SpearTalks: Capacitor Design Network

Posted on August 17, 2007 Under Design

Josh Brown and Jeff Rooney, founders of creative agency Capacitor Design Network, formed their roots at a well-known Vermont studio called JDK. Sometime in the middle of working on some minor stuff — like working on the Xbox logo (in conjunction with cinco design) — the two boys decided they were ready to branch out on their own. Perhaps I should say two branch out on their own, because the resulting company landed Josh and Jeff in separate locations, and almost 3,000 miles apart. Over the next few years, Josh (in Vermont) and Jeff (in Portland) slowly gathered clients, and soon they were doing some of the things they’d dreamed of doing — like album covers and branding for the biggest snowboarding company around.

Now, over a decade after Josh and Jeff first opened shop, CDN can take credit for a large amount of notable work. Probably their biggest accomplishment to date is a three-years-running relationship with Anon, Burton’s optics division. Anyone who’s spent time on the mountain would know this relatively new line of eyewear killed it from the moment it was born, and much of the credit lies with CDN, as well as the great branding they did — and continue to do — for the company. Another area in which Capacitor shines is album design, a few of the results of which we’ve even written up before (the beautiful His and Hers artwork, for instance, was theirs).

We had a chance to toss a few questions Jeff’s way, and he responded with some very candid answers…he even threw in a few pictures from his incredible sketchbooks for good measure. Read on for a closer look into the sometimes exciting, sometimes gruelling world of marketable creativity.

Joshspear.com: Tell us a little bit about yourself: what led you to design; what keeps you in design; what’s on your to-do list for the future?

Jeff: I got into design by accident in school. I didn’t make it into the architecture program and fell into design as Plan B. Luckily for me, I loved it. Once out of school my biggest influence as a designer was working at JDK in Vermont. There were so many talented designers there who I got to work with. It certainly shaped the way I think as a designer today and the kind of work I’ve been involved with since. That’s where Josh and I met, and we eventually started Capacitor. We both were interested in pursuing more music-based clients. As for what keeps me in design… I’m not always sure. Every day is a delicate balance between being completely frustrated with my design work and wanting to quit, to being so completely inspired from all the great work out there and wanting to make stuff myself. I’m not sure, does that make me sound manic or just plain hokey? As for the future — who knows. I’d like to find the time for personal projects.

JS: You and your design partner, Josh, work remotely. How does this affect your creative process?

Jeff: I have my office at home in Portland, Oregon and Josh is back in Vermont. So, yeah, I guess we work “remotely” with one another, but that really has no affect on clients or the process we go through with them. It’s definitely tough to work alone and stay motivated, though. I’m always drawing, taking pictures and stuff like that to keep growing and learning. I keep sketchbooks both digital and analog. Also, I have a small contingent of carefully selected hand puppets that I keep nearby for critiquing my work. They’re tough but they keep me real.

JS: One of the the first things that stands out about CDN is the incredible client roster. Anon, Nike, and tons of album artwork for Om and Dreamworks, what has the process of building such a solid list been like?

Jeff: I hope the work stands out more. I don’t care so much about the names on a client roster. Big or small, known or unknown, we’re still trying to put out work that’s the best we can do. Getting and keeping clients has been a long and slow story (losing them can even be even a quicker story). We’ve had a lot of lucky breaks that gotten us some fun work and clients. I think Delicious Monster was a good example of this. They certainly weren’t a big client, but the work and client were some of the most memorable in my mind. OM Records falls in here too.

JS: I remember one day last winter I was flipping through Snowboard magazine, and I was just in shock over how many of the ads looked the same. Everyone was using one of those cowboy type treatments; everyone was mixing photos with heavy graphics — I mean everyone (except Holden, maybe) How do you keep brands like Burton and Anon differentiated, design-wise, from the rest of the herd?

Jeff: When we were doing work for Anon we were tried to do our homework first. What are other brands doing? What are they not doing? What is unique about a brand like Anon? How will these ads fit in with the overall look and story of Anon’s catalogs, product graphics and overall identity, etc.? What will it take to stand out from all those other ads in the pubs? The ads were always one component of a much bigger story we were trying to write. I think, in the end, the ads did a good job of standing out visually and defining who Anon was. They also were a solid foundation for all the other print and web demands.

JS: Along those same lines; do you find inspiration for your design in any unique places?

Jeff: Failed experiments, mistakes, friends and people I’ve worked with, lately my son’s story books, anything outside of design, being a dad, too much coffee, trips to Powell’s Books, judo, science programs, TED podcasts — I think I’m pretty boring and easily amused, so I geek out to lots of things and find there’s fertile ground for inspiration all around.

JS: You and Josh run a full service agency, which means you can structure and execute as multi-faceted campaign from start to finish. What advantages are there in this kind of across-the-board direction?

Jeff: We get to creatively guide a brand across the board. Meaning that we want to be able to handle any task in print or on the web.

JS: If you weren’t running an agency, you would be…

Jeff: Traveling more.