included experienced identity veterans Bob Wolf, Joe Finocchiaro, and my son, Ben Kuyper.
Do you have any advice for anyone starting out in the design world? Advice for those who have been in the business for years?
Be curious, be open, and be enthusiastic. We all need to appreciate and make use of the great opportunities we have to help our clients, grow as individuals, and make the world a better place.
To learn more about Jerry, and to find out why we nicknamed him the “Forest Gump of Design,” we encourage you to read this article we created about him in 2006. To see the works that Jerry has uploaded to the Lounge, please see here. Be sure to check back in December, for our next featured member article. The next designer to take our “Center Stage” could be YOU!