Category Archives: 2020

Julia R. Masterman Branding & Website

During our time in Philadelphia, my partner, Austin, worked at Julia R Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School as their Computer Support Specialist. He worked as a part-time contractor repairing technology and maintaining the school’s website. In 2018, the Philadelphia School District ported all of their website work to WordPress with a visually restrictive template. In large part, this posed a problem because schools needed to entirely redesign their websites to work within a new system with a rigid template. I volunteered my graphic design services to the school to redesign the website and create a visual identity that could be implemented across the board in their collateral.

Expanding Masterman’s Branding

Before I could redesign their website, I had to refine and expand Masterman’s brand system. A few things were already set in stone: the school’s classic navy blue, and their established logo. Everything else was on the table: from color and typography to layout and iconography.

I chose to start with typography because Masterman’s logo already had a serif ‘M’ character in it. My first concern was accessibility. The school didn’t have a design budget, so getting them to purchase the rights to a type family wasn’t in the question. Austin informed me that the school was heavily reliant on the Google Suite. This meant that using a Google Font made the most sense (I can hear the collective groans of every graphic designer). In a perfect world, I would find another option; however, the school uses Mac, PC, and Chromebook operating systems. An easy-to-download and universally accessible typeface is the most realistic solution for this school. I settled on Merriweather as the primary typeface because the ‘M’ character had a stable form. Roboto’s geometric characters were the perfect complement to Merriweather’s classical serifs. It’s also incredibly versatile in that it comes in many weights.

After I created typesetting examples with my Merriweather-Roboto match, I focused on the school’s color story. I felt a monochromatic solution would be the least confusing and would be easier for faculty to work with. I kept the Masterman’s navy color and named it ‘Slate’ for its greyish tones. I chose a medium-toned blue, ‘Sky Blue,’ and a light grey, ‘Steel,’ to compliment it. I wanted a four-step progression from the greyish-navy to white, where the two colors in the middle highlight the overarching chromatic relationship.

Building a Modern Responsive Website

Once I established the visual identity for the school, I could begin to plan the look and feel of their new website. My main priority was benchmarking what other schools around the world were doing with their websites. Rather than diving in and working only within the Philadelphia School District’s template guidelines, I wanted to get inspired by design excellence and find ways to adapt. I was particularly interested in the web design I saw from private schools in Japan. The typography felt crisp, and the layout and color palettes were clean and airy. I found that high school websites in Philadelphia were suffocating in content — packed wall to wall with words. There was an overwhelming contrast between the examples from America and Japan. I wanted to distinguish Masterman from its competitors and portray it in a new light. This design direction was the way to accomplish just that.

I started with a five-column system to keep the website airy. Adding visual cues to anchor information with a given hierarchy is the key to the redesign. I alternated section backgrounds between Masterman’s Steel and white to create visual breaks as you scroll. Icons and photography draw your eye and help distinguish important sections. Variation in typography keeps each page interesting, while also directing the visitor’s eye. By designing a few key pages, I was able to create a design system Austin and the Technology Teacher Leader could implement in the rest of the website. I stayed on as a design consultant to answer any layout questions that might come up moving forward, as well as any design integration that could help with the school’s digital switch during COVID-19.

To see the full design, visit  Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School’s new website today.

It was so fulfilling volunteering to help Masterman firm up their branding and expand it digitally into their website. Working with the technology team and the administration was a joy, and gave me a new respect for the work Austin does. We were even more excited to find that the Philadelphia School District loved the Masterman website redesign so much, they implemented the stylistic decisions into their own website. I felt both flattered and humbled. I truly believe good design is powerful and has the ability to spread like wildfire. I love that I could help make the world just a little more beautiful with this volunteer project.

Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival

2020 has been full of surprises. I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted all of this when we were toasting during New Year’s, but it doesn’t change the position we’re in, regardless. If anything, this year may be referred to as ‘The Year of Cancelations’. I was going to see Harry Styles live in San Antonio! I was also going to attend a number of food and hot sauce festivals this summer for work. I was really excited, to be honest. I’d get to learn more about Yellowbird’s devoted customers, and it’d get to try some interesting foods. Broaden my horizons overall! With all that being said, the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival was postponed…and then something strange happened. Society pivoted and learned that we don’t have to be together to be together. Hot Ones with Sean Evans switched to video interviews, and the rest of the hot sauce community followed suit. The Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival delivered sauce kits and managed to bring the festival to its fans — socially distanced, that is.

With the festival back on, albeit in a totally new way, they needed a poster and postcard design last-minute including two vital partners of the festival: Yellowbird and Real Ale. This was a really fun project because I wasn’t beholden to Yellowbird’s brand standards. It was a neutral ground, of sorts, because Yellowbird and Real Ale’s new Vamonos! had to be equally represented.

I started with a series of sketches to brainstorm different layouts and aesthetics — really running the gambit to try everything. My art director and I were attracted to a few points of inspiration. We loved the harsh form-focused nature of Saul Bass’s work. It’s timeless, minimalistic, and striking. One issue I found with going this route was that we’d have to create minimalistic iconography for our brand as well as Vamonos! and I wasn’t sure if we had adequate time to ensure we were representing their brand properly. The timeline for this project was only two days, after all. We were also inspired by old grocery store posters that incorporated heavy typography and the classic sunburst effect. The latter ended up being the winner, but it was important that we didn’t fall into any old design clichés, when we could do better.

Texture and color were the driving forces that brought this piece to life once the composition was finalized. Two things were decided for me before I could create anything, though: the products used in the piece were both predominantly green. To make the piece colorful and eye-catching, I wanted to use red as my secondary color since it’s green’s direct compliment. I also didn’t want to give the work a ‘Christmas in summer’ look. I settled on pink because it’s an offshoot of red that’ll do much of what I’m looking for, without beckoning for Santa Claus. Balancing textures was my second hurdle once color was basically decided on. Yellowbird’s product photography didn’t share consistent lighting with Real Ale’s mockup of the Vamonos! can, so I had to create a vector representation for both products. This turned out nicely, but texturally, it looked smooth and computer-generated. This wasn’t a huge issue, but it was important that I balanced it out with something rougher. I hand-painted the background to add a grittiness that wouldn’t be there otherwise, and I originally masked a sunburst inside it.

A sunburst in a poster design? How original! Don’t worry, this didn’t make the final design. Even though I hand painted the background, it was still reading flat. I needed a visual anchor that wouldn’t obstruct the objects in the foreground. That’s when I settled on fire! A perfect harmony of gradients and blend settings subdued the flame in the background — the final element that tied the piece together.

From there, it was all polishing and typography. I can honestly say, I scrolled through so many typefaces that letters shifted into abstract shapes in my brain. The frustrating thing was that the solution was staring at me the entire time. What do the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival, Yellowbird, and Vamonos! have in common? Texas. More specifically the Southwest. Once I decided on a southwest typeface similar to what Real Ale used in their packaging for the product, everything fell in to place and my head could stop spinning.

The deadline for this project was tight. I didn’t have a lot of time, but the deliverable we presented was something I was truly proud of. A tight deadline isn’t an excuse for poor quality. It’s an opportunity to exercise brilliant time management and make something beautiful and unexpected.

A Saucy Unique Selling Proposition

This year, Yellowbird has made a concentrated effort to solidify its brand presence online. This doesn’t just include its online store and social media accounts; it also includes Amazon. As a frequent Amazon Prime shopper, I’d never considered the trials and tribulations a brand faces to list their products on the platform. So many different criteria must be met, and brands go out of their way to stand out amongst their compitition on the site. One way they accomplish this, is showcasing USPs (Unique Selling Propositions). What makes Yellowbird better than your everyday hot sauce? One reason is they stuff their sauces with delicious fruits and veggies you can feel good about. Another excellent reason is that their bottles allow you to control your squeeze — ensuring you don’t accidently dump a horrifying amount of spice on your food. Don’t believe me? Even Sean Evans of Hot Ones appreciates the ‘squeeze bottle technology‘.

I developed two photo series to show the incredible control the Yellowbird bottle gives you. I created nine dishes with a wide range of complexity — from take-out pizza to kimchi nachos, and everything in between. Every dish is accompanied by hand-sauced calligraphy of the key flavors and ingredients in each sauce used. It’s meant to be a double whammy: yummy looking recipes, and impressive sauce skills.

Yellowbird Original Condiments

Yellowbird’s Original Condiments taste great on everything. From a brand standard, the culinary images created using the original line tend to taste better than they are healthy. The idea is that you’d use them in your everyday life…and the only person I know that eats a kale salad daily for lunch is Yellowbird’s CEO. The rest of us love pizza. When designing this series, I wanted to create dishes that felt Texan: real food, for real people. Brisket tacos, hot slices of ‘za, and a good American breakfast are some of the key pieces that convey this message.

Yellowbird Organic Condiments

Yellowbird’s Organic Condiments have some differences when compared to the original line. The sauces are sweetened with dates and raisins because added sugar is tasty, but it’s not for everyone. It is PaleoVegan, Gluten-Free, and Whole30 certified. This sauce means business, and its visual identity knows it. Unlike the original line, Yellowbird’s Organic Condiments are much more health-centric. The culinary images created for this line tend to be beautiful and good for you. The recipes are often Whole30-friendly and have a lower calorie count. If you see meat, it’s probably plant-based. Developing this photo series was a little more difficult for me, because personally, I’m not the intended audience. It took a lot of research to create dishes that fit the creative guidelines the organic line sets. All of the final dishes are vegetarian, but not completely vegan. Here at Yellowbird, we enjoy a good omelet, and I couldn’t let that go underrepresented.

In the end, the hardest part of this photo series was developing it in the middle of a pandemic. I didn’t have access to our in-house studio, and I had to shoot the whole thing from the comfort of my home. Going to the grocery store to source ingredients was difficult with the social distancing guidelines put in place, and I was basically trashing my kitchen daily in an attempt to plow through these recipes. Food photography gives you a small window to shoot the dish while it still looks good. If you miss that window, it starts to sweat and bleed. No one wants a particularly wet slice of toast. Once I plated the dish, I took off running into the yard to shoot in the sunlight. Most days, it was fine; other days my kale salad was rained on. I will say it was the only dish weather rebelled on. Feels like it was a sign.

Branding a Product Line

Ever since I was little, I wanted to make art with food. There was something so fascinating about taking something that wasn’t paint or pastel and making art with it. I’d always wanted to design in the food industry, so I considered it was a dream come true to work at Yellowbird Foods as their Graphic Designer. Making art with fresh fruits and veggies, whether it be through photography or package design, scratched that designer-itch I’ve always had. When I first joined the team, all of my coworkers were excited about the upcoming launch of this product, Hot Dip. Apparently, it was this delicious velvety dip based on our sauce flavors. It wasn’t until the Christmas party that I got to try it. It lived up to the hype. We didn’t have packaging for it at that point, and it hadn’t really been branded. It was ambiguous and a totally clean slate. In January, I was amped to see it appear on my to-do list. I’d get to help brand a product line for the first time in my life…and actual human strangers will get to hold it in their hands.

Look and Feel

In the early stages, I created a few research collages to pinpoint what kind of look I was most attracted to. I looked at other competitors in the industry, and brands that didn’t really have anything to do with the food and beverage world. I even took a field trip to Whole Foods Market to see what was going on in the wondrous land of hummus and vegan cheese dips. Inspiration is everywhere, I just had to find an idea that was innately Yellowbird. I had a few ideas floating around, that led to me designing three loose concepts: a hand-drawn garden, a lava lamp, and a version utilizing our existing vector graphics. They were each very distinct, but I had a clear bias. The hand-drawn garden concepting was my favorite…and the thought of some stranger at a Whole Foods Market in Nebraska holding my drawings was mind-blowing. The team unanimously agreed on the first concept, and I moved forward building it out.

For a few weeks, I’d worked on and off sketching. I drew habaneros, jalapeños, tangerines, limes, flowers, etc. Any prominent flavors in the dips required a visual representation. I created as many assets as I could, so I wouldn’t feel like I was scraping the bottom of the barrel when it came to finalizing the label composition. I spent a while working in just black and white, moving sketches in a circular arrangement. Once I was happy with my sketch positioning, I addressed typography.

Yellowbird is beholden to the Cholla type family. Everything is typeset in Cholla Slab and Cholla Sans. Our bottle flavor names are typically set in Cholla Slab, Bold and tracked in tightly so the serifs connect. The tracking is iconic for the brand and something that was important to maintain in Hot Dip as well. However, just recently we’d learned that Cholla Slab updated to include a Heavy weight. We set the flavor and line name in Cholla Slab, Heavy to reference the rich nature of the dip. It felt appropriate because it’s thicker than both existing sauce lines.

Once the composition was set, and typography was carefully chosen, I couldn’t avoid it anymore. I had to address color. Honestly, I was dragging my feet when it came to developing color. Yellowbird Original is super minimal. The bottles are white, with black text, and an accent color relating to flavor. Conversely, Yellowbird Organic is ALL ABOUT COLOR. The labels feature colorful paintings on a colored background. They’re vibrant and completely different from the original line. I knew Hot Dip would fall under the Yellowbird Organic umbrella, so I knew it would be more color-forward than the original line. I struggled to find a way to make it feel unique though. If I colored the illustrations accurately, it would look too similar to the sauces. My first reference point was oilcloth designs. I loved the approach to shading, and it felt very reminiscent of our branding.

I changed the colors on Hot Dip Jalapeño one hundred times before stoping and reflecting on what I knew about color theory. I remembered a piece of surrealist installation art by Sandy Skoglund that immediatly brought everything into perspective. Her A Breeze At Work (1987) puts a forrest in the middle of a mundane office scene. That in itself is super creative, but her approach to color is what really stuck with me. The leaves on the trees were blue. There was this monochromatic scene that was visually disrupted by these large blue leaves. This was the exact approach I wanted to take to seperate Hot Dip from not only Yellowbird’s existing lines, but from other refrigerated dip competitors, as well.

Once the labels were designed, there was a slew of other collateral that needed to be ready for launch. We needed a new landing page for the website, product photography to advertise on social media, and animations. The labels were truly the tip of the iceberg, because below the surface of the water, our work was cut out for us. I worked with my art director to create a wireframe of the landing page we’d use as the base for Hot Dip. It’s a refrigerated dip, so we didn’t have to worry about e-commerce, luckily. We mostly had to address the who, what, where, and why of the new product. Once the wireframe was set, it was my job to get to coding.

Website Landing Page

The landing page was designed to be a one-page scroller filled with delicious product photography and helpful information about the new product. To spice it up (pun absolutely intended), we incorporated some marketing phrasing that speaks more to our branding. This is the first product Yellowbird has released that looks entirely different. It’s not packaged in the familiar plastic squeeze-bottle, and it’s the first product released that requires mandatory refrigeration. Communication on this product has to be direct and clear, but that does not mean it can’t be fun. The page sets the scene with a striking hero image of the full product line. As the visitor scrolls, they learn that the product is available nationwide at Whole Foods Market. Beneath that section, there’s a three-column call-out sharing the different ways you can use the product: dip it, dunk it, or drench it. A common issue with Yellowbird Sauce is that customers don’t realize that it tastes great on everything. Encouraging them and providing serving suggestions helps to quickly deepen their relationship with the product. The page ends with the Destiny Store Locator pointing customers in the direction of the dip, and a digital coupon to incentivize.

To see the full landing page design, visit Yellowbird Foods.


Something that’s always stuck with me is that ‘motion conveys emotion’. This design thinking prompted the animation campaign following the launch of Hot Dip. The animations were built in Adobe After Effects and later edited in Premiere Pro. This gave them a more fluid quality so their movements appeared less sharp and mechanical. Another key difference is that the animations use the updated version of the product labels. Due to printing errors and COVID, the first run of labels had some print quality issues. The animations were used in the second round of advertisements for Hot Dip, so they used the updated design.

The ads can be separated into two categories: flavor, and usage. The first run of animations focuses on the key ingredients in each flavor by incorporating the lush garden into a psychedelic kaleidoscope that ungulates and eventually dissolves into the marketing type mark, ‘Dip, Dunk, Drench’. The second animation takes the customer slowly through the graphics hidden on the inside of the lid, inspiring them with the different uses of the dip. The animation cycles through different color palettes according to flavor. All of the advertisements utilize composition and color to create a psychedelic look that’s unique to this product line. This was primarily inspired by the consistency of the dip. Hot Dip Jalapeño looks a lot like an old lava lamp I had in my childhood bedroom, and it was a driving factor in the aesthetics of this animation series.

The process as a whole was very intense, and there were a number of setbacks we needed to manage in order to meet our deadlines. The dielines on our labels changed three times, as did the nutrition facts information. We experienced printing difficulties, and hiccups in our timeline due to this year’s pandemic. I’m in love with how everything turned out looking back, though. We overcame so much in the design process, and watching strangers interact with my illustrations in places I’ve never visited is positively mindblowing. I’m so excited to watch the lifecycle of this product and continue to learn from this experience. The next time I brand a product line, it’ll be even better.

Holiday Cards 2019

Holiday Cards 2019

This was my little family’s first Christmas in Texas, and we were so excited. By this point, we’d all settled into a sense of stability. We each had jobs, our lives had worked their way into a routine, and we were exploring our new home inch by inch every weekend. Every year, I try to find a way to make our holiday cards seem special. In Philadelphia, we used to run out during the first snow of the season in matching outfits and take a group photo. That kind of turned into a ritual for us the last few winters; however, we moved to Austin to specifically escape the snow. I had to come up with something a little different this year.

In October, during my daily commute, I would think about the holiday card on and off. I wanted to acknowledge our major life transition to a new city and somehow also tie in the irony that we left the snow behind us. Out of nowhere, it came to me one morning. I rushed into work and took as many notes as I could so I’d remember it later. We needed to put Christmas lights on a prickly pear cactus and throw fake snow that we ‘brought with us from Philly’. I was immediately excited, and Jon and Austin were immediately exhausted. We had to find all of the props, buy A LOT of fake snow from Michael’s Crafts, and find prickly pear cactuses that were accessible, looked photogenic, and we could spend some time with.

Finding the cactus was weirdly the hardest part. We went driving down a road here in Austin and we just kept heading west. We had to find them somewhere, right? A lot of them were on private property, or were fenced off on busy roadways. Naturally, we ended up at an abandoned Sonic. Honestly, it was perfect. We weren’t in anyone’s way, we could connect our lights to the car at the perfect distance, and we didn’t have to walk out of our way. An abandoned Sonic Drive-In was the best case scenario for us.

We strung the cacti with colorful Christmas lights and posed with our presents. Our roommate, Jon, stood on top of a wooden crate with a box filled with ‘snow’ labeled “Philly Winter 2018,” and anxiously awaited my countdown. With the camera set to burst shutter, we had to get one good shot of Jon throwing the snow in the air. We had three bags of snow, yielding three total tries. He nailed it on the last attempt. The photos turned out super cute and I was excited to share this new set of cards with our families!

The holidays are always a little labor-intensive for us. I have to schlep the boys out for an over-elaborate photo, and then we spend the next three days held up in our walk-in closet fighting with the Epson printer in an attempt to make each of our loved ones a card. Getting them out in time takes some sort of magic, in itself. The process is hard, but hearing from our relatives that they look forward to it and that they love them year after year makes it worth it.