Brand Designer at The Sasha Group
Joseph
Hillenbrand

Joseph is a Minneapolis based graphic designer striving to find the balance between simplicity and storytelling. He currently works for New York City creative agency The Sasha Group.

Minneapolis, United States • August 15, 2022

What led you into design?

Creativity has always been my water, I can't survive without it. As a child I was always the one drawing during class, and while that's a cliché, I think it encapsulates me pretty well – passion doesn't allow me to put making stuff on the back burner. If you asked me three times at that age what I wanted to be when I grew up, I'd say comic book artist, film director, or car designer depending on the time of day.

Somewhere along the line I started applying my passion in other areas, and by age eleven I decided politics was going to be my thing. I became pretty involved, and not until freshman year of college studying Political Science did I begin to question it. I had never stopped making stuff or applying my creativity in other ways, but it dawned on me that if I ended up working in politics, I would never have an ample outlet for creativity. To me personally, creativity in a vacuum is pointless; I need people to be impacted by what I do, or it generally feels like a waste.

During my Political Science studies, I found out about logo design, and it instantly clicked with me. It felt like my calling as something that quite literally allows me to put my mark on the world. I started teaching myself everything I could about graphic design, absorbing it with complete tunnel vision. Very late that summer, I transferred to another university to study Graphic Design, and was accepted. Committing myself to this was the best decision I ever made.

What does a typical day look like?

As soon as possible after getting up, I like to lift some weights at home. Nothing major, just enough to get the blood flowing for the day. I also use that time to get focused about what I want and need to get done each day.

I live in Minneapolis but work remotely for The Sasha Group, a creative agency in New York City. Between jamming with my co-designers, talking with various account and strategy teams, and of course clients themselves, there's a lot of time in meetings. That's not a complaint though, I absolutely love the work I do and the ability to do it halfway across the country with such capable people never gets old. It's a privilege.

I'm usually working on two or three brand identity projects at once, and I like to have some side projects as well when I'm not on the clock. After a year of convincing myself that I'm not ready yet, I just began working on my first typeface. I figure I'll learn best by doing.

Minneapolis is a wonderful city too, and as I go through my second year of living here, I try to discover more about it when I can. Going out with friends at night is always a fun time, and lately I've really been enjoying the local comedy circuit.

What’s your workstation setup?

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Some stuff on my wall from top to bottom, left to right: A records store poster, Letraset 72 pt. Helvetica Bold, a painting of my personal logo by a friend in Knicks colors, a poster of the lowercase g (my favorite glyph) in GT Ultra from Grilli Type, a letterpress NY Subway map from Standards Manual's book about the Subway Map Debate, and a drawing by my girlfriend.

Where do you go to get inspired?

I come from a nomadic upbringing to say the least. Much of my thinking on design is unintentionally informed by my varying experiences from living in the smallest of towns to the biggest of cities. How things look to different groups of people is really intriguing to me; something can be ostentatious to one group and understated to another.

In truth, George Lucas is my biggest inspiration and always will be. Star Wars was practically a religion to me growing up, and in some ways still is. It all clicked for me though when I was old enough to understand that all of this came from the mind of one person, that a whole living breathing universe can be thought up, little by little. I always feel the desire to create something with that kind of impact. Obviously, Star Wars is hard to compete with, but when you see the smile on a client's face after they see a logo you've worked so hard on, for example – that's when the feeling comes through. In that singular moment, all is right.

In terms of what inspires me visually, I'll always look to the old masters. I think I'd be lying if I didn't credit a bunch of them: Paul Rand, Margaret Calvert, Lance Wyman, Saul Bass, Vignelli, Dieter Rams. However there's a ton of work being done today that's equally compelling from people like Daniel Schrier, Annie Atkins, Miles Newlyn, and so many others. Graphic Design is one of those things where inspiration can come from anywhere. Often it's from the work of peers but sometimes it's totally unrelated in the obvious ways.

For example, in the past couple years I've become more and more interested in industrial design, specifically furniture. There's just something about the way that an object with one singular function like a chair can be done and redone in so many unique ways, and I get a lot out of studying the visual form in something like that. Often I'll see simple geometric shapes within the underlying structure of something like a chair, and as someone who often works within the school of Modernism quite often, that's inherently of interest to me.

What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?

Recently I've been obsessed with the furniture work of Shin Okuda's studio Waka Waka.

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There's also Riptype Foundry, from friends Nick Losacco and Ciarán Brandin. Can't get enough of Generator and Klostro, the typefaces they've released so far.

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What pieces of work are you most proud of?

The identity I designed for Merit Media springs to mind because it was such a creative dream. I've always had a deep love for film, so when the project fell into my lap it felt like it was meant to be – especially when my client told me to make it look like an airline designed by Saul Bass. I mean, as a creative springboard, that just sounds too good to be true. It was the icing on the cake when the project was featured on Brand New, my favourite design blog that I read every single day of the week.

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There's also Muah, a cosmetics company I designed the identity for. It has a special place in my heart for a couple of reasons. One, it covered the down payment I needed to make on my first apartment at the time. Two, it was one of my first deep dives into custom typography, which opened up a whole world within design for me.

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What design challenges do you face at your company?

Lately, it's the sheer number of clients we're getting. We're a modest identity design team at The Sasha Group (Chris Logsdon, Andrew Greif and myself) but fully capable of large, complex identities. In the past couple of months, the number of clients we've taken on has exploded. This isn't so much a challenge as it is an opportunity to show what we can do. We're all aware that the more we work together and talk through the nuance of each project, the stronger and more relevant the work becomes.

I think my best work has been done at The Sasha Group, but I can't share it quite yet. I would also call that a challenge in and of itself.

What music do you listen to whilst designing?

Any advice for ambitious designers?

I definitely have some advice, because I fit that description. I've neglected to mention this so far, but I'm a 21-year-old graphic design student, so I understand it's unusual that I work full time for an agency in New York. I couldn't make that possible without ambition.

Ambition has a negative connotation, sometimes for good reason. Some people think ambition means you need to be a cut-throat, hyper-aware individual who does anything to get to the top, and there's definitely people who behave that way. Graphic design is already competitive in nature. We compete for clients, our work often competes for attention, and sometimes we compete directly in design competitions. But design as a whole shouldn't be a contest.

We're all, I hope, working to make the world a more functional, beautiful place. When we work together, that goal becomes more and more tangible. Channel your ambition into positivity, engagement with others' work, and ask the right people the right questions.

Anything you want to promote or plug?

If you'd like to keep up with my work, you can check out my website, Instagram, or Twitter.

I also have a design podcast, Magic Wand, where I interview designers and talk about whatever we want. Notable guests so far are Armin Vit of Brand New and Richard Baird of LogoArchive, and there are more on the way.