Scout Driscoll

DesignScout

12/11/2014

Scout Driscoll is the founder and principal designer at DesignScout in Ravenswood. Her clients include Ale Syndicate, Metropolis Coffee, and Wishbone, among others.

Can you briefly describe your design philosophy?

One word that defines what we do is nimble. I don’t know that there really is one design philosophy, we work with clients from all different genres, whether that is something approachable or exclusive, or something that is retro or super modern. There’s a whole range, and every project is so different, I think that you have to be a nimble designer and even from my perspective, a nimble entrepreneur.

Most of what we do is kind of, I like to say, owner-occupied. We work with folks who tend to be entrepreneurs: they own their own company, it’s very closely held, they’ve got a ton of heart in what they’re doing, which is great because it means that our relationship with every client is totally unique. We’re not working with a fleet of people who graduated from marketing school, we’re working with the guy who owns the restaurant or bar.

What do you find most rewarding about the design experience?

I think the best way to put it is: a long time ago a friend of mine had created a movie and I offered to make a poster for him. I showed him the poster and he said, “Until now, I made a movie, but now I have a film.” And it’s that little moment--- whether it’s a logo for a client, a new package, their first website, or the sign that goes up on their restaurant--- where all of a sudden they just realize, “Wow, oh my God, this is my dream manifested.” It’s an awesome thing to give people. It’s great to see.

You know, it’s not like they would have nothing without design, it’s really that they do everything except for that last little bit, and it’s amazing how important it is to them. And I’m looking at Hoosier Mama and going, “You guys have the best pie in America!” I think Bon Appétit voted them one of the top ten apple pies in the country.

It’s their talent, but then you get to just give it a little bit of that translation from product--- you know, design is a language, it’s a visual language where you can take their product and translate it, and speak design to all the consumers out there, and all of a sudden they understand, “Oh, that 1930s depression-modern logo somehow makes me think of my grandma’s kitchen. That must be good pie.” It’s such a nice way to take what they’ve done, all of their amazing talents, and translate it.

So design acts as the connection between the food and the consumer.

You can say so many different things with design, sometimes we have clients who say, “I want my product to look so gourmet… because of this packaging I’m gonna spend another eight dollars on that bottle.” Or I have clients who say, “I want this to be for everybody, I want this to be something that anyone could affordably buy--- but you know it’s gonna be good quality.” Taking those little kernels of what a client wants to say and scratching the right itch with that design is always kind of fun.

In food specifically, there’s such a context that people are used to, and it’s hard to convey that “This is gourmet,” or “This is artisanal,” or “This is Napa Valley” without being cliché, and doing it in a way that you instantly recognize within that playing field, but not emulating what other people do.

It’s interesting, especially when it comes to farm-to-table things, you have to sometimes design something that harkens back to this handmade, craft, artisanal food without making it look so homemade that you think it’s going to give you food poisoning. Or so homemade that it’s cheap. It’s about finding a nice balance.

Tell us about your relationship with Ale Syndicate.

A few years back I was introduced to Jesse and Sam from Ale Syndicate through Tony Dreyfuss at Metropolis Coffee Company. One thing we hadn’t done at the time was beer design yet, and I’m an avid craft beer drinker, my husband homebrews, we’re just really into that whole scene. I was super excited to meet those guys, and what I liked about them the most is that they were just crazy enthusiastic.

How did you interpret their thoughts on the design?

I remember a lot of what they wanted in beer was that it be approachable. And you see that in a lot of the brands that we work with, just brands that you feel really comfortable with, they might not be too aspirational or too elite but they’re something that you just want to hang out with. They really wanted a beer that was extremely “Chicago”, and figuring out a way to encapsulate that was kind of difficult because that means a lot of things to different people.

But I think what it meant to them is that it was not pretentious, and something that just your average, working man, working class bloke would open and enjoy. At the same time you would know that it was super high quality, beer that was really robust and had a lot of flavor, and wasn’t just your average swill. I loved the idea of combining this tradition of classic American beer design with something that was just turned up a notch and modernized a hair so that was cool, and looked like craft beer that was done super well, but not intimidating or too designer.

We played with some ideas that were a lot more complex, but at the end of the day we just want something that harkened back to that classic American beer logo. A unique shape, a nice script, a simple secondary tagline. Something that was just really comfortable, and classic. You’ll see on all Ale Syndicate products this little matching glyph at the bottom. That’s the municipal symbol for Chicago, being that Chicago is so important to them to convey in their beer we decided to integrate it into their branding.

What was the most formidable part of the design?

The tap handles. It’s so intimidating to sit at Hopleaf and stare at every tap handle knowing, “My tap handle is going to be there forever, this design is going to be in the community forever, this has got to be perfect.” Labels change, six-packs can change but that tap handle just felt like, you know, my mark on beer for the rest of my life.

Tell us about your company.

DesignScout got started in 2003. I was just a freelance designer who got real busy, you know, I never anticipated having a company for going on twelve years now. I was a really busy freelancer, and started working with folks who ran nightclubs and restaurants, most of my clients were very much food-related, so really a big part of what we do today is related to restaurant design, bar design, food and beverage that’s packaged, wines, beers and coffee, popcorn, you name it.

Some of my very first clients were really funny. I would do nightclub fliers, some promoters hired me because they had just gotten a gig being the managers for this little-known artist, Kanye West. The first thing I ever did for him was a mixtape cover, he had been in a big car accident, he had his jaw wired shut and I actually got to talk to him on the phone from the hospital, because he was trying to capitalize on his car accident and decided to make himself a “Get Well Soon” mixtape. It took me a while to catch on, but it makes sense now.

Right now we’re pretty small, we’ve got four designers and a project manager. We work with everyone from food and beverage to luxury brands. We do a lot of active lifestyle, so we design for races which is cool, super fun. There’s no project that’s more amazing than designing a medal for a race. I’ve never just had something I’ve made that people cherish more, it’s so awesome.

Metropolis Coffee was your first big client, right?

Yeah. Working with Metropolis is crazy. I was a spry, young [mumbles behind her hand]-year-old, I think I lived down the street, I lived like a hundred feet from their café that they were opening. And I decided, “I must save this space,” because it had been all these terrible businesses that opened and closed, and I thought “You know, I really need a coffeehouse.”

So I want to do their design. I really want to work with them, and I ended up putting this little comic book that I made like, “Hello! Welcome to the neighborhood!” With a little coffee cup man, “I want to be your designer, let me work on your logo with you!” Tony and Jeff brought me in, and they were super sweet and gracious like, “Wow, thank you so much for this awesome comic book, but we we already have a designer.” So I ended up not working with them right away, and then they called me two weeks later and they were like, “Our designer did not work, can you help us out?” And the rest is history.

Are you originally from Chicago?

I grew up outside Detroit, moved out here for college at Columbia, and originally my degree was in advertising art direction. I was really close to going into the corporate world, and then I decided at the last minute that I really, really didn’t want to sell things to people that they didn’t already want. I didn’t want to tell people that their teeth were too yellow, or that they need to lose weight.

So I decided to try and start working with folks selling things like coffee or nightlife, lifestyle things that people love, like running--- things that people can really get behind. Personally, I love biking, so I bike as much as I can, yoga, crafting, sewing, it’s always fun to go out wearing something that you’ve made yourself. Just little things here and there.

Do you ever think about how your own brand is perceived?

We really fly under the radar. There are so many really strong firms that host all kinds of awesome events, and lecture series, and events to motivate folks. I would love to do more of that. Because everything we do is word of mouth, we don’t share enough of what we do with the community.

We think that good work will speak for itself.

That’s very Chicago of you.

In some circles there’s not a lot of ego in Chicago, you know? I feel like there are folks who have our restaurants and our breweries, and our design communities, you know, we’re not LA, we’re not New York, we buckle in for the winter, we’re just here because we love it, and working with people who are great, and awesome to work with, and passionate and motivated by what they’re doing. That’s enough for us, we don’t need to be celebutantes or scenesters.

I would describe it as “less hype, more work.”

We should make t-shirts.

Another thing that signifies Chicago to me is "labor of love." No one does things here to be famous, no one does things here to gain status, folks here do what they do because they love it, and I think that makes Chicago unique.

DesignScout

DesignScout

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Chicago, Illinois 60613

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Interviewed by Vincent Labriola

Photos by Vincent Labriola and Arturo Valle

Colored by Peilin Tan