What makes a logo stand the test of time? The legendary identity designer Mackey Saturday joins us on this episode of Overtime to chat all things brand identity. Mackey shares his experience redesigning the new Instagram script logo and working with Oculus and Unsplash on their new visual identities. We hear why he values a strong concept over visual aesthetic and the importance of designing logos with functionality in mind.
Mackey also shares how his love for skateboarding introduced him to the world of design and the strong parallel between the two. For Mackey, both skateboarding and design involve a ton of failure and force you to look at the world with a different pair of eyes.
This episode is brought to you by Ueno. Do you like laughing? Crying? Making thoughtful facial expressions? Meeting interesting people? Being met by interesting people? Then Uenoland from your friends at Ueno is for you. It’s the “conference” you always wanted to go to but never found, until now. Get 10% off using the code DRIBBBLE when you book your ticket to Uenoland.
Links Mentioned in Overtime
- Mackey Saturday
- Mackey Saturday on Dribbble
- Mackey Saturday on Instagram
- Mackey Saturday on Twitter
- Kevin Systrom
- Cole Rise
- Instagram logo case study
- Unsplash logo case study
- Oculus logo case study
- Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv
Dan Cederholm: One of the things that jumps out at me is your Instagram logo work. This was several years ago, right? Probably five or six years ago maybe.
Mackey Saturday: That’s some very accurate guesstimation there. It’s basically five and a half years ago I think that that came out.
Dan Cederholm: Is it really? Okay.
Mackey Saturday: Maybe. We’re getting close to six. It’s wild.
Dan Cederholm: It is. And I remember being really impressed with it, and I think for a number of reasons. But one of those reasons, it retained the personality that it had previously with, I think it was a typeface of some kind. But redrawn by you with some impeccable attention to detail. And I wonder if you could go into the project a little bit and just how it happened and how it went down. Because it was an interesting time when it was released, right?
Mackey Saturday:: Of course. No. And this is actually a really good project to discuss. Everybody wants to talk about Instagram just because of the nature of the business. Because it’s big, and people know about it. But I don’t think people realize that Dribbble was coming into its own at the same time that Instagram was. And everybody that was participating in the earliest days of creating Instagram were also members on Dribbble. Even Kevin Systrom the CEO, he’s on Dribbble.
Dan Cederholm: That’s right. I know. It’s amazing. And those were great days. And I was always amazed by that. And he actually shared quite a bit in the early days. The icon was created in the height of skeuomorphic icon design, which I kind of miss to be honest.
Mackey Saturday: It was. And he created it. I don’t know that a lot of people know about that or realize how much of a design sense he had, or at least talent too. But he made that original one, the one that looked pretty much perfectly like a Polaroid camera, a tiny skeuomorphic Polaroid camera. It was pretty impressive.
Dan Cederholm: It really was.
Mackey Saturday: So, yeah. How that plays into all of all of this in terms of timing was that I think that to be honest, I don’t remember exactly. But me and Kevin’s original connection very much could have come through seeing things on Dribbble. I don’t remember exactly, but it was a very active part of that time. It gave him a real sense of who designers were and what was going on and what was fresh, and who he should talk to and things like that.
Dan Cederholm: This is amazing. I knew that you both were on Dribbble at the time. But I had no idea that there’s that strong of a connection from Dribbble. That’s great.
Mackey Saturday: For sure. Well, Cole Rise.
Dan Cederholm: Yes.
Mackey Saturday: He’s a photographer, but also designer. He is the one who did all of the other versions of the icon and the most recent one. And he was posting all of those on Dribbble.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah. It was so fun to watch him share that stuff. And he’s doing some amazing things now photography wise.
Mackey Saturday: Absolutely. So it was a good time. A good point in time where people were starting new things that were really important to creatives as a whole. Because I think Instagram was really geared towards creatives also in a slightly different way. It was people that at least care and about how a photo looked and curating your photography, and sharing at least at that point.
Dan Cederholm: Absolutely. I totally agree. Yeah.
Mackey Saturday: And Dribbble was obviously a place of prominence, especially for people who cared a lot about design and wanted peers to have a place to speak to that. A really broad and inclusive place where people could get feedback, could put work in progress out there. And could really get a sense of just what people were actually doing. It removed all the silos that had naturally formed and that were created by the sense of only posting work within a portfolio. So it really opened up that landscape. And that is something that very much could have stewarded some of those initial relationships I will say. So where the work came from eventually was that as you said, Instagram had a wordmark that was set in what’s a free typeface called Billabong. So you can go download that and you can be Danagram or whatever you want. And you’ll look just like the original-
Dan Cederholm: Billabong. So like the surf company name?
Mackey Saturday: Yup.
Dan Cederholm: Wow.
Mackey Saturday: Exactly.
Dan Cederholm: That’s awesome.
Mackey Saturday: And that’s a problem though when you’re trying to have something proprietary. An identity needs to be distinctive, and that was just something that anybody could grab and make their own. So the task at hand really was to make it distinctive, but to keep the integrity that was there and the equity that they had established. Because even though they were new, they were still pushing 100 million users at that time. They were getting ready to launch their Android app. It was a really exciting time for the company. And one of the most important things in design, I’m sure you know this and I think a lot of a lot of designers do, is that you really should be intentional about not doing any harm with the work.
So the idea is not to make something for the sake of change, it’s to make something to solve a problem. We realize that we could keep that script style but make it into something that was proprietary and something that they could own and continue to use for many, many years. Because you could look around and see other brands that had done it like Coca Cola or like, there’s Johnson & Johnson. There’s a lot of these classic script, word marks, logo types, whatever you want to call them that are out there that have been a really effective and have proven to be able to be quite contemporary even if they worked done 50, 60, 100 years ago.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, I love those. Yeah. Johnson & Johnson, that’s a great one that comes to mind. Coca Cola-
Mackey Saturday: Campbell’s.
Dan Cederholm: Oh, right. Campbell’s of course.
Mackey Saturday: There’s a lot of these out there. A lot of them came from that signature idea. Kellogg’s also. Yeah.
Dan Cederholm: That ‘K’.
Mackey Saturday: Yeah. And these things have been able to endure and to carry on. Coca Cola is a very prominent one, and they’ve done a great job of modernizing that into all kinds of different interpretations, just using those curves and the colors. And so we said yeah, maybe we can do that here. Maybe we can really create something that keeps the idea that everybody knows and loves about Instagram. But can be your own. And that was really what sparked that work and went into the painstaking details that you’re speaking of. But that’s all just a part of the service to the design, getting it right. Because ideally if I do my job well, I never have to do it again.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, right. Do it once, right. Instead of several times. And I do think it stands the test of time. We’re almost six years out, but it just works. It’s Instagram.
Mackey Saturday: Yeah, I’ve been really impressed with the consistency in which they’ve used it and the prominence that they give it. Because at least if you’re on an iPhone, it’s locked to the top of the phone at all times while you’re in the app.
Dan Cederholm: That’s right.
Mackey Saturday: When you’re scrolling through the feed. So they’re really investing a lot in establishing that in people’s minds over time. It’s not just access through an icon and then the brand goes away. It’s a really prominent part of the experience.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, it sure is. How was the process at that point? Because I assume the team at that point, well the team was probably large if they had 100 million.
Mackey Saturday: No, the team was tiny. They were like 12 people. They had just hired their first designer.
Dan Cederholm: Oh my goodness.
Mackey Saturday: Michael Lumens, Dribbble guy.
Dan Cederholm: Sure. Yeah, Michael. Yes. Oh my goodness. Yeah.
Mackey Saturday: Yeah. So he was their first design hire. When Kevin and I first met, they had zero designers.
Dan Cederholm: That’s incredible. I guess because it was the app only at point. Great. So-
Mackey Saturday: Yeah. I would have to look it up, but I think they had less than 15 people when they were acquired.
Dan Cederholm: Wow. And that acquiring of Facebook acquiring Instagram happened not long after the logo was done or during-
Mackey Saturday: Yeah, it happened in the middle. So I thought the project was over for obvious reasons. I assumed Facebook’s going to take it over and it’s going to become Facebook photos, or who knows what. And I assumed that it would be a missed opportunity, but somehow it came back around and I’m fortunate enough that they really saw the equity in the brand carrying that forward. So it took a little bit longer to finish, not because of more rounds of work or anything, just because of the nature of having your company acquired in the middle of Facebook filing its IPO.
Dan Cederholm: That too. Yeah, right.
Mackey Saturday: Yeah, it was an interesting time.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah. I mean it is kind of amazing how Facebook has kept the brand in tact, and I’ve always been impressed by that actually. Because that happened in the middle of you doing the logo, did that complicate things at all in terms of sharing iterations? Was it still, you’re still working just with Kevin?
Mackey Saturday: Yeah no. In the end it, it didn’t. It stayed exactly the same. It was really a Kevin thing, and they added some designers. That was really helpful in the end for solidifying and finalizing everything because at that point, you were really dealing with a lot of different densities of screens still too. Retina screens were not the default by any means. And in fact, I’m trying to remember if there was even a retina iPhone at that point. But either way, that actually contributed a lot to the finalizing of that logo where we did a lot of interesting things to it that you wouldn’t necessarily do from a type perspective, but that were really necessary because of the scale of it, the size that it had to be displayed at. And the necessity for it to read as a good script still without a lot of pixels.
Dan Cederholm: Wow. So that dictated how you would manipulate the script.
Mackey Saturday: Absolutely. Because as you can imagine, you want things to rasterize in a similar way. And so the more repetition of size and form and location, even of where things connect and things like that was really, really helpful. Inclusive of having everything on the baseline. Exactly aligned, which is not appropriate for that word, but we needed that so that it didn’t look like it was bouncing.
Dan Cederholm: Wow. Excellent. And at the time, this was when retina had just come out or hadn’t even come out. And you’re trying to make sure this looks good on all screens and tablets, and billboards probably too. Right? Do you find that since that project, that has become normal or something you’ve had to think about for every identity that you’ve done?
Mackey Saturday: It’s good practice, just because most of the time an identity has to go in places that you would never, ever imagine. And things do continue to get almost smaller and smaller. We’re getting higher density screens, which is nice. But in terms of the impression of something when it becomes very, very small, how it reads in the mind. You do have considerations that should be taken into account in terms of how something is going to still give off the same feel at every scale. People know that from icon design and everything like that too. But really also letting that play out in an identity and a logo itself has become a really important part of the process.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, it really has, right? You mentioned the icon design. It’s almost as if in a lot of cases for brands that are really web centric anyway, it is kind of like designing an icon because it’s going to be, there’s so many different little small places that it could show up. Right? As opposed to before apps, before the web, that wasn’t necessarily a concern I guess.
Mackey Saturday: No, when your first priority was the storefront signage, you weren’t too worried about it scaling down well.
Dan Cederholm: Right. Have someone paint the window and then you’re done. Yeah. So that’s a good segue into some of your other projects too where I think one of the most recent ones that I’m aware of is your logo for Unsplash, which was pretty universally loved, I feel like. It felt like you nailed it completely. And yet it’s very simplistic in terms of shape. That’s in a good way. Obviously that makes it super flexible, right?
Mackey Saturday: Yeah. Thanks. There’s always people that don’t like change. That’s a default expect that when you roll out a new identity. But I was pleasantly surprised by how welcoming that community was, because it is a really passionate community. The people who use Unsplash and who contribute to it. It’s a big community, but it’s people that are really, really passionate about it. And so to have people excited, that’s always a great thing.
But to your point, that one, it had to work in tiny, tiny places with no color and still be extremely distinctive because since they released their API and people are now putting this in text editors and things like that for if you’re writing up a blog post on medium or vice versa. It needed to maintain that integrity, and to read really well and stand out. Because that was one of the biggest problems for them is that when you’re on a third party site if this shows up at the bottom of an editor, you just assumed that it was like literally take a picture, their previous one. Because it just was a camera icon-
Dan Cederholm: Right, it was a camera icon. Yeah.
Mackey Saturday: Yeah. And it was the same camera icon that you’d see in Instagram or things like that. And it was definitely confusing. So this allows people to know that I’m going to Unsplash to the stock photography website. It is its own thing. It’s not access the photos on my computer or on my phone.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah. And I’m looking at your case study on your website, which we’ll link in the show notes. And it’s amazing. The way you’ve visually explained how the logo is created and how well it works in different applications. I love this animation of a grid of six photos and they pull apart into the logo mark. It’s so great. It reminds me too that really good identity work has to be this flexible. The marks in logos that have stood the test of time are usually ones that are simple and that work in one color for instance, or small, large, and that kind of thing.
Mackey Saturday: Absolutely. It’s pretty impossible to determine where a logo is going to show up. So ideally, you’re trying to future proof this to make it work regardless of what happens within technology, business, production methods, etc. You want to make something that a three year old could sketch. That’s probably your best way forward for making sure that it doesn’t get messed up and it can handle anything. That’s a big thing with with VR as well. How does the logo look when it’s no longer flat?
Dan Cederholm: Right.
Mackey Saturday: This is something a lot of people haven’t thought about.
Dan Cederholm: I love thinking about that. Not that I’ve come up with anything good. My son has … This is a great segue. This wasn’t planned. Oculus Rift, he has an Oculus Rift which I’m going to ask you about in a second. But you’re right. And that kind of got me thinking, man this changes everything. Logos, UI, there’s just a whole new way of thinking about a visual representation of things.
Mackey Saturday: Yeah. But without going into that, just in terms of Unsplash and you’re talking about that little video there, it’s nice to have an idea that’s explainable. That helps people embrace something for sure. It’s not a requirement in a logo. There’s plenty of abstract logos that aren’t directly tied to a product or service and they’re perfectly fine. The Nike swoosh is a pretty good example of that. It’s a stylized check mark. But it has an idea. It has movement. It’s dynamic, which is appropriate to an athletic wear brand. But it’s not explainable like, “That’s the movement of a runner’s arm,” or something. They don’t need to be. If they can be simple and distinctive and appropriate, they have that ability to really endure. With Unsplash, we were able to come up with some things that also were pretty directly recognizable and that’s helpful.
Dan Cederholm: That’s a great point. Nike, there are some things that have just become iconic because of the brand and because of the longevity. Right? That’s a great example of the swoosh. Looks good on a shoe too I guess.
Mackey Saturday: Yeah, it functions very well. And that’s extremely important.
Dan Cederholm: That really is.
Mackey Saturday: See I always say that a great identity still needs to have a really strong idea, and that’s really what we’re searching for. ‘Cause hopefully, anybody could replicate all of the work that I do very, very quickly. But can you come up with an idea? That’s really the valuable portion of it. However, it only becomes really, really iconic if it gets used well. So even if the idea is not known or understood, if it’s able to be used consistently and in a way that is very, very effective, like the swoosh on shoe, it has great potential.
Dan Cederholm: Great Point. Excellent point. Yeah, like the Unsplash logo for instance. It’s simple, but the idea and the thought behind it is so solid. And that helps it work. It’s funny ‘cause some … Geez, I was guilty of this early in my career. Instead of trying to think of that idea it’s like, how can I make this visually interesting? And that was maybe wrongly the first thing I would think to do. Right?
Mackey Saturday: Yeah. I don’t think that you’re alone. I was definitely like that too because we want something that when we look at, we enjoy it. We get excited by it. And it’s hard to turn that off and to really think about the effectiveness of it. And does it have the ability to do all these things? That’s why a lot of times with the ideas that I have now, I’ll put them into application to actually test them where they’re going to need to work quite a bit before I ever try to really firm up my excitement about it or even my disbelief in it. Sometimes I think it’s not quite right. But then I see how it works and how it functions, and then I start to get excited about it. So it’s weird how that process has changed.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah. So in other words, mocking it up in as many real-world scenarios as you can. Is that part of the process?
Mackey Saturday: Yeah, that’s part of the process for sure. To what we were just talking about, even making three-dimensional ones. Even dreaming about how it can be all these things. Just really testing that out seeing how does this thing live. Putting it on your phone for example, not just looking at it on a computer screen, on a fake phone. Put it on your actual phone and open up your phone a few times and see if you still really like how something looks if it catches your eye. Put it where it needs to really be in the real world and walk by it a few times. Your impressions change.
Dan Cederholm: I love that. That’s great advice actually. Looking again at your case study, near the bottom you’ve shown an office wall. And there’s a bunch of photos, framed photos that are grouped in a way that look like the mark, which is awesome.
Mackey Saturday: Thanks. Yeah, that was a last minute random addition to the case study.
Dan Cederholm: Really? I love it. That’s my favorite one I think. ‘Cause it actually took me a minute to figure it. I’m like, “Those must be Unsplash. Oh.” Okay. See I hope that’s in their headquarters somewhere.
Mackey Saturday: Well they’re getting a new office. They’re in the process of building one out and they talked about putting in something like that. We’ll see. Things like that are always risky to show it first though because to your point, if you don’t have a a design eye, you might not even see it.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah. That’s true.
Mackey Saturday: Us as designers, we get really excited about these ideas and we see these things pretty naturally because we’ve trained ourselves to for years and years and years. But if somebody is not looking at designs all the time, not looking at art, quite often not having those experiences, these things can be difficult for them. So you’ve got to walk that fine line for sure.
Dan Cederholm: And sometimes those folks are the client, right?
Mackey Saturday: Most of the time those folks are the client.
Dan Cederholm: So I mentioned Oculus earlier, which my son has and it’s awesome. But that’s another identity that I really was impressed by it before I even knew you did it. It’s another one that was so simple, but yet it’s the shape of the goggles too. Kind of brilliant, but I wonder if you could share a little bit of the process on that one.
Mackey Saturday: Of course. Yeah. And the goggle shape was actually a coincidence in the very end. Funny enough. It definitely played out well.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, absolutely.
Mackey Saturday: At least for now until the goggles are a totally different shape. But at that point-
Dan Cederholm: That’s true. When they’re contact lenses, it could be-
Mackey Saturday: Yeah, exactly. But hopefully by then, the mark is established enough that we don’t think of it as a reference to the product. We just think of it as Oculus. That project was really interesting. The process for sure. I’ve never had a process like that before, because it happens to be another Facebook project. Even though Facebook has never directly hired me, I’ve just been hired by companies who get acquired by Facebook.
Dan Cederholm: That’s right. That’s right. I think anyone that wants to get acquired by Facebook should be hiring you now.
Mackey Saturday: There we go. That’s a new criteria.
Dan Cederholm: That’s right.
Mackey Saturday: The creative director there, he was the one who actually reached out and just cold called me one day. It turned out that they had been trying for quite a while to come up with an identity, because their original identity he had made in 30 minutes because they needed to launch on Kickstarter and they realized, “We got to have a logo.”
Dan Cederholm: Wow. Wow.
Mackey Saturday: Sometimes that works out. In this case, he had made just an ‘I’. A pretty generic ‘I’, and they ran into some trademarking problems once they actually started to become successful. There’s a lot of big media companies and entertainment companies that have I’s. CBS being a very, very prominent one. Great logo, but they needed something that they could own and that they could use. So they had actually been working with a couple different agencies very unsuccessfully to get this done. So they decided to take a different approach where they went with individuals to try and solve the problem. So it was interesting. Never had something like that happen before.
They had gone through a lot of work and they had seen a lot of different things. And they had some ideas themselves. Sometimes a client comes to you and they have an idea of what something should look like. And as a designer, you have a strange responsibility to both listen to them and then to also probably not give them what they’re asking for because it’s likely not the right solution and you have to out how to solve the problem, how to create the piece, and then how to explain to them why that’s the right solution.
Dan Cederholm: Convince them that their original idea was, yeah absolutely.
Mackey Saturday: Right. And so we did a lot of things that were their original ideas that met that criteria, but nothing quite sat right. And ultimately, the simplicity of the logo that ended up being the final logo, really was striking for people. And it was just awkward enough. I remember when I came up with it, we had just a Skype group with the creative director and the other designers in that. And I asked everybody, I was like, “Is this already been done? It’s so simple, but it’s kind of weird. It kind of makes me uncomfortable when I look at it.” And a lot of times, that’s a good thing for a logo. It just feels a little bit off, but that’s what makes it stick.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, it makes it unique. And iconic.
Mackey Saturday: So ultimately, we were able to say yeah, let’s run with this. But we had the giant, the looming question of trademark, especially with something so simple. And since that was the reason for this project. So I think it took a little over three months to do all the legal work around that to know if we could actually get it. And that was before they ever even showed it to the executives. Because obviously, you don’t want to show people something that they can’t have. So if they do love it-
Dan Cederholm: Right, and then it’s already been trademarked. Yeah. That would be a bummer.
Mackey Saturday:: Big bummer. So there was a, I don’t know. It was it a strange few months of just waiting, hoping. Being excited, but also you have those little moments of self doubt too. Probably is not going to work out. But sure enough, that one was able to go through. And then yeah, it played out in a lot of really exciting ways. They have a really amazing product design team there. The physical product. And they were able to work with it in cool ways. They made on the first rift, I don’t know which one your son has. But the power switch is the shape of the logo actually.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah. Yes, yes. That’s so cool.
Mackey Saturday: There’s these little things that you can do with something like that to integrate it in unique ways. And then it allows for a good set of sub brands, which they really need because they have their own store and they’ll have all these other products. And obviously they’re doing more than just the headsets and all of that needs to tie under that brand. So the symbol gives them a tool to tie everything together with.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah. It’s perfect. It really is. I just love it-
Mackey Saturday: That’s very kind of you.
Dan Cederholm: No, it’s super awesome. ‘Cause again, my son had to get PC. Because obviously there’s Macs over here mostly. But he got an Oculus Ready PC. The brand is not oculus, it’s some PC brand. But the logo is built in, in the machine somehow. I can’t remember if it’s the power switch or what it is, but it’s machined right into the case.
Mackey Saturday: The computer, that’s cool.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah. To signify that this is an Oculus Ready PC. I loved that, shopping around for them, seeing that. That makes sense. That ties them together and it lets you know that this works with Oculus. It’s so simple. It must be a trip to see your work manifested in so many different ways, physical ways.
Mackey Saturday: It is for sure. It’s definitely a trip. Since I live in New York City, you get to see it a lot. Which is cool. Just all of it. It’s probably some of the most surreal moments are I ride the subway and I’ll be on the subway. And there will be three logos I did present at the exact same time around me.
Dan Cederholm: It’s so great.
Mackey Saturday: You look over and there’s six people sitting on Instagram, and then there’s an ad for another company that you did something for. Somebody’s wearing something, and it’s like … None of them know. But-
Dan Cederholm: Right. If only they knew that you’re the one that created all that. To get into what you’re doing now too. These logos that we’ve been talking about, correct me if I’m wrong. But created under your own studio. And now, you’re a principal at an agency. A rather prestigious agency. I’m going to botch the name, but it’s Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv.
Mackey Saturday: Yeah. Well, I actually have some. This’ll be a good segue moment for you.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah.
Mackey Saturday: I’m no longer there.
Dan Cederholm: Oh, okay. We can edit it.
Mackey Saturday: That’s okay. No, it’s good. It’s a good talking point. Yeah, I did. I moved to New York to be a principal at Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv. The hardest company name to say.
Dan Cederholm: Yes.
Mackey Saturday: Use CGH, that’s very-
Dan Cederholm: That would be nice actually. Yeah.
Mackey Saturday: Easy one to say. And yeah, I moved there because it really was, as cliche as it sounds, a once in a lifetime opportunity to get to be able to work with. Well Ivan and Tom, so Ivan Chermayeff and Tom Geismar, they founded the studio in 1957. And they were partners until Ivan been passed away a little over a year ago
Dan Cederholm: Recently, right? Right okay. And they created, just so people know. If you’re not familiar with their work, actually you. Because they’ve created some of the most iconic, some are my favorite logos actually. My God. NBC and PBS, and National Geographic, Showtime, Mobil. So anyway, I just wanted to add that because you’re right. I’m sure going there and moving to New York, that was probably an amazing experience.
Mackey Saturday: Absolutely. And it was really an affirming process which was exciting. When you’re doing this as your own studio and growing it from nothing, and I had no previous agency experience. I never had an internship or anything like that. To get to go into a place that has been doing it longer than anybody. Well, at least with people that have been doing it longer than anybody. And see a lot of similarities in our practice. That was very, very encouraging. But also the things that I was able to learn from that time, to get to experience while Ivan was still with us. And then to continually get from Tom, and even with Sagi is the much younger partner, but still extremely seasoned in corporate identity work. I learned an immense amount.
Dan Cederholm: I’ll bet. Wow, I can’t imagine. So what’s next for you then?
Mackey Saturday: That’s a good question. Yeah. So like I said, Ivan passed away a little over a year ago. That was a tough time for everybody for obvious reasons. Especially for Tom being a partner with them for 60 years, I don’t know many people. Actually, I don’t know anybody even that’s been married for 60 years.
Dan Cederholm: That’s incredible. That’s amazing.
Mackey Saturday: So that was a great honor. It just became apparent that it was going to be time for me to go back to working with some of the clients that I really enjoy working with. While I greatly appreciated the time there, and it was genuinely a once in a lifetime experience for me to get to work with them on a lot of these big corporate clients. I still have an urge and an excitement to work with people who are really pushing boundaries, who are really doing things that aren’t familiar yet. Like working with brands like Instagram are Oculus in their early stages. I want to be a part of the companies who are reshaping the world. And being at a larger agency like that, you don’t quite have those opportunities. And I’m hoping to reengage in some of those types of relationships.
Also, even in the last five, definitely, maybe 10 years. Companies have really started to change. It used to be that no big company would have a design team at all. They would hire an agency for their advertising, they’d hire a design agency. But now, you see a lot of companies having huge design teams and not just having design teams. They even have brand teams. If you look at most of the, especially in tech, the companies that we know and respect, they have huge design teams. They’re not necessarily looking for a big agency to just send work off to and wait for it to come back. They want more of a design partner. They want people that they can collaborate directly with. They want to know who they’re working with. And I want to be able to offer that back to these, these companies that really are changing the world.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, that makes good sense. You’re absolutely right. Design has elevated within the corporate structure.
Mackey Saturday: Yeah.
Dan Cederholm: Immensely over the last 10 years.
Mackey Saturday: So there’s a lot of people that I know that are moving to all kinds of different companies and doing great things. And hopefully when that time comes to evaluate the identity, we get a chance to work together.
Dan Cederholm: That’s awesome. So you are going to continue to do identity work under your own name?
Mackey Saturday: Yeah, I’ve got an office. I’m building out a new office in Brooklyn right now and I’ve got a few designers. I’ll keep the team small because one of the most important things to me is still doing the work personally. I don’t want to grow to a size where people don’t know who they’re getting when they engage in a project. I want to be very directly involved with all of that. So that forces me to really limit the quantity of people I can work with, and not grow too big as a company. But I think that there’s great value in that.
Dan Cederholm: Oh yeah, I agree. Totally. It’s personal. The work you’re doing is very personal, I feel like.
Mackey Saturday: It is, it’s personal on both sides. It’s extremely personal for the company. It’s their face to the world. And it’s personal for me. Because sure I give logos far more credit than 99.9% of the world, but I do think that they’re the loophole within design because almost everything else in design gets recycled very quickly. It has a very short shelf life. But if you make a great identity, it can endure. It can go on far longer than you. And that’s definitely a rarity within design.
Dan Cederholm: It’s funny, I was just reflecting on some design work that I’ve done over 20 years or whatever. Mostly interface work and how it’s just all gone. So that hits home for me in terms of while that’s all gone, yeah. If the identity is strong and used well, it does live on.
Mackey Saturday: Yeah. That’s the idea. And you have gone and started an incredible company, and that can live on, so there’s another way in which year you’re having that impact. I think we’re all looking for ways to have very positive impacts through design. My contribution to that is hopefully creating identities that have the ability to endure, and that position these companies who really are doing world-changing work to lead in the future.
Dan Cederholm: Well, you have. My goodness. I love it. I love it all. Mackey, you’re in New York right now, but how did you get started and how did you get into design? I hear there’s skateboarding might be involved.
Mackey Saturday: Skateboarding is definitely involved. Yeah, I went to school for art. So I have a fine art degree, a BFA. I don’t have a design background from an education perspective. I took one course that was the basics of Photoshop, like make a poster or something. A collage poster. Just something you had to do in terms of getting a degree. But I had no actual graphic design education. And when I was traveling for skateboarding after school, after college, that was when I really started to find that mixture of, or I guess that connection or that … I don’t know, the crossover between art and design. Because with skateboards, at least they used to, they still do have very good graphics. But the graphic that was on the bottom of the skateboard used to be such an iconic thing for a skateboard.
Dan Cederholm: Totally.
Mackey Saturday: You would have your pro model, and it would last for many years even.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah.
Mackey Saturday: I started to see, well I can make art. I can do this stuff that I know how to do. And as long as I can just figure out how to get it into a digital format, I can get it to the printer and we can put these things on skateboards. So that was the beginning of that, skateboards and tee shirt designs. Then realize hey, you can make a living if you start learning how to design websites, so maybe you should consider doing that. So I actually did a little bit of web design just to get started and to support myself. And pretty quickly realized that I wasn’t cut out for that work. I wasn’t passionate about that work, and it wasn’t too long into getting started that I really decided to focus in on doing identity design, and picking a niche, and going deep into that.
Dan Cederholm: It’s funny ‘cause I was into skateboarding for a few years when was younger. I was too scared I think to actually be good at it.
Mackey Saturday: You got to have a little bit of … I don’t know what you call it-
Dan Cederholm: Recklessness.
Mackey Saturday: Yeah, recklessness. You have to not care. It’s true.
Dan Cederholm: It really is. But I just love the whole culture of it. And like you said, the graphics on the boards. Just the brands that surrounded skateboarding, there was a lot of great design around that. So I can see how that could be a really good launching point for just wanting to create stuff yourself.
Mackey Saturday: Yeah. And I often make the parallel between skateboarding in design just because they’re both things that require a lot of creativity and force you to look at the world differently. You know this if you skateboard. Once you start skating, you start to see things differently. You no longer see stairs just as a way to get you up and down something. You see it as something you can jump off of, you can do a trick off of. You don’t just see a bench as something to sit on, you see it as something you can grind. And you get excited about that. So it changes the way you look at the world. But so does design. As soon as you get into design, you’re plagued. All of a sudden you see bad kerning everywhere. You get into a car and you’re like, “This is the worst UI that’s ever existed. How is this in such an expensive piece of machinery?”
Dan Cederholm: Totally.
Mackey Saturday: But you then see the world differently. And just like in skateboarding, you have to pick your path of how you want to interpret that and how you want to interact with the world. I think the same thing goes in design. You interpret the world in a different way. You see it in a different way that is unique only to you based on your life’s experiences. Then you solve those problems creatively through your design.
Dan Cederholm: It’s true. We do look at the world differently. I think skateboarding or, there are probably other hobbies as well. Anything that forces you to look at the world differently is going to help you be creative.
Mackey Saturday: Yeah. If you can evaluate things in a unique way, and then if you do have that drive to want to change it or to want to at least put your mark on it, it’s going to impact you well in design. And I guess the other thing that skateboarding really teaches you that again, anything that’s a great challenge teaches you, is that when you try to start skateboarding, all you do is fail forever. You just fall, and fall, and fall, and fall, and fall. So you very quickly get rid of that idea of, “I’m just going to try this once and I’m going to land this trick.” So you go into design and you don’t expect by any means to get it right within not just the first tries or the first 100 tries. So the idea of iterating and of pushing, and that something may push you to the brink mentally. That’s something you’re ready for and you’re prepared for that. And you know how to get through that, and you realize that there’s going to be an exciting end to this at some point.
Dan Cederholm: You make me want to get back on the board.
Mackey Saturday: I think you should. Let’s do it.
Dan Cederholm: Do you still ride?
Mackey Saturday: Yeah, as much as I can.
Dan Cederholm: That’s awesome. Mackey, thank you so much for being here.
Mackey Saturday: Thank you.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, it was awesome to get a little bit of behind the scenes on the amazing work you’re doing. So people can find you at mackeysaturday.com?
Mackey Saturday: Yeah, that’s simple enough. @Saturday on Instagram, @Saturday on Twitter.
Dan Cederholm: Wow. That’s amazing you have those.
Mackey Saturday: Yeah, they’re good handles. They make for really, really amusing weekends too. And if I’m bored, I can always just open up my notifications on either one and see who doesn’t know how to use the social network.
Dan Cederholm: Oh no, right. Oh geez. That ruins your mentions.
Mackey Saturday: I’m not worried about that. It’s more funny. I considered making a blog at one point called wrong Saturday, and just post everybody’s @Saturday mentions. They’re mostly just bad selfies.
Dan Cederholm: Oh really? That’s the norm?
Mackey Saturday: Yeah, that’s a pretty constant one. Probably 9 out of 10 is a bad selfie, and then the rest are random whatever.
Dan Cederholm: Well, everyone should give you legitimate mentions. We thank you for being here. Keep rocking. Can’t wait to see what you create next man.
Mackey Saturday: Yeah. Thanks so much, Dan. I really appreciate you having me.