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Graphic Design III

Beyond just business


Jontue Hollingsworth, owner of Headron Collider, designed this poster for “The Big One 2016,” an annual design show for AIGA Alaska.

Image by Jontue Hollingsworth


Note: This is part three of a three-part series exploring the graphic design industry in Alaska. Parts one and two appeared in the April and July issues of Alaska Business.


Jontue Hollingsworth, owner of graphic design company Headron Collider, says design “has always been a part of me; I’ve always been creative.” It was while Hollingsworth was attending college to study industrial technology that he learned graphic design is a career “where I could be a professional and be creative at the same time.” He switched his major two years into school.

Anti-bullying campaign posters (right) and branding/logo (left) for Anchorage Youth Vote, designed by Jontue Hollingsworth.

Images by Jontue Hollingsworth

Creative Balance

Creativity is a vital part of graphic design, and Hollingsworth says that he named his company with the creative process in mind. Headron Collider is a play on the Hadron Collider, the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator, located in Switzerland. He explains, “That [particle acceleration] process reminds me of the creative process. We all have ideas, [but] we can’t physically see them. You share your thoughts, I share my thoughts, and then together we start to gain momentum and we can bring something into existence, something new that we’ve never seen before.”

Photo by Jontue Hollingsworth

The Beg, Yarrow or Seal label was designed by Jontue Hollingsworth for Broken Tooth Brewing.

Hollingsworth says the majority of the work that he does for his clients is branding, including logo production and identity systems. He says he dedicates a portion of his time to nonprofit work, as well. For example, he’s been working with the League of Women Voters Anchorage, an organization that promotes political responsibility through education and participation in government. This year he’s helping develop an anti-bullying campaign.

No matter the design project, it’s important to understand its purpose and audience, and there must be a balance between creativity and practical concerns. “It’s a very fine line,” Hollingsworth says. “I get bored really quickly and my mind tends to wander, and there’s a whole creative experimentation process that can go on forever, but you have to understand that it’s not just art, it does serve a purpose, and it has to communicate a message.”


Design on the Side

Screamin’ Yeti Designs Owner Mike Kirkpatrick has found a unique way to utilize some of his creative work that might otherwise never see the light of day. Kirkpatrick says that he’ll often work on designs that ultimately aren’t selected by the client, not because they’re bad but “there are going to be things I think are really great that either don’t fit or aren’t what the client is looking for.” He continues, “Instead of having them languish inside of my machine,” he’ll take strong designs and turn them into other merchandise.

For example, in addition to Kirkpatrick’s professional design services, he also produces shirts, hoodies, t-shirts, and stickers. He started doing this about twelve years ago—a friend had passed along a very rough idea that eventually became Kirkpatrick’s “Get High in the Chugach” design. He took about $200, ordered a limited run of shirts, and sold them out of a backpack. “People liked that design, so I thought I’d keep that going,” he says. “At the time I had a friend out in Palmer that had a silk screen set up. He had a bunch of ideas but not the [design] skill to get these rudimentary drawings refined. So we worked together for years.”

Most Anchorage residents have seen Kirkpatrick’s creative work, though they may not know it. He designs and draws the chalkboard signs that display specials for Moose’s Tooth Pub & Pizzeria. It’s a highly creative project because the pizzeria simply gives him a list of the specials and leaves the design work up to him. “I really have free reign to do whatever, as long as it’s not offensive,” Kirkpatrick laughs. “It’s still graphic design, but it’s more hands on.”

Annie Brace of Corso Graphics designed this poster for Alaska Clean Harbors, a voluntary, non-regulatory program that works throughout Alaska to help prevent pollution and reduce waste in our harbors and waterways.

Image courtesy of Corso Graphics

Path-side Graphic Art

Image courtesy of Corso Graphics

Arctic Moon Bakery logo designed by Annie Brace, owner of Corso Graphics.

Chalkboard signs are one of those ubiquitous designs that people see every day, likely without giving much thought as to how they were conceived or who created them. Annie Brace, owner of Corso Graphics, has her work displayed statewide, although the majority her appreciative viewers don’t know who she is. She says, “My whole life I’ve always been an artist—more of a fine art artist—and then when I was in high school I wanted a different outlet for creativity aside from hand-rendered art.”

When Brace moved to Alaska in 2004, she initially worked for a landscape architecture firm through which she built relationships with many of her current clients. “I had fostered great relationships with Parks & Recreation, Anchorage Park Foundation, [and] Great Land Trust... So aside from doing graphics for small businesses—let’s say a logo design which usually branches out to letterhead, business cards, [and] web elements—I had that relationship with lots of nonprofits in town, so I do a lot of interpretive panels.”

Interpretive panels are the informational signs found throughout the state in parks, road pull-outs, at historic sites, and along trails. Corso describes them as “a pause in your walk where you take the time to reflect.” The panels generally describe notable details about the area being visited, such as local wildlife, geology information, plant descriptions, scientific explanations, and historical details. “So if there’s a stream bed, we would show the animals that feed there and how it relates to where you’re standing and how the stream pulls everything together.”

Image courtesy of Corso Graphics

Business cards designed by Annie Brace for Huddle, which provides management, design, facilitation, and public relations services for projects building parks, trails, and other outdoor spaces.

Brace explains there’s a methodology involved in creating the signs. She says the signs have about three seconds to grab the viewer’s attention; eight seconds to keep their attention while reading the sub-heading; and “if they’re drawn in they’ll take the time to read the literature below.” A text book on a sign isn’t interesting to anyone. “You want to give them nuggets to inform them without boring them.” Brace’s history with fine art has been a boon for her career, especially in terms of illustrative work, which she says is a “huge facet to my particular style of graphics.” In addition to working digitally, she creates hand-rendered illustrations and watercolors, which she often uses for background on the interpretive panels.

“I just did some panels last year at Balto Seppala Park that talked about the serum run, [working with] the Anchorage Park Foundation. There’s a little newly-guided path through Balto Park and there’s five panels, really so kids could engage with the name of the park. I created watercolors of the dogs, and kids love that stuff.” She continues, “Graphic design can spur many [other] facets of design. Some people take their graphic design and they veer into marketing, or they veer into web design or tech stuff; I veer towards illustrative and fine art, and I kind of merge the two in an art/graphic fusion.”

Image courtesy of Corso Graphics

Annie Brace of Corso Graphics designed this poster for the 20th anniversary celebration for Great Land Trust, a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters of Southcentral Alaska.

Brace also produces prints, stickers, and hats featuring her designs and celebrating Alaska.


Branding for the Branders

Hollingsworth, Brace, Kirkpatrick, and George Meyer of Plaid Agency all own their freelance businesses, but in terms of design they’re probably more unique than they are similar. They have different design processes, styles, and mediums, as well as myriad sources of inspiration. Meyer says that the Plaid name was inspired by the cover of the children’s book Elmer by David McKee about an elephant with a patchwork hide. “He isn’t actually plaid,” Meyer says, but inspiration is rarely a direct line. The company’s mascot, a plaid elephant, was conceived from the same place.

In addition to traditional business materials and clothing, Kirkpatrick has designed snowboards (in response to “You do a lot of things,” he laughs and agrees). In his younger days he entered a snowboard design contest, and while he didn’t win, one of the judges called him to compliment him on his ‘screamin’ yeti contribution, which inspired Kirkpatrick’s company name and logo design.


Find the Right Fit

Because of everyone’s different skills, backgrounds, and personalities, Hollingsworth encourages businesses, organizations, and individuals in need of design services to shop around for the right designer. “Talk to several designers and find the person that you connect with. A better relationship will work better than just hiring someone that you think is talented because communication is so important—it’s a big part of the process right there.”

In order to make sure his clients receive the right designs for their needs, Hollingsworth asks a series of questions: Who is the target audience? What is the message? How does the company want to appear to its clients? Who is the competition? He explains, “Just going through that process you define who you are so you aren’t scattered all over the place trying to appeal to everyone. Usually, when a brand is trying to do that, you appear sort of wishy-washy, and you don’t feel very authentic. If you’re trying to appeal to everyone, you can’t. You have to have a backbone and know what you stand for and speak in your voice.”

Kirkpatrick emphasizes that a logo and appropriate branding are tools. “It helps set your business apart,” he says. “We live in a world that’s heavily saturated with graphic design all the time; you’re being bombarded daily whether you realize it or not. Good design is a way to make yourself stand out from the competition and say: Look at me—this is what I can do for you.”


This article first appeared in the August 2017 print edition of Alaska Business.

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