A Conversation With Nolan Beck on branding, Giving Back and Client Relationships

A Conversation With Nolan Beck on branding, Giving Back and Client Relationships
Photo courtesy of Nolan Beck

We've long wanted to chat with Nolan Beck, whose progress, posts and projects have tickled and teased us. We caught up with him recently to talk about his company (HeyHey Studios), what he's working on now, and more.

Scene: You are kind of an enigma wrapped in a shroud of mystery riddled with moxie. How do you maintain?

Nolan Beck: I have a 100-perecent openness policy with my social media presence. In a time where everyone is curating their social media to mirror a perfect life that may not exist, it's compelling to see someone put their full self out there. I have a great life and I love sharing it and trying to make other people's lives great too. I share all of the cool things I do and all of the good times, but I also post terrible selfies and talk about when I need support from people, like the time I got robbed by a Tinder date while we were having sex. I think people react to frankness and authenticity, and those are two things I try very hard to maintain. I don't think that's super common nowadays.

Scene: Talk to us about your artist/client challenges in the past year.

NB: Yeah, client relationships are actually my favorite part of my job. I love meeting new people, learning about what they do, and helping them tell their stories in a beautiful way. I love that I get to become a micro-expert in their fields while I'm researching them to make sure that their branding and communications are on point. I've learned about making sourdough crackers, running a museum, building a building, and a whole lot of other fun stuff. Every day is different.

I've only had three out of 90 projects end on bad terms. You have to remain steadfast in your expertise as an artist and designer. I recently had a person tell me about 75 percent of the way through their project that a busboy at their cafe had designed a website for them and they thought it'd be easier and cheaper to just use it instead of the one that I'd been working on. It was rude but you can't take it personally. People are flippant and don't take design seriously. I thought about renaming my studio Busboy Creative.

Scene: Back in May 2017 you had set up a scholarship at CIA. Tell us more.

NB: Last year I was fortunate to receive a large tax refund and I decided to give a graduating CIA student $1,500 of relief. I was fortunate to graduate from art school without a dime of debt and I try to be mindful of that. I think it's important for people with privilege to recognize it and share it and use it to elevate other people in whatever way they can.

I consider myself a creative philanthropist, but in reality I'm a 24-year-old artist and I don't have a whole lot of money to donate. My most straightforward efforts of creative philanthropy are gratis work for nonprofits. In my studio's first year in business, we donated $51,600 in work to nonprofits in Cleveland, New York, and Virginia. I also have a proposal out with Polaroid and the Eames Office in which I'll shoot 100 Polaroid images of the historic Eames House, selling each of the photos for $100 and ultimately raising $10,000 for the House's ongoing renovation project. This was partially inspired by CIA's annual 100 Show, which I look forward to every year.

Scene What was the inception for HeyHey Studios?

NB: There's a design theory called the "glass chalice," which says designers should create work like a crystal glass, which holds and displays a drink and let's you taste it, but doesn't actually itself get noticed. It's why the iPhone X is totally seamless and doesn't have buttons. It's just a portal that you use to do a thing, it's not important in itself.

On a recent trip the Glyptotek Museum in Copenhagen, I stood in front of Van Gogh's "Pink Roses." It was on a cobalt blue wall, which made the greens and pinks really pop and contrast each other. I don't believe I would have noticed the depth of the colors had it not been for the blue wall, which initially felt, to me, as if the museum was overstepping its bounds by contextualizing the artist's work in that way. Then I realized that it was basically what Van Gogh was doing by distorting the flowers, and that art is important and designers have voices and everything was different now, and I didn't want to do boring glass chalices anymore; I wanted to create beauty with a purpose. So on the flight back home I re-branded myself using color and expressionism. I chose to call myself HejHej since I'd had this epiphany in Denmark and that's how you say "hello" and I like the idea of using a friendly greeting as a name. But when I focus-group tested it, people pronounced it "hedge-hedge," so I anglicized it into "HeyHey".

Scene: What are some of the more exciting endeavors you've been tackling of late?

Nb: I've had a great time working with the Levin College at CSU. I did a brand-realignment project for them, meaning I took their dozens of research centers and programs and helped them all find their unique voices while creating a look for them. It was a pretty complex and challenging project and went a lot deeper than the graphics.

I'm also renovating a 1971 Airstream Sovereign for a lovely woman who wants to turn it into an Airbnb. In addition, I am providing creative direction and materiality for the second Tremont Athletic Club. Basically I'm working with an interior architect to come up with creative ways to make the space feel very cool and high-end.

I love graphic design and its tenets remain at the core of everything that I do, but I think design is so interdisciplinary and interesting and cool. The future of design is in cross-disciplinary practices and I love the chance to do something super outside of my comfort zone and learn about new ways that everything is connected. I think in the future I want to be a materialist who works with architects, product designs, artists, fashion designers, and more to choose the right materials and textures for the job. I think I made that job up, though, so I guess I'll just have to make it for myself.

Check out Nolan Beck's work at heyheystudio.com.

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