How do you go from an in-house designer to owning your own global brand? Dean Evans talks to Benny Gold about promoting your portfolio.
Do a Google search for 'Benny Gold' and you'll find that the San Francisco-based graphic designer is all over the web. Beyond maintaining his website at www.bennygold.com, he also writes various columns, runs an online shop, has a MySpace page, a Facebook profile and a Twitter ID. And it's not just high-tech promotional tools that help Gold build his brand. "My friend Bryan spotted my sticker on a Mexican mariachi band heading to work," he remembers. "I have no idea how the sticker got there, but it's an honour greater than any press I could possibly get."
Gold, who went solo in 2007, is best known for his logo work. "My favourite type of projects are identity jobs. I really enjoy working on logos," he says. "There is a lot of brainstorming and thought that goes into them, and I find them extremely challenging and exciting. I have had the pleasure of creating the original identities for Huf, Mash, Highsnobiety and many more. I've also worked with many notable clients, including Stussy, Gravis, Carhartt Europe, Nike, Adidas, Real Skateboards, Ipath and DVS footwear. In addition to freelancing, I also run a signature clothing label - the Benny Gold brand."
Wearing his passion for skate and bike culture on his sleeve, Gold describes a typical day in his life as "tea, work, skate, bike". His identity work for Huf arguably put him on the map, with his big break in 2002 when he designed the memorable, almost Etch-A-Sketch-inspired logo. Gold says that he's most proud, however, of the design work he did for Mash. "Mash is a San Francisco-based film about riding fixed gear bikes in the city," he explains. "My good friends Mike Martin and Gabe Morford made the film, and they asked me to help with the art. I created the logo for the movie and most of the accompanying pieces. The logo illustrates the camaraderie of the team by utilising a clean military insignia changed into an iconic 'M'. I included a lighting bolt into the mark to characterise the speed of the bikes on the street," he continues.
"Mash made a conscious effort to distance itself from other street bike documentaries that focused more on bike messengers," Gold adds. "During the research process, I noticed that almost everything that was city bike-related had that dirty gritty street feeling to it. If Mash was going to successfully distance itself from what was already out there, I felt its identity needed to be clean and polished. After the movie debuted, many of the subsequent bike films and brands that followed Mash used a similar approach to their branding and products."
Of course, producing consistently good design work only gets you so far. You've got to shout about what you do. And it's this tireless self-promotion that has fuelled the Benny Gold success story. He strongly believes that the more you can "get out there" and get yourself noticed, the more work you'll receive. This process starts organically with your own portfolio work. For example, recently he picked up a logo project for Long Beach bike shop 'City Grounds' because the client had seen his previous identity work for Mash and Freeman.
"Promotion is important to keep your work fresh in people's minds, so when a job does come up you are their first thought," Gold suggests. "The best way to stand out is to put out good work. Concepts are the strongest part of any design portfolio. Everyone knows how to use a computer and programs these days, so it's not hard to make things look good." But while strong concepts and ideas are the bedrock of good design, self promotion is vitally important. "In a weird way, promoting yourself is almost as important as the work itself," Gold adds. "And the more tools you use the better."
Most of Gold's promotional activity is focused on the internet. "The internet is part of everyday life and a great tool to get your work out there," he says. "I wanted my online presence to have a complete feeling of what I am about. So my portfolio, blog, store and selected press are all in one place. [The blog] is updated regularly with new projects and sneak-peaks of things that I am working on. I've also just started using Twitter and I'm still messing with it. It seems like it's texting and updating a blog all in one. So far so good, but I'm not 100 per cent sold on it yet. But it's easier and faster then updating your site regularly."
With www.bennygold.com acting as the focal point for his design work, Gold funnels attention towards the website via a number of different promotional channels. You can find him via Facebook, Twitter and his 'Goldspace' page on MySpace. You might encounter the Benny Gold brand by reading one of his columns on Highsnobiety, Black Lodges or the Mash blog on Arkitip (which all link back to his website). You might also see some of his signature clothing featured in a magazine, newspaper or on a website. Benny Gold is everywhere.
While the internet is the foundation of much of Gold's promotional work, he cites his own signature line as one of his most effective PR tools. Head over to shop.bennygold.com and you'll find Gold-branded t-shirts and sweatshirts, baseball caps, skateboard accessories and assorted stickers (which are included with every order). "It is important to build your personal brand like you were working on one for a client," Gold says. "Some people have a hard time designing for themselves. I just separate myself from it and treat it like any other job."
And, as the Mexican mariachi band proves, don't underestimate the value of old-school viral advertising. Gold tries to put up his stickers wherever he can. And because the stickers are also for sale via his store ($5 buys you an envelope stuffed with assorted 'Gold', 'Stay Gold' and 'In Gold We Trust' mini-art), they have extended the Benny Gold brand far beyond his San Francisco base. In 2008, Gold even ran a contest on his website to encourage his fans to put his stickers in weird places and submit a photo. One of the four winners had managed to slap a sticker on the back of a police cruiser.
Designing your own clothing is surely the ultimate promotional tool. "I really enjoy working on my own line," says Gold. "I love how an idea can evolve over time with the right amount of focus. A simple idea can take shape and grow into more than just the original thought.
"The Gold themes in the line are starting to become clearer," he continues, "and take on a solid shape. I am really looking forward to its progression over the next couple of years."
Gold feels that he's constantly learning and growing as a person, and as a designer. "The more you focus on things, the better you become at them," he says. "My good friend Scott Herskovitz, aka HERSK, has really helped me grow as a designer over the last few years. When I met him I was fresh out of college and working full time for a design firm. He taught me how to create designs that you are happy with on your own terms. If it wasn't for him, I am not sure if I would have ever gone out on my own. Herskovitz is an amazing designer and finds a really good balance between his fine art and his design."
Friends and colleagues can be a vital source of inspiration and motivation. If nothing else, they can also be a sounding board to help you evolve and perfect your artwork. "I am inspired every single day by other designers," Gold adds. "There are a lot of really talented people out there. David Taylor is also a great designer who has helped me grow conceptually. We studied design together in college and have remained close. Over the years I would show him stuff that I was working on and he would always ask about the concept behind it. He helped me really focus on the meaning of my work as well as the execution. He is now working as a creative director at a great design shop called 'Planet Propaganda' in Madison, Wisconsin."
Promotion, it seems, comes naturally to Gold and his cross-platform PR has attracted a loyal fan-base. "I am proud of the work that I do, so promoting it is not hard. It's all about the time spent on whatever you are into. You can always tell when the effort has been put into a project. While I'm still happy with my earlier logos - Body Tuneup, Huf and Simon Consulting - I feel that the Highsnobiety and the Freeman logos are good examples of where I am at now with identity design. I am really starting to see my hand in my work and the illustrative aspect to it. We will see where it goes from here."
And that's a good final question: where does Gold go from here? "Right now I am figuring out how to juggle client work and still have the time to focus on my own brand," he says. "It's hard to keep on top of both. I have been very fortunate to stay busy with projects. I am booked out usually four months in advance.
"I squeeze my personal projects in between deadlines. I am excited by a few collaboration projects that are in the works for 2009. I have a few really interesting projects with some Japanese companies, and I also just finished up a project with Gravis footwear that I am looking forward to. I have plans for the site to grow too. But I just need to set some time aside to develop it.
"Other than that, I plan on spending a lot of time on my skateboard this year. I've been skating for 24 years now, and have no plans, whatsoever, to slow down any time soon."