Alumni Update: Interview with James Martin
James Martin | Graduated BFA Graphic Design in 2009
James is the Creative Director at TripLingo, a language learning app for travelers, where he is responsible for all visual releases. He also does freelance design, with a focus on hospitality brands like restaurants and coffee shops, and make films alongside his wife Jen West through Four x Productions.
What advice would you give for students currently in the program?
Stay focused on the coursework, but also feel free to experiment with your own ideas, even if it’s outside of the classroom. Working on several projects at once helps you prepare for the journey after school. Either you’ll be at a company, working through several campaigns in house, or you’ll be on your own managing several clients simultaneously. Its good practice to keep the balance there while juggling all of the projects.
Why did you choose BGSU to study design?
I knew I wanted to either study graphic design or architecture and BGSU offered both. I started with design and thankfully fell in love with it right away. It was also 3 hours from home, giving me a fresh start and a chance to be on my own.
The first works on your website are your logo and branding designs. What has been your favorite project you’ve done?
Lately I’ve been really into branding restaurants. In Atlanta there are several locally owned establishments within walking distance of our home. It’s nice to be able to work on something that encompasses so many design pieces, and also have them in the physical world so close to home. With restaurants, for example, not only are you establishing the core identity of the business, but you’re also developing and executing materials like menus, signage, wayfinding, matchbooks, coasters, websites, etc. You end up creating an entire family of work under one umbrella. For the Taproom Coffee & Beer project, I actually got to rebrand them, and wanted to approach it by combining both liquids into one mark. It’s turned into an entire family of products which has been fun to see.
How does storytelling tie into your design process?
I think storytelling plays into my design process quite a bit. The first step for me is to always research the company or brand substantially. Through that brand’s story, you’re naturally going to want to connect those pieces to the visual solution. Sometimes the client may rely on you to assist them in sculpting their story, which may bring on even more creative components like strategy, naming, and copywriting.
How does your passion for design mix with your love of filmmaking?
At BGSU, I was also heavily involved in the Digital Arts department, especially with video art. As I grew as a designer, I always had the video and film backdrop there with me. Whenever I’m working on films, I always employ the same techniques I have for design. It’s especially prevalent through the title design, or the credits, but it can always make its cameo through illustrations and animations that tie into the story of the film.
Your film Sazerac was in the alumni show, and multiple film festivals; did you ever dream of making it “big time”?
With documentaries, and even graphic design, it’s all about putting the proper elements together to come up with the best outcome. I strive to approach each project with the goal of telling the best story I can. If one of those stories becomes a little more recognized than others, that just means that it’s resonated with an audience. We were fortunate enough to be part of the Emerging Filmmaker Showcase at Cannes with the Sazerac film, which was undeniably awesome. But, that certainly was never my intention when producing the film itself. I think it’s important to put your best work in and enjoy the journey that may come with it, even if that trip is only a couple of feet forward.
Eldon is so cool! Tell us about him and how you use him.
Eldon is named after my Grandfather’s middle name. My wife and I spent nearly a year converting him from a regular ol’ short school bus to a motorhome. We knew we’d be able to travel more by having something like an RV, but also knew that we wanted to have completely aesthetic control of the design. Our goals are to use him to camp, travel around to film festivals, and also explore a little bit more of the road. You can check out our process for building him out at http://eldonthebus.com
You’ve been part of incredible projects like Project M, Triplingo, and Sazerac. With these in the past, what is your dream design project?
I’d like to continue working with passionate people doing lovely things and helping them convert their stories into a visual identity. I’d also like to continue doing film, exploring, and drinking cocktails along the way.
So, Mr. Sipologist: if you could travel anywhere to taste any drink, where would you go to drink what?
Everywhere we go, I always check the list to see if the Sazerac makes an appearance. If it’s not there, I usually default to the Negroni, which is equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth and is unbelievably delicious. Does Bowling Green have any good cocktail bars nowadays? Maybe I should head back there and explore.
Check out James’ work here:
- Design Portfolio: http://iamjamesmartin.com
- Film Production Company: http://fourxproductions.com
- Eldon the Bus: http://instagram.com/eldonthebus
- The Sipologist: http://thesipologist.com
Interview by Stephanie Werth