Trends come and go (so we are told anyway). It’s certainly the case in the world of fashion and interiors, but what about brands and companies whose logo and aesthetic is what makes them instantly recognisable? How do you navigate updating your image and create new campaigns without losing any of that which makes you immediately distinguishable?
We spoke with Austin Belisle: Executive Creative Director and Meldis Zakaryan: Creative Director, both part of an incredible, forward thinking design team at MAXA to hear their take on current design trends, how they implement them into the work they do for clients, what fires their creativity and what they see in their designer crystal balls for the future.
Where do you find inspiration for your design projects & client needs?
As Austin points out, for him, inspiration comes from everywhere, with nature and human interaction being his main sources to get him excited about creating something his clients will love. Design elements of movements ranging from Art nouveau, Art Deco, Bauhaus and Swiss Design, along with the renegade creativity of surfer turned graphic designer, David Carson and that master of luxurious fashion design, Tom Ford all help to invigorate his creative juices. Meldis has a slightly different form of inspiration, whilst it does include nature elements, she finds her clients offer her incentive through what they are looking for. Meldis recalls an East Coast Mortgage company as an example and got her thinking about the Floridian landscape, the coast & bright colors. Austin also cites the industrial revolution and the resulting surplus of accessible raw materials that enabled the wonderful window displays at large stores such as Macys and Bergdorf Goodman as sources that illuminate his imagination. Meldis finds asking her clients the type of approach they want, whether it be classic or modern, if they want to be seen as approachable or more exclusive are ways that enable her creativity. Meldis also sources inspiration from other companies in the area where her client is and looks at similar designs to find new ways of approaching what her clients request. Austin goes on to say that “inspiration is a lot better than plagiarism.” He has a deep appreciation for high end and luxury with some edgy minimalism, but also delves into movies like the iconic Funny Face to research and excite his designer passions.
For Austin, Pentagram design studio is definitely one of his favorites, giving the subtle, yet modern and sexy rebrand of Rolls Royce that held onto its historical values whilst being perfectly aligned with their demographic as one of the reasons he loves this agency so much. Meldis is also a fan of Pentagram, she loves the diverse group of designers on this platform, in particular, Paula Scher who was responsible for the Chase Bank logo and Michael Bierut. As a designer owned company with a plethora of clients who range from beauty to museums, she finds a wealth of information from this company with so many different layers. Austin is always intrigued by Huge Inc. and keeps an eye on what they produce. For global inspiration, he looks to Awwwards.com and from his fellow design creative, John Saunders at 5Four Digital, he loves seeing how the team there brings ideas to life. Architectural Digest gives him a different perspective in terms of bringing in design with a structural element and for futuristic approaches, he checks out what Tesla is up to. As Tom Ford is one of his inspirations, it makes sense that he would check out what the brand is doing in regards to design and marketing and lastly Apple is another brand that Austin keeps an eye on to see how they bring ideas to fruition. He loves brands that bridge the gap, the ones that are timeless like Tiffany, Cartier and Dior, yet they remain fresh and modern, appealing to a broad demographic and holding onto their essence whilst keeping their integrity.
What about publications, brands or other designers that you like to follow”?
How do you utilize current design trends in your work and what are you seeing as future design trends?
Austin says as things are constantly evolving, there is constant change. Meldis understands that the design trends within MAXA are driven by what the client wants for the most part. She says, Berkshire Hathaway, for example, has certain brand guidelines that need to be maintained, but she does have clients that are more open to her suggestions & design ideas. Austin is a proponent of the use of “white space” as a timeless way to communicate ideas, he likes to see what can be done with strategic use of just black and white, along with the thoughtful use of color which he sees as an often underrated design element. He’s known for his type treatments: being unusual and unconventional by taking things apart and then putting them back together, Austin says he likes to know the rules in order to break them and approaches each project as a fresh start to avoid the “cookie cutter” appearance. He sees custom type treatments, with the MAXA logo as an example, as a way to make a brand stand out and be personalized. Meldis adds that she always uses new typography trends, as she feels this is a main feature in graphic design and makes designs stand out based on the message being conveyed, she cites type as a key element and keeps up to date with these trends. Austin is noticing that more and more creatives are experimenting with letterforms in unconventional ways. Using bold and intricately paired type and letterforms is something that he’s noticing as he says you need to be forthright in your approach to give memorable design and visual experiences. Austin's predictions for the future? He believes web design will become even more human-centric and human-focused with rich media filled experiences becoming the norm, thereby creating a lasting impression that will make someone “feel” something. Austin is liking that more brands and companies are being bolder in their use of color as he recalls a client being nervous about using purple and it went onto become the pantone color of the year! Also, the 90’s revival is coming through, with a quirky use of objects and being a little more playful in design and a mix of 2D and 3D which brings about a fantasy like quality which draws clients and consumers into wanting to be part of the world you created. Meldis adds that the future of design is going in one of 2 directions, from the very minimal, as per Apple and Tesla, to colorful and vivid, overloading with color and patterns, bringing back the postmodern era.
What previous design request did you receive that you were most excited about and why?
Austin had no hesitation in talking about one of his clients, Nichole Lynel. He was asked to create a set of billboard designs, with a less than 24 hours turnaround, to be shown in Times Square, NYC. He spoke about being nervous taking on this huge task as, although his vision and creativity were truncated so strongly, it was still a huge pressure to be under and he wanted to deliver nothing but the very best. The result was an outstanding success with the billboards going viral across social media and various forums. Even though he was confident in his work, it was still a special moment for him and cemented the fact to himself, that he is indeed a creative powerhouse and has so much to offer creatively, his talent confirmed from the way he thinks, to real life execution and says this was a monumental moment for his career. Meldis has a broader view and enjoys social media requests that have specific content, a special event, for example. This, says Meldis, gives her more creative freedom. She also likes to do things away from the norm, for example, creating a brochure that folds a certain way meaning it has to be designed in a different, non typical way is a request that incites her creativity.
So, are there any apps you use to test designs in before creating them in the MAXA platform?
Austin prefers to create grid templates in either Photoshop, Indesign or Illustrator which he will have all open at once as a company like MAXA needs to have synergy, so it enables him to see at a glance how things will work together when everything is open side by side. He can drop in his designs, see how cohesive it will look. With outlier templates or designs, he will rework those to be compatible. Meldis also uses the same 3, Illustrator for her logo treatments and from there she exports to different formats such as PDF for designers to use easily. In Photoshop, Meldis ensures that all her photos have the right colors and sizing and sometimes she will use InDesign before she moves everything over to MAXA, she says she finds this a more efficient way of working.
Austin is very much known for his elegant yet modern, edgy luxury design aesthetic. Meldis says she has more of a signature design style and approaches everything in a clean, elegant and sophisticated way. Austin loves minimal line detailing with a soft use of color that simply makes things look beautiful with the right amount of class and elegance. It's no wonder his clients refer to his designs as the “Austin Razzle Dazzle”. Meldis always moves to more feminine designs, which are far easier to transition to masculine designs if necessary, rather than the opposite way. Austin is also a proponent of the “Less is More” philosophy, saying simplicity is key to making the maximum impact with the least amount of effort.
Do you have a signature design element that you like to use?
What are your own design ideas that you would like to implement?
Austin would like to incorporate a more human-centric focus into his daily design ethos. By focusing more on his clients to showcase their value to consumers, but also on the flip side, by putting in place strategies on how consumers receive information. Meldis likes diversity in her work to keep things fresh, so her freelance clients, in turn, keep her creative spark glowing within the client guidelines in MAXA. Austin believes video is paramount now, from IG reels to TikTok and he would love to incorporate more of this in his work, making brands more interactive by building experiences that make things easy for the consumer by implementing logical sequences that are captivating, informational and memorable. The way Austin sees it, is with such fierce competition, it takes a creative to come up with fresh and innovative ideas to really enthrall a core audience that are human driven and organic.
Meldis loves working with Tristan Ahumada from Lab Coat Agents as a client, saying he is very open minded, he really listens to her ideas and cares about her input. She goes on to say that it doesn't matter whether his request is a web update, a template, or even a TikTok post, he trusts Meldis to design what he needs.Austin has 2 clients that really pushed him creatively to stretch outside the box of what design is and required him to think more long term in ways that the brands could be flexible in the future. One of those clients - Avenue, he cites as one of his best works of art as it took him out of the realm of what he is known for to create something, that although luxury, it was minimal and classic, but maintained a modern edge to the design. The other client, Watson Realty & Co are always wanting to do something that hasn't been done before, so Austin looks for something overachieving and stellar, yet classic and timeless, he employs the use of elegant typography, a mono color palette and stunning photography to create beautiful designs for them. Austin knows that as a creative director, web and graphic designer, you need to think bigger and better and whilst there is some chance at play, experimentation and an element of risk taking, you have to trust your instincts and just go for it ALL!
Who is one of your most design forward clients that you like working with?
What key things are you looking for to keep things fresh within the MAXA platform?
The first thing that Austin does when he starts a new client with MAXA is to erase everything that he’s done prior, thereby starting a fresh, blank canvas. Similarly, Meldis likes to forget everything she has done before and looks with a fresh eye and listens to what the client is asking for. Austin is always looking for innovative ways to express the ethos of the brand he's working with and is looking for stellar typography, outstanding font combinations and doesn't like to rehash anything that has been done before unless it will fit in the same realm, and can be subject to changes. Austin looks for inspiring imagery that supports the brand yet is emotive, that page in vogue - for example, that makes you stop and linger on the visual, the fantasy or lifestyle imagery that takes you there. Whilst Austin loves the monochrome moments that always deliver, he explores to find something different in the way of unusual color combinations. He likes to deep dive into the brand to extract more of the DNA and offers insights into 2 of his clients, Sothebys, a brand with a fresh, classic and luxury look and feel and then a newer client, Watson Realty & Co who are making their own statement in a darker, moodier, luxury way. Austin talks about copy being one of the key components, well written and composed copy can really match the mood of the brand with the kind of messaging and tone used.Meldis talks about how working with the different designers at MAXA, who each have their own style, gives her new vision and new ideas consistently and says there is always something you can take from what they are doing creatively. A huge thankyou to Austin and Meldis for letting the creative reins loose for a while to take the time to give valuable insights into how they remain innovative design visionaries in this ever evolving world, what fuels their artistic ingenuity and a personal peek into the future.