Archive for February, 2018

Get to Know New Design Director Andrew Beckman

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At Superhuman, we’ve long been fans of the thoughtful and incredibly original design work of Andrew Beckman. A few of us have worked with him in the past, and know just how hard-working and collaborative he is. Needless to say, we’re excited to bring him in as a Design Director this month. Welcome, Andrew!

1. Tell us about your career and how you wound up at Superhuman.

I’ve always loved to draw and create. My career path was clear from the moment I realized that I could be paid to do what I love.

I started out designing and illustrating artwork for various bands and musicians. I worked on album packaging, T-shirts, pins, stage backdrops, websites and MySpace layouts that decorated the Internet, merch tables and retail stores across the country.

My interest in combining artwork with digital applications naturally led me to space150 and the world of advertising. In addition to working on big brands, space provided me with countless opportunities to expand my understanding of what it means be creative through film production, photoshoots, animation, physical to digital installations, brand campaigns and augmented reality projects to name a few.

I first crossed paths with Van Horgen at space in 2010 and we quickly became friends. When he started Superhuman a few years later, we teamed up on a few of his early projects. Over time, it became clear that Van’s creative process, aesthetic sensibility and vision for his agency was something I wanted to be a part of. Joining the Superhuman team felt like a natural next step for me, and I couldn’t be more excited to be here.

2. What is happening in design right now that inspires you?

Design, at it’s core, is problem solving. Recurring design problems that feel new in a modern context often already have existing solutions that someone has already proven out. I’ve always been really inspired by designers and brands who embrace, learn from, and recycle ideas from the past to inform the creation of something progressive and unique in the present.

I’m a huge fan of outdoor brands like Filson and REI, who’ve both recently gone through branding updates that revive familiar aesthetics from the past while applying minimalism and a refined color palette to establish a more modern perception. Another example is Cotopaxi, a brand who repurposes fabric materials for their product that leads to both a truly ownable aesthetic and a smaller environmental impact as a result. A similar way of thinking in a vastly different category is the recent brutalism trend in graphic design that redefines, re-contextualizes and iterates upon mashups of familiar imagery.

3. What do you hope to accomplish at Superhuman?

I’m really excited to be hyper-focused on design at Superhuman. I want to make strong work that resonates with people and help brands establish or reinforce meaning behind what they stand for.

4. What hobbies in your personal life expand your approach to design and creativity?

Last winter, my wife and I bought a 10-acre hobby farm 30 miles west of the Twin Cities. We spend most of our free time working on updates to the farm house and chasing our dogs and chickens around. Being surrounded by nature has been more inspiring than I ever could have hoped. A clear view of the sunrise in the morning and the stars at night is an awesome reminder to be present and appreciative of the world. Simple things like growing food in our garden and caring for animals have helped me be more considerate and appreciative about where things come from, as well as the impact we as humans have on the earth.

As a designer and a person, I’ve become much more considerate when choosing materials and aligning with vendors and businesses who use eco-friendly practices. I’ve also found myself drawing more forest animals when I sketch.

Black Mirror and the Concept of Minimalism

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When I was little, I thought the future would sound a lot like techno music and look a lot like the 1999 Disney Channel original movie Smart House. Fast forward 20 years and the future is now—and not feeling very futuristic. It’s hard to recognize just how far technology has come since I was a kid, since change creeps up on us slowly. If you would have told me 5 years ago that I would be telling a speaker named Alexa to change the music in my house, I would’ve been totally creeped out. This uncanny feeling that technology is both familiar and strange is what makes the series Black Mirror so perplexing.

If you haven’t watched by now, Black Mirror is essentially a modern take on The Twilight Zone— a dark, satirical look at the potential consequences of new technological advances.

As a graphic designer, it’s hard to watch TV shows or movies without analyzing the design choices. I found myself doing this even more than usual while watching Black Mirror, thanks to its focus on the design and marketing of newfangled products. Some of my favorite examples of the show’s aesthetic are in the episodes “Arkangel,” “White Christmas,” and “Playtest.” From sleek, minimalist typefaces and logos to ultra-simple product design, I couldn’t help but wish some of my household products looked more like these. Even the interior design struck a chord with its bright, white spaces and modern furniture.

The idea is that these devices are so simple, both functionally and aesthetically, that they fit into our lives with ease. Although the concepts are outlandish, they also seem very plausible, which is what makes the series so compelling. But it’s also what makes Black Mirror raise a lot of questions. Do I really want a tiny white device opening my blinds and perfectly toasting my toast? Doesn’t the beauty of life rest in its imperfections? Without burnt toast, would we ever feel the satisfaction, or learn the skills necessary, to fully enjoy the perfectly toasted toast? How automated can we make everything in our day-to-day lives? At some point, won’t we miss the emotion? The empathy? The very element that makes us human?

At first, all of these stark environments and modern designs appealed to me. They seem simple and easy-to-use. They look sexy. But at the same time, they feel cold, impersonal, inhuman. I can’t help but wonder if design trends are similar. It seems like every designer, including me, is constantly trying to simplify, simplify, simplify. Choose the modern sans-serif. More white space. Fewer patterns. Thinner lines. But at what point do we simplify so much that we lose a sense of humanity?

Here at Superhuman, we work with a lot of tech and software companies, a category where standing out is proving to be increasingly difficult. When looking at the competition, often the best way to differentiate from outdated, cluttered design systems in the category IS to simplify. But I’m challenging myself to find other ways to stand out and to explore unique ways to simplify systems. Is there a way to combine personality and humanity while maintaining simplicity? Can a tech company use a serif font (blasphemy!)? Can we use print, photography, and other non-technology focused art to influence our UI designs?

To answer these questions, we will have to carefully watch design trends and evolve our process as the world around us changes. We will have to experiment and find new paths of inspiration. We will have to involve clients earlier in our design process, so we can share insights about the categories and figure out ways to solve these challenges, together. We will have to continue to find ways to express our thoughtfully developed strategies visually. We will have to find ways to express robust brand values, simply.

Because as Black Mirror has taught us, simplifying can’t always be the answer.