Design Process: Sarah Oden Photographer

03, Aug. 2019

By Hunter Oden

Sarah Oden is a commercial photographer in Little Rock, Arkansas. She specializes in fashion, portrait and product photography for a wide range of clients. 

Her brand identity needed to convey high fashion, while also maintaining a universally commercial appeal. All design decisions were made with minimalism as the precedent.

This project is near and dear to me because I made it for my wife and favorite photographer, Sarah. Together, we worked through all of the small details that are necessary to make minimalism work without being too dull or trendy (at least we think so).

Typically when I design for someone, many concessions are made between the initial concepts I present and the finalized concept that is selected—most of which are details that I would prefer not to alter (although, subjective in some of the better cases). All of the normal back-and-forth banter about cutting costs or corners was spared because we each share a budget and pride ourselves in maintaining a level of hands-on craftsmanship rivaled only by expensive automated, commercialized printing, binding and finishing techniques. Living and working together, we didn’t butt heads too often, each arriving at a successful finished product that we were satisfied with.

The public reception that we’re directly aware of has ranged from “professional” on one end of the scale, to “badass” on the end of the scale that resonates a little more with my personal dialect. We’re finding that several people retain the printed pieces we designed because of the small details that we worked in—details which include copper-threaded binding, debossed logos and painted-edge paper.

When we initially started the research and planning for this project, we assessed the local commercial photography landscape of the greater central Arkansas market and immediately realized a few competitive advantages we could exploit. I’ll spare those details in order to keep and protect that strategy, and focus on the graphic design behind the project.

I worked exclusively with type families from Klim, one of my favorite foundries for both the beautiful retail typefaces in their catalog as well as what I would call a “designed for designer’s” licensing structure. Out of the many foundries I’ve supported so far in my career, Klim’s body of work is fairly priced and robust, without limitations for static images  /  logos in their EULA. They also start their minimum licensing tier at three users for the same price that many foundries offer for only one. It feels like a privilege to press the keys of my keyboard and see the truly exceptional glyphs that result.

Sarah Oden Photographer typography hierarchy and details

The typographic hierarchy of Sarah's brand identity, featuring Domaine Sans Display, Founders Grotesk Light and Founders Grotesk Text from Klim Type Foundry.

As soon as I saw Domaine Sans Display, I knew it was the perfect selection for Sarah’s logotype. It’s modern, by both the literal typographic definition, as well as the current era. Of course, it has limitations in scalability, where the thin strokes get lost on fine retina displays or smaller printed materials, but with only ten characters separated by a space to derive her first and last name, we’re able to get away with using it at an appropriate scale—even in the smallest required applications. I paired it with Founders Grotesk Light, which I reserved almost exclusively for uppercase usage with a light amount of tracking applied. The only exception being subheads on the internal portfolio pages of her website, and a one sentence description of her business that resides near the footer on the Index and Contact pages. I also went ahead and bought the regular and italic “text” faces of the family to help resolve some of the small scale challenges of the nearly closed off terminals on the “C, G and S.”

It feels like a privilege to press the keys of my keyboard and see the truly exceptional glyphs that result.

We had a small run of folded covers and inserts printed by Arkansas Graphics. We used white 100# Lynx stock for for the covers and white 80# Lynx stock for the inserts. Add in the mundane task of cutting 100 small tags with Sarah’s logo lockup and we were all set to bind mini mailable booklets. We used a sewing machine to puncture the paper, followed by honest, old-fashioned hand-sewing with metallic copper thread.

Detail photograph of Sarah's direct mailer with copper-threaded stitching and small logo tag

A detail shot of the hand-stitched binding and logo tag on Sarah's mailers, as well as the small copper envelope and wrapped address label.

Sarah compiled a small list of businesses she wanted to target, and we mailed them out in Blush Pink A7 Envelopes from Paper Source. The envelopes included a debossed logo on the flap and custom matte Avery address labels that we also painstakingly cut one-at-a-time with an Exacto blade and wrapped around the upper left corner of each envelope. A few businesses received a bonus 3"x3" square copper envelope housing an introductory offer as well.

Her business cards were printed by Moxy Ox on 16pt. uncoated cover for an initial test-run with spray painted edges. Once I experimented with that and sorted through all of the challenges, I edge-painted a second run on 34pt. Eggshell White i-Tone stock. The painted edges worked flawlessly, sparing any paint seepage onto the front or back of the cards. The final embellishment was added using an old Chandler & Price platen press to deboss an outlined version of her logo onto the upper empty section of the cards.

Painted edge business card process photograph

A photo of the initial test run of painted edges on 16pt stock tightened between a c-clamp.

Sarah Oden Photographer painted-edge business cards

The completed stack of 34pt copper painted-edge business cards with a debossed logo.

Sarah Oden Photographer debossing logo onto business stationery using a 1903 Chandler & Price Platen Press

Sarah feeding a 1903 Chandler & Price platen press to deboss her logo at the top of her business cards.

A few people have noted that the effort required to make a short run of business cards like this seems futile, but I think that’s a very narrow-minded way of approaching it. If your organization employs 20 or 30+ people, turnover is high, budgets are low or you're passing out business cards in large quantities, this level of detail and craft is certainly not for you. However, when you are selectively passing out materials to well-qualified prospective customers, or like this example, someone who has already become a customer, online, prior to your first interpersonal encounter, why not take the extra time and consideration to show them that you take your work seriously? Remember, people are keeping these and regularly making comments about them each time Sarah hands one out.

Once we gathered all of the pieces together, I realized how all of the hours I poured into this project did not seem to be accounted for. After all, this project only has a few pieces that required designing since each branded component needed to serve its purpose without detracting from the prominence of the photography. Still, I was able to compose one of my favorite studio shots to date, relying on some additional items of interest in the form of a copper pen and thread-wrapped spool. The shoot was a reminder that graphic design sometimes needs to be supplemented by strong presentation in order to resonate with audiences who otherwise would overlook many of the details.

Detail photograph of Sarah's direct mailer with copper-threaded stitching and small logo tag

An overview of all physical media comprising Sarah's brand identity design.

As for Sarah, all of the details behind her brand identity are appreciated and she is reaping the benefits more and more with each passing week. 2019 has been her most successful year in business so far, and I know my effort on this project has played a small role in that success. Granted, I’ll be the first to say, she puts in a lot of time to continue expanding her skills and is quickly setting herself apart with or without nice graphic design.

You can see this project in full, accompanied by selections of Sarah’s work here. After being published, it was added to Klim's In Use directory on their site as well.

Portrait of Art Director and Graphic Designer, Hunter Oden

Hunter Oden

I'm an art director and graphic designer working in Little Rock, Arkansas. Occasionally, I'll blog about typography, educational resources, or my portfolio and design process.