Stop, Look & Think: Get “Drawn” into Craig Frazier’s Illustrations

After enduring a hectic few weeks, I welcomed the opportunity to immerse myself in an afternoon of creativity and inspiration. Like many, I’m guilty of using the “work is too busy” excuse instead of prioritizing time to get outside and smell the coffee. Thus, on a recent and radiant Sunday afternoon, I headed to the COLLINS office in Williamsburg for their monthly Coffeehaus event.

Coffeehaus at COLLINS hosts a monthly communal gathering for people from all walks of life who share the goal of simply showing up to experience creative community. March’s event featured a conversation, book signing, cocktails, and treats with the illustrious Craig Frazier, who discussed his newly released book Drawn, a compendium of his illustrations for prominent publications and businesses around the globe.

An internationally renowned illustrator with a career spanning since 1978, Frazier’s illustrations are celebrated for their wit, optimism, and simplicity.

His creative contributions have appeared in the New York Times, Time Magazine, Fortune, Bloomberg Business Week, Harvard Business Review, and The Wall Street Journal. Frazier has an impressive roster of blue-chip clients, including Adobe, American Express, Boeing, Chevrolet, Deloitte, MasterCard, Mohawk Paper, Navigant, The Royal Mail, U.S. Postal Service, and United Airlines.

He has also designed eight postage stamps, including the beloved 2006 Love stamp and the commemorative Scouting stamps in 2010/11.

Frazier’s artistry goes beyond fulfilling client requests; he illustrates what he feels will make people stop, look, and think. Coffeehaus at COLLINS was a packed event, buzzing with creative energy from like-minded folks. I was fortunate to connect with Frazier at the event and followed up with some questions about his process and the importance of work that invites people in.

(Interview edited for clarity and length).

During your talk, you emphasized the importance of creating an approachable book with meaningful stories rather than just a visually striking but weighty coffee table book. What is the significance of incorporating narrative elements, and how does this approach enhance the reader’s experience? Additionally, how did you strike a balance between narrative and visuals?

It’s not unlike my work. You must invite people in and make them feel welcome. Physically, I wanted the book to have weight yet a manageable footprint. I wanted it to be functional on a desk, in your lap, or on a plane (thus the slightly smaller dimension than many monographs). I wanted it to feel useable, not monumental. There is something intimidating about an oeuvre of someone’s lifetime of work—so I wanted to soften the barrier. The scale of the book, the use of Garamond, and the size and pacing of each illustration contribute to its approachability. My amberliths, sketches, and sketchbooks demystify the process and invite the reader backstage. The idea of narratives woven throughout the book breaks the rhythm and reminds the reader that the illustrations are the products of a greater effort—both conceptually and professionally.

My life experience and my choices inform my work—the two are inextricably connected. I have found the result immeasurably rewarding and hope the work reflects that. This is the part of work life that I wanted to reveal. Things happen. We can’t control everything, but we can lend a guiding hand.  

This book is for the curious. Whether you are a designer or not, revealing the ‘whys’ of my work will alter your understanding of it. My intention is to allow people to see parallels to their own lives and careers, regardless of their profession. We all make choices that shape how we feel about our jobs. I’m curious how creative people make their work and connect their life stories to it. Asking those questions leads to a deeper appreciation and a chance to learn something. I want that experience available to the readers of Drawn.

It is predominantly a visual book, no question. One can enjoy it on that level alone. The written content is micro-dosed to not compete with the visuals but complement and contribute depth.

I draw elements that support the story, not decorate it.

Your work is celebrated for its visual riddles and graphic wit, often embodying both simplicity and depth. How do you balance clarity and complexity in your work, especially when dealing with abstract concepts or visual puzzles?

Simplicity is a guiding principle in all of my work—design or illustration. I subscribe to both the aesthetic and conceptual orientation, so it’s easy to abide by. It works—simplicity serves comprehension in its elegance and functionality. Simplicity is necessary now more than ever when we are all operating at the edge of our visual threshold—it becomes an attractor because it asks less of us. When we overload our messaging (or visuals), it’s at the risk of getting passed by. I stick with singular messaging, which makes for singular illustrations. I draw elements that support the story, not decorate it. Simplicity equals clarity. The more abstract, the simpler the equation must be. If done right, there is beauty in simplicity. Embedding riddles and wit in the illustration brings a smile to the mind. The illustration’s depth is in the reader’s mind—it’s the place the illustration takes them.

When discussing your creative process, you mentioned taking something to the brink and then stepping it back. How do you recognize when you’ve reached that edge, and what factors influence your decision to pull back or further refine your idea?

This question is challenging because I don’t have a specific formula for it—it’s intuitive. The best way to describe it is to say that when I think I have found an angle to tell the story—I then attempt to regulate how the reader discovers the answer within. It’s a matter of leaving breadcrumbs rather than the whole loaf. It’s always a matter of leaving room for a reader to invest time (often only seconds) and mental energy to understand the message. Breadcrumbs also leave room for interpretation, crucial in talking to a larger audience. I’ve learned that people are smarter than we often give them credit for. Clients always want to make sure their readers get it, but in doing so, they often eliminate the fun by over-explaining it. It’s a delicate balance, and I stand my ground with clients. I’ve got a good instinct for it by now.

There is a lot of attention to creativity, how we do it, and the secrets to turning it on. I’ve never paid much attention to that and tried to develop good habits and a problem-solving discipline. If you sign up to be a designer, your job can’t wait until the muse shows up.

Drawn delves into curiosity, self-doubt, and confidence, all of which are common experiences for creatives. How have these themes influenced your journey as a creative? Can you share any personal anecdotes or pivotal moments where you’ve grappled with self-doubt and how you overcame it to push your creative boundaries?

Curiosity is key. We must be curious about what others make and how to inform and inspire our own creativity. We also must be curious about the oddities around us. These are the fuel for ideas. Self-doubt and confidence are opposites, yet both motivate us. Both are necessary to keep the other in check. Self-doubt—however uncomfortable it is—is critical to doing good work and growing. The better our judgment, the easier it is to become complacent and make safe work. I find my own self-doubt to be often an indicator that I’m breaking new ground. We all experience self-doubt because creativity isn’t science—it’s experimental by design. The good news is that with experience, self-doubt wanes and gives way to confidence, and if we are lucky, humility lies right in between both—the most essential element of personal growth.

I frequently have doubts about my work particularly when I’m sketching on assignment. When I give it a little time to breathe and look at the work with fresh eyes, the doubt often subsides. I remind myself that new is often uncomfortable and these are the chances we must take.

There is a lot of attention to creativity, how we do it, and the secrets to turning it on. I’ve never paid much attention to that and tried to develop good habits and a problem-solving discipline. If you sign up to be a designer, your job can’t wait until the muse shows up. Though she does make appearances, we must operate in an ‘always go’ position.

As it relates to ideas, my solution is to keep sketching. It is the cheapest and fastest prototyping method out there. It is a discipline that I have practiced my entire career, and it never fails. Every sketch I make is an experience of seeing something and understanding it better. I have far more unsuccessful sketches than successful ones, but they are not mutually exclusive. You must turn over rocks until you find what you are looking for. I have a confidence in process—the more you produce, the better the chances are of arriving at something new—it’s that simple.

Your work has inspired many aspiring illustrators and designers. You offered the valuable insight that “style comes just as much from your deficiencies as well as your expertise.” Could you elaborate on this concept and explain how embracing one’s shortcomings can contribute to the development of a unique artistic style?

Understanding what we each ‘have to offer’ is an endeavor you can’t suddenly take on one day. It’s an understanding that comes over time and practice. We never fully understand it, but we must move toward it and often get out of its way. That said, we work to develop personally and professionally, and the goal is to find where we can each put a spin on things. Our fingerprints on our work are the characteristics reflective of both our strengths and weaknesses. Our ability to accept both of those—our deficiencies being the toughest—is where our individuality and point of view reside. The world is full of people—and companies—trying to create a mass consumable perception. But—as practitioners—we shouldn’t take that approach. The baseline is to be a good problem-solver. However, the expression and articulation of those solutions can be personal and unique to each of us. Herein lies the risk and the satisfaction. One reason this works is that it is honest and defendable. It’s easier to stand up for our own ideas than it is for others. The second reason is that unique work stands the best chance of being novel in the eyes of the public. As designers, we don’t have to have thousands of clients. We must have enough to support the economy of our practice. I have found that making what I can make and searching for audiences that appreciate my sensibilities is much easier—and more satisfying—than working in the inverse. Differentiation serves the competitive nature of our job.

As designers, we don’t have to have thousands of clients. We must have enough to support the economy of our practice … making what I can make and searching for audiences that appreciate my sensibilities is much easier—and more satisfying—than working in the inverse.

If you want to get your hands on Drawn, which I highly recommend — it’s fantastic; you can order his book here.

Campfire Creativity: How Magic Camp is Redefining Agency Culture

If you’ve ever basked in the glow of a campfire, sharing stories under the stars, the name Magic Camp likely evokes a sense of nostalgia. It might remind you of the cherished memories and camaraderie found at summer camp. That’s precisely the inspiration behind Magic Camp, a full-service agency founded by industry veterans Holly Willis and Mandi Bright. They are on a mission to revolutionize how advertising agencies operate.

Holly Willis is at the helm, bringing her extensive experience that includes pivotal roles at The Escape Pod, FCB, 360i (now Dentsu Creative), and 21st Century Fox. With her deep understanding of the industry’s dynamics and challenges, Willis wants to empower marketers and organizations to craft impactful brands while fostering an inclusive and innovative work environment.

“Magic Camp exists for one group only – the modern marketer,” Willis asserts. The agency’s ethos revolves around prioritizing clients’ needs, offering transparent solutions, and redefining the traditional agency-client relationship model. “Our industry is at an inflection point,” Willis remarks, highlighting the need for a fresh perspective and a departure from outdated practices.

Mandi Bright joins Willis as Chief Creative Officer. Bright brings a wealth of creative insight to Magic Camp and agency chops, which include The Mars Agency, FCB, and Leo Burnett. “Creativity is not just about the work,” Bright emphasizes, “but our approach, processes, and team dynamics.” Magic Camp’s approach to creativity is rooted in strategic agility and a commitment to driving tangible business results for clients.

What sets Magic Camp apart is its dedication to nurturing its team members. Clear growth opportunities and a supportive work culture are integral to Magic Camp’s ethos, enabling its team to thrive and deliver exceptional results. I asked Holly and Mandi about their plans to shake up the advertising culture through Magic Camp.

(This interview has been condensed for length and clarity).

Your new agency name is particularly intriguing; what’s the story behind Magic Camp?

We set out to build a brand around an idea, not around specific people. We wanted the name to encapsulate the ideal, aspirational environment we’re trying to cultivate. Each member of our team and every partner should be able to consistently contribute to defining this environment. Our vision, mission, and values revolve around continual positive improvement and evolution of our work, team members, and operational systems.

Magic Camp embodies this ethos.

“Camp” holds a special place in many people’s hearts – it’s often where children first experience the freedom to explore their imaginations without constraints. At camp, you’re encouraged to learn, embrace bravery, embark on adventures, and have fun. By the end of camp, you’ve made friends, built new skills, and found confidence that positively impacts the rest of your life.

But crucially, at camp, you always do this as a community. We aspire to foster this sense of community, where each member, including our clients, contributes to creating moments of magic. However, you can only experience magic if you believe it exists and you know to look for it.

Given Magic Camp’s emphasis on creativity as a growth accelerator, how do you ensure that your agency’s processes and approaches foster diversity and inclusion within the broader advertising ecosystem?

Fostering inclusion is a critical component of why we started the agency in the first place—we built it into our vision and mission statement. We don’t want diversity and inclusion to be performative, which, unfortunately, has become so pervasive in our industry, particularly in the last few years. Our environment and our operations must be inclusive by design.

To do that, we spent a lot of time researching the systemic issues that make inclusion challenging, nearly impossible, in the traditional agency model. Building our model, we started our operations from scratch and looked at nearly every process with fresh eyes and thinking. Then, we met with inclusion experts throughout our development process to hold us accountable.

We’re small and just getting started, and we recognize that it gives us the benefit of starting over instead of fixing a decades-old issue and navigating a complicated infrastructure. We truly believe that diverse perspectives and experiences lead to better outcomes. So, we must prioritize those perspectives by recruiting differently, elevating diverse employees and partners, and continuing to work with inclusion experts.

With your extensive experience in the industry, how do you actively address and combat entrenched gender biases and stereotypes within Magic Camp and in your interactions with clients?

Inclusion is one of the most important components of our business. It impacts every part of our operational model, which looks radically different from the typical agency. Also, we’re two women who have seen first-hand how the current system puts incredible pressure on marginalized groups to fit into a system that wasn’t designed for them. Many talented people have to leave the system when they go through a significant life change. And this disproportionately impacts minorities and women. Unfortunately, this industry is no longer a business that is known for being able to build a lifelong career AND a rich personal life.

It took a lot of homework and creative problem-solving to create a different model that gives folks the ability to lean in when they’re in career-growth mode but doesn’t penalize you when you want and need more balance. We staff our teams entirely differently and encourage individual-contributor roles instead of forcing management to be the only way you can “move up.” We offer a four-day work week, remote work, sabbaticals for all employees, two weeks of paid vacation before you start, and fully covered insurance. We’re also looking into how we can pay for access to financial experts to help our team members build personal wealth. If we ask our team members to show up consistently at an elite level, we also need to give them the ability to properly rest and recover without sacrificing why they’re working hard in the first place. We recognize that we’ve hired people for a job; it’s not our business to dictate how they live the rest of their lives.

As we build more resources, we plan to invest them back into the growth and success of our whole team instead of only building wealth for the founders or leadership.

If a prospective client, partner, or team member doesn’t believe in these values and how they can successfully impact their own businesses and lives, we’re not a good fit for them. Our model isn’t for everyone, and we’re okay with that.

Given Magic Camp’s focus on redefining the traditional agency-client relationship, how do you believe your approach differs from the conventional agency model?

We started by acknowledging how hard the role of the modern marketer is. A good portion of the advertising industry doesn’t do that, and most relationships begin with unspoken and unacknowledged tension. Instead, we take the same approach as we do to differentiate our clients’ businesses: know why you exist, embrace what makes you different, and take a consumer-first approach. We exist for our clients, the modern marketer, whose role is arguably the most complex within organizations. They want to make a big impact but work in a challenging, ever-changing environment. They must consistently deliver top-line growth to keep their job, let alone “succeed.” We looked at every component of our business through the lens of this client, giving us a lot of clarity. On the surface, the client may be buying the same deliverable, but the process will be vastly different for everyone involved. The ultimate goal is eliminating friction and consistently using creativity as a business multiplier. With that approach, we realized that common internal agency issues and client-agency problems would no longer be significant pain points.

Their success is the reason we exist. So, we designed our processes, deliverables, and communication systems with that in mind. We invite collaboration and share responsibility for decision-making (both good and bad). We sell deliverables, not FTEs and hours. We welcome feedback and have formalized it in our operations so that we can invest and innovate from those data points. Creating connections and building trust is at the forefront of everything we do.

Why did you decide to build Magic Camp from scratch despite your successful careers in established agencies?

Holly Willis: I’m a disruptor at heart, which has made me both an incredible and terrible account person. I’ve always valued creativity – my mom is an artist, my dad is an engineer, and I trained to be an opera singer. But I also love business and am good at math, so I understood that to “move up” in account management, you must be efficient and deliver profit. I was always working to find that balance while still getting great results for our clients. I struggled to find that consistent opportunity in advertising without burning out. But I’ve also continued to love so much of what this industry promises – the ability to positively impact culture and be a part of something that has a lasting impact. And I love so many of the people in this industry.

Then, I had a unique opportunity to rethink the model and design an agency that prioritized people and positive impact. I also had to reevaluate myself and the legacy I wanted to leave behind. Through personal growth and honest reflection, I realized how I benefited from and contributed to perpetuating that model.

Finding someone who shared those same values and passion for the industry was critical when looking for a founding partner. Someone who cares about the group’s success and that people love to work for and with. Someone who builds trust but isn’t afraid to challenge the status quo and me so that we hold each other accountable to the bigger vision and not our egos. And that’s Mandi.

As Magic Camp unfurls its banner, it signals a bright step towards redefining the landscape of advertising agencies.

Portrait photography by Steven Piper. Logo design by Enlisted Design.

H&H Bagel’s New Identity by High Tide Sparks Nationwide Craving

Few things embody the spirit of New York quite like freshly baked bagels, especially if they are from beloved H&H Bagels. For half a century, this iconic establishment has been a staple of the city’s culinary landscape, gracing the screens of TV shows and movies and earning a reputation for its irresistible bagels. Featured in Seinfeld, The Office, Sex in the City, How I Met Your Mother, You’ve Got Mail, Entourage, and countless others, H&H is one of the most copied brands – imitated by major bagel brands and mom-and-pop shops.

Founded in 1972 on the Upper West Side, H&H Bagels has grown from a local favorite to a cultural institution cherished by New Yorkers. With plans to launch numerous new franchised and company-owned locations across the country, the challenge was clear: modernize the brand while staying true to its New York roots and appealing to a broader demographic.

As H&H Bagels prepares for a nationwide expansion, it has turned to the expertise of High Tide, a renowned New York City-based creative studio specializing in brand identity. High Tide is no stranger to building NYC fast-casual/dining brands, known for its work with Dig Inn, Sweet Chick, Mexicue, and many others. The goal: extend a warm invitation to people across America to indulge in the authentic taste of a New York City bagel.

We saw it as a huge responsibility to bring an iconic local institution to everyone in a way that showcases what makes NY culture so special.

Danny Miller, Founder and Creative Director, High Tide

For High Tide, the opportunity to reimagine H&H Bagels held personal significance. “This project brought back memories from my childhood of stopping by H&H on my way to Central Park,” explains High Tide’s Founder and Creative Director, Danny Miller. “We saw it as a huge responsibility to bring an iconic local institution to everyone in a way that showcases what makes NY culture so special.”

The transformation began with a new visual identity, encompassing everything from the website and packaging to signage and interior design elements for each physical location. The logo, featuring clean custom lettering set against a redesigned version of the original seal, strikes a balance between modernity and homage to the past.

Typography, photography, and color were carefully curated to convey a sense of accessibility and premium quality. A mix of serif, sans serif, and script typefaces adds depth and character, while vibrant pops of color inject energy and excitement into the brand’s visual language.

Jay Rushin, CEO at H&H Bagels, acknowledges the significance of this evolution: “As we embark on a new chapter with our national expansion, enhancing our visual identity was essential to delivering an elevated experience for our customers.” Miller adds, “Wherever someone experiences H&H, the brand should stand out – welcoming others to feel the excitement of eating a classic NYC bagel.”

With High Tide’s expertise, H&H Bagels is poised to captivate taste buds and hearts across the country, all while preserving the essence of a beloved New York institution.

JOAN Launches a New Identity in a Crusade to Reshape the Narrative

Female-founded, independent creative company JOAN has unveiled its new brand identity, marking a significant milestone since its inception in 2016. Known for transforming clients and team members into modern legends, JOAN understands the importance of ensuring every aspect of its brand reflects the badassery of its creators. With this ethos in mind, they introduced a fresh identity rooted in inclusivity and revolution.

In the process of rebranding, JOAN recognized the multitude of stories yet told. While striving for a gender-neutral system, they also acknowledge the intrinsic role gender plays in shaping its identity. A creative agency led by women is still a rarity in an industry largely dominated by men. Yet, JOAN thrives, boasting experience, passion, and leadership across advertising, design, production, and media.

Led by Anjela Freyja, JOAN’s internal design team crafted a visual identity reflecting the agency’s fighting spirit and commitment to growth and inclusivity. The new brand captures JOAN’s expressive, daring, crafted, relevant, and visionary DNA, appealing to corporate clients and cultural influencers.

  • Soulful: Two warm, accessible, and friendly typefaces and candid office and project photography capturing the agency’s direct communication style
  • Daring: An edgy, bold, highly-saturated color palette
  • Crafted: A technical gridded design system that prioritizes attention to detail and technique communicates their craft expertise
  • Relevant: Contemporary digital design, animation, and 3D techniques that flex the team’s savvy and knowledge and highlight the agency’s cultural relevance
  • Visionary: A sharp logo inspired by Joan of Arc’s iconic sword, paying homage to the namesake and the origin of the agency’s name

The design elements, including warm typography, bold colors, technical design systems, and nods to cultural relevance, are complemented by sleek metal materials, reflecting JOAN’s bold personality. This new identity serves as a framework for their global expansion.

Beyond the expected updates to its website and social channels, JOAN’s rebrand includes unique collaborations such as one-of-a-kind merch with Ray’s NYC. While the brand draws inspiration from Joan of Arc, it also esteems other influential figures, embodying a commitment to storytelling and community engagement.

JOAN’s new brand identity is more than just a logo change; it celebrates its past, present, and future, honoring the diverse voices and talents of the JOAN community. Like those who came before them, they embrace their collective history, experiences, and talents, committed to sharing meaningful stories with the world. As they boldly declare, “We are JOAN.”