Beat Baudenbacher of loyalkaspar, a New York-based creative branding agency, describes himself as “obsessed with searching for magic in the mundane while vigorously defending the creative process against all forces of evil.” In addition to co-founding loyalkaspar and serving as the agency’s Chief Creative Officer, he’s the author of Somewhere Yes: The Search for Belonging in a World Shaped by Branding. In both his agency work and his book, Beat Baudenbacher explores how the tools of graphic design have gained power in today’s society—power that can be unifying, or incredibly destructive.
In this interview, I asked Beat Baudenbacher about loyalkaspar’s client roster, which includes many media and entertainment brands, such as Peacock, Paramount+, MTV, ESPN, Comedy Central, and CNN Originals. We talked about the agency’s almost 20 years in business and one of its service offerings: “bespoke fonts.” Then we pivoted to the book, Somewhere Yes, and I learned about his inspiration for writing it, his view on the pros and cons of “a social structure driven by branding,” and more. I even found out where the title came from!
At the end of the interview, Beat played along with my “bonus” questions and shared what he’s reading, watching, and listening to, as well as some favorite books. Read on to find out what phrase he says too much and what’s on his mind when he’s not making lunch for the kids.
loyalkaspar has a lot of experience working with TV networks like Comedy Central and ESPN. How did loyalkaspar develop this “niche” expertise?
I graduated from Art Center College of Design in 1998 and got my first job at a British design company, ATTIK, in New York soon after. I describe the late 90’s as a boom in the motion graphics field. So, even though I was trained more as a “traditional” graphic designer and had very little experience with moving graphics, I got thrown into that world.
It was very much trial by fire, sink or swim. And even though it was very intense—long hours, many working weekends—I fell in love with the practice. It combined storytelling, image-making, and language into something special, something that’s still hard to describe.
I met my business partner David Herbruck at ATTIK. We started writing screenplays together and decided one day that, in order to focus on writing and to make some money, we should quit our jobs. The goal was to do a little design and animation work on the side. Needless to say, the screenwriting didn’t go anywhere, but we got motion graphics work right from the start.
That work has evolved from small “graphic packaging” for shows on networks like VH1 to branding entire networks themselves, and now streaming platforms. Over almost two decades, we’ve continuously added new services to our work, like live action direction, 3D animation, strategy, custom typography, etc. That’s what I love about this work: there are no set guidelines, no set path you have to take. Everybody does it their own way, and as long as the client is happy and your work is useful for them, you’ve succeeded.
There are no set guidelines, no set path you have to take. As long as the client is happy and your work is useful for them, you’ve succeeded.”
What’s unique about doing brand work for a TV network?
I used to describe entertainment brands such as TV networks as extremely dynamic and agile brands, and that’s how they separated themselves from more static consumer goods. Logos moved, were rendered in different styles, and could be changed when something didn’t work—as opposed to an airline, for example, that needs to paint their mark on planes, print millions of menus and stitch logos on uniforms.
Social media has led to these lines being much more blurred than in the past. Today, every brand needs to be a content creator to a certain degree. This, in turn, makes them each an “entertainment brand” of some sort, with the goal to capture your attention on various platforms. The best way to do that is with really captivating, entertaining creative work, which means that our “niche” of entertainment brand expertise now pretty much applies to any brand in the universe.
loyalkaspar has been in business for over 19 years. What’s changed?
In some ways, a lot has changed. Our work doesn’t get shipped on a beta tape anymore, as one example. There are so many more executions to consider; digital platforms have created a whole new universe of canvases. At the same time, budgets haven’t really increased—in most cases they’ve actually shrunk—so most of the time we need to do more with less.
From an execution and service standpoint, we have gone through tremendous transformation. We started out doing small graphic animation packages for individual shows on networks and now some of our recent projects were launching the streaming platforms that house the content of multiple networks. In order to do that, we’ve had to add many new services, but I hesitate to even call those services, because, to me, they are more about expanding our horizons and wanting to learn continuously.
On a fundamental creative level, however, nothing much has changed: a good idea is still a good idea, and the most important thing is to keep being curious and to want to grow.
What advice do you have to anyone hoping to start their own agency now?
Everybody needs to find their own path, their own way of doing things. Pick a niche and get really good at it. Don’t try to do too much from the start. There are so many platforms, so many canvases, that I feel like you could easily get overwhelmed by wanting to do it all.
Get really good at one thing, like kick-ass animated logos, or dynamic typography for social media, or something specific like that. If you do that one thing well, it will get noticed and most likely other opportunities and formats will open up.
One interesting area of expertise loyalkaspar has is bespoke fonts. What kinds of projects do you get to do those for? Can you walk us through a typical bespoke font project?
That’s an interesting path that opened up for us over the years. It all started with our internal rebrand; I designed a new loyalkaspar logo, maybe our third one, and I wanted our own typeface so that our presentations would look cohesive and different from everybody else’s. That became our first font, Karma, which we still use today, even though it’s gone through a number of updates.
Our first commercial typeface for a client was ABC Modern, as part of the rebrand we did for them years ago. We wanted a font that worked well with our cleaned-up ABC logo. And since then, every time custom typography makes sense for a brand, we at least discuss it with a client. We’ve probably done 20+ at this point. Clients have realized that, in addition to being a great creative unifying tool, it can also make a lot of financial sense to own your font, especially for big media companies that have huge amounts of traffic on their websites.
In terms of the creative process, we begin by looking for inspiration, most often in the history of a brand or a new logo; for example, for Peak Sans, the typeface we designed for Paramount+, we looked to vintage movie marquees to determine weight and forms. We then design the first pass of the alphabet in-house and, when that is signed off, we engage our go-to type foundry, Type Network, to finish the design of all characters and do the final production, which we oversee creatively.
The particular challenge with custom fonts is that they take a good chunk of time to produce, about 3 months, depending on cuts and weights. It’s really only an option on bigger, longer-term projects, and for clients who recognize the value early in the process. Otherwise, it doesn’t always make sense to pursue them.
What trends are you keeping an eye on in branding, fonts/typography, advertising, or related fields?
Nothing in particular. I definitely look at and collect typographic samples I like, and I love photography in all shapes and forms.
Most people would probably say it’s important to keep an eye on social media, which is true, but I really only pay attention to Instagram. I was on Instagram pretty early, using it as a sort of “photo album of my life.” Even though it is now nothing like it used to be, I still enjoy it, mostly. Except when I look up “custom hats” on Google and next thing you know, my Instagram feed is filled with hats…
About Somewhere Yes
What was the inspiration for your book?
I started putting my thoughts on branding down on paper about five years ago with the intent of crafting “my TED talk.” I realized through that process that I much prefer talking through my work than talking about my work. The project morphed into the idea of a book, with the thought that making something physical would be easier for me than writing a keynote presentation about my work and philosophies.
I don’t think it was easier, but I definitely feel that it was more true to my nature. I love making things, and I made a book. One you can hold and flip through, and hopefully people will find aspects of it interesting.
It’s funny, now that I’m being asked to talk about the book, I can already feel my inside going “NOOO!” I realize talking about things you made will hopefully get more people to see the things you made, but sometimes I wish the thing you made could just live by itself. Make its own impact. Without explanation. Without promotion.
What does the title mean?
A few years ago I started writing down weird phrases and odd word combinations under the theme of “unused taglines.” Halfway through writing the book, I stumbled on those again, and “Somewhere Yes” just felt right.
For me, in the context of the book, the title sketches out a place of positivity without defining exactly what that place is. If I had to articulate it more precisely, it would be a place where all of humanity could recognize our immense privilege of living on this one planet in the known universe that’s capable of sustaining life. Because of that gratitude, we should communicate with each other, through branding or otherwise, with purpose and with the goal of solving universal problems.
What are some of “the pros and cons of a social structure driven by branding”?
Brands create structure. They allow people to organize themselves around the products they love, the politics they subscribe to, the worldviews they hold, and the activities they enjoy.
I also believe that all of us employ the “tools of branding” every day in our lives. The most all-encompassing definition for branding that I have come up with to date is “the purposeful shaping of public perception.” And if you think of it that way, every person who leaves their house in the morning, or gets ready for a video conference call, makes personal decisions that affect that perception, their “brand.” Every company or organization of any kind makes similar decisions that affect its appearance in the public sphere, whether it’s in support of selling a product, a service, or promoting a point of view. We are all familiar with the tools; we all use them. And they help us navigate an increasingly complex world. I would say that’s a benefit.
On the flip side, branding and brands tend to flatten complexity. This is necessary because everything and every person is competing for their audience’s or customer’s attention. Brands battle this by trying to become a “visual shorthand.”
Brands create structure. They allow people to organize themselves around the products they love, the politics they subscribe to, the worldviews they hold, and the activities they enjoy.”
Again, this is useful. However, everything is usually more complex than the public signal it puts out. If we navigate the world only by those simplistic signals, I fear that we are constructing a very simplistic view of the world. Branding also has the tendency to create allies and adversaries. “My product is better than yours”; “my worldview is the right one.” And I wonder if that black and white thought structure is contributing to this seemingly more toxic world we live in.
What are the top 3 takeaways you hope readers will get from your book?
- Oh, wow, I never thought of branding this way.
- Thanks for putting this in plain language.
- I now see how important branding is! But I also recognize its destructive qualities. So let’s make sure we use it for good.
Q&A BONUS ROUND WITH Beat Baudenbacher
What are you reading right now?
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
What show are you binging right now?
Better Call Saul
What’s the last movie you saw?
What’s something weird on your desk right now?
A LEGO rocket
What’s playing in the office (or home office) while you work? (What music? Podcasts? Nothing?)
Way too many podcasts
What’s your favorite podcast (aside from How Brands Are Built, of course)?
The Rest is History
Clever with Amy Devers
What’s a personal routine or ritual you adhere to?
Making lunch for my kids
What’s something you just can’t stop thinking about lately?
How to save democracy
What’s a word or phrase you probably say too often?
“One hundred percent.” My son just listened to a podcast interview I did recently, and he said: “Dad, you say that way too often!”
Any book recommendations (somehow relevant to branding, besides yours)?
While not about branding specifically, these are three books that were main inspirations for Somewhere Yes that I would recommend to anyone in media and communications:
- What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund
- Whatever You Think, Think the Opposite by Paul Arden
- The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan
Rob Meyerson is a brand consultant, namer, and author of Brand Naming: The Complete Guide to Creating a Name for Your Company, Product, or Service. He also runs Heirloom, an independent brand strategy and identity firm, and hosts the podcast How Brands Are Built.