Designer’s Block: A Q&A with Brent Couchman

Categories Articles, Inspired Talks, Web Design

Browsing through designer/ illustrator Brent Couchman’s portfolio of work is like a cardio workout for the eyes. You’ll dance around the page absorbing every fanciful slab serif and eye-popping logomark. There’s a distinctive look to his logos and custom typefaces for sure, and if you’re a fan of watch and leather goods-purveyor Fossil you’ve definitely seen his design work encompassing packaging, logos and advertisements (online and off).

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The San Francisco-based designer can be found at creative agency, Hatch Design where his design work transcends JAQK Cellars’ wine bottles and Harrah’s Entertainment employee engagement ads, to name a few examples.

He’s big on illustration work with London-based map maker, Herb Lester Associates―check out his illustrated map, A Glasgow Companion. Similarly, for Monocle magazine, Couchman designed a map of Sydney and Sao Paulo. And if that wasn’t enough, he does custom typefaces too.

Inspired Mag caught up with Couchman to talk about his take on “Modern Vintage,” why finding design inspiration offline is rewarding and what brand he’d love to do design work for someday.

1. I’m a huge fan of your design work for Fossil, how did you get involved with the accessories and watch maker, and how would you describe their design aesthetic?

I was an in-house designer/illustrator in the Fossil Illustration/Graphics group for a little under three years. Our group handled most of the illustration and graphics you see on the product as well as in-store. So, everything from apparel graphics, hangtags, product packaging to posters and environmental graphics for the retail stores.

As far as the aesthetic goes, at the time I was there it was referred to as “Modern Vintage,” the idea of mixing mid-century modern approach and techniques with modern design. I started at Fossil right at the beginning of the Modern Vintage push so it was a lot of fun to figure out how it looked and different ways you could push it. Our Creative Director would have workshops with us where we’d learn different techniques like gouache and watercolor so that led to a lot of playing and experimenting which would work its way into our everyday work.

Brent Couchman's Workspace

2. When you start working on design/illustration work for a client, where do you begin? What is your process (do you go on an online inspiration spree in search engines, hit up specific libraries and bookstores for research, doodle on bar napkins, etc.?)

My process is pretty typical, sketch first, come up with as many ideas as possible, even if they’re bad I think jotting them down to get it out can lead to something good. From there it’s just trying all the good stuff out in the computer.

I like to experiment with new techniques in between projects so they are fine tuned and can be used when a project comes up that’s a good fit for that technique. If you’re constantly working and trying something new on your own then when it comes time to apply it you’ve got plenty to work with.

As far as inspiration goes, I’m constantly looking for and purchasing design books from the 40’s-70’s or going to local flea markets and junk shops for lost treasure. There are tons of great places to find inspiration and the most rewarding ones aren’t online.

3. You have developed various custom typefaces like Sasquatch and experiment with others in development (as seen on your Flickr stream)―is the typography and typeface creation realm something you’d like to delve deeper into as a designer, why is it important to you?

I don’t think creating an actual typeface is something I’d end up doing. When I’ve looked into it (more than just drawing characters in Illustrator) I was scared off by all of the technical know-how. True type designers know way more than I do about type so I’ll leave it up to them.

That said, the type/lettering work I do is all for fun. I’ve done a few custom wordmarks for real projects but for the most part it’s just me playing around. I’ve always drawn letters so it’s just an extension of something I do on a daily basis on paper.

4. As far as client work goes, what brand identities started out as a challenge but ended as work you are particularly proud of―why is it now a feather in your cap?

Hmm that’s a tough one, I’m not sure there has been a brand identity like that but I’ve been working on some packaging for a while now that I think has really come a long way. I remember really digging the first version and then being aggravated when the inevitable client changes started coming in. But after looking at the first version again I realized it has come a long way for the better. It’s easy to design something nice for the first round, but the working and reworking really forces you to hammer out the details you may have missed earlier. That’s one of the things I always come back to with my work, good work takes lots of hard work. I wish it was easier, maybe someone out there has it figured out, but for me it’s a challenging but rewarding process.

5. From a design perspective, why is it important for businesses to think of a branding and identity as an experiential campaign, crafting unique and intricate stories and personas?

I think it comes down to us as humans wanting to connect or relate with something. The best brands feel comfortable and approachable to their audience, like a friend you just met but already know. Apple always seems to come up in these kinds of discussions, but I always think of Deus out in Australia, they’ve created a really unique brand and personality that just fits with their audience.

6. What company’s branding (retail, service, etc.) do you look at with admiration that you haven’t worked with?

I just mentioned Deus, I’d be thrilled to work with them. One of my favorite brands that I’d like to work with someday is Nike. That might be cliche and probably on everyone’s list but I’ve had a strange obsession and admiration for them since I was a kid. It was probably because I had to settle for Reebok’s back in the day. Thanks mom.

7.  What are you currently reading/ playing/ Netflixing on your spare time?

Most of the reading I do lately has been on the bus to and from work. Actually a lot of suggestions from LinkedIn’s “top headlines” feature have been pretty interesting. They do a surprisingly good job of suggesting stories based on who you’re connected with.

8. What artistic medium have you always wanted to try but haven’t taken on yet?

Something with wood. I’ve had a few ideas for hybrid sculptural print kinda things that I think would be fun to try.

Brent Couchman


John Lendman is the copywriter/ scribe of interactive web agency Doejo. Chicago-based Doejo is a creative hub of designers, developers and a bastion of ingenuity and imagination. The company has launched more than 300 web sites, marketing campaigns and applications since its founding in 2007. Follow us Twitter or check out our blog―if you can keep up.