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by Ruth Hagopian


t’s late afternoon and designer Michael Osborne needs a little boost to round out the day. He mixes his favorite energy blast of half coke and half coVee and he’s back on track managing three distinct enterprises plus a nonprofit organization, Joey’s Corner. In his 30th year in business, he creatively balances art, commerce and charity—and still finds time to play his guitar.

Osborne’s approach gives clients several appropriate choices and guides the ensuing dialogue to the best solution. “I think Paul Rand said there is more than one good answer to any problem, but only one perfect answer. When he delivered design directions, he took one direction in, which we can’t do,” Osborne said and laughed. “I don’t think any other designer on the planet can get away with that.”

Osborne’s ventures include a design studio, a letterpress printshop and a fine art business. Located in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood, the studio is an open 4,500-squarefoot space with an eye-level fireplace at its heart. Here, brand­ ing, packaging and naming for the wine, food and beverage, and retail industries make up more than half of the Michael Osborne Design (mod) business. According to Osborne, packaging is where design exerts real influence. “When there are 40 feet of wine labels on the shelf, you can actually use your craft to get somebody to pull out their wallet and go and pick one up,” he said.

Williams-Sonoma appreciated having design options to challenge its ideas about a product’s potential. “It’s good to see a study to push ourselves in diVerent directions and have a bit of variety,” said Karen Rapoport, vice president of creative services. Rapoport credits mod with helping get their bath and body program back on track after another design firm’s massive overhaul, which was beautiful and innovative, but didn’t resonate with customers.

Kettle Foods knew of mod’s extensive wine label experience when it needed new packaging for its premium brand of potato chips. Kettle products had been in the U.S. and the U.K. markets since the 1980s and it didn’t want to lose one bag of chips to the wrong design direction. “His first project was to give the brand one look that works globally, but is also still relevant locally,” said Michelle Hunt, Kettle’s former natural foods marketing consultant. mod worked hard selecting the proper colors of nature to con­vey the flavor inside the bag and the right number of words to package a natural food product. The final design ended up accelerating sales in both markets. “It was kind of like the quiet in the storm,” Hunt said. “A potato chip aisle is very busy and our bags are very simple, so now they’re easier for retailers to stock and easier for consumers to find. Michael brought an innate sense of how to work with a natural brand without making it look cliché.”

The new design is one of understated elegance allowing the colored liquid to speak for itself and with simple typography on primarily white labels. “Michael did an exceptional job of bringing the collection back to what it truly stands for with a classic approach to design: a French-inspired apothecary look. Immediately, we saw the sales turn around and saw a very positive response from customers.” While packaging is a major component of the design firm, Osborne is also noted for his postal stamp designs. He is an amateur stamp collector and was delighted when freelance writer Alyson Kuhn approached him in 1997 as one of 26 San Francisco graphic designers invited to design a Cinderella stamp—one without monetary value—for a show sponsored by aiga. It was the beginning of a friendship and collaboration that would lead to Osborne’s designs for two major exhibitions at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum and his bright, iconic images on six stamps for the U.S. Postal Service. “One day Ethel Kessler, an art director for the U.S. Postal Service, called and asked if I would be interested in helping design

Michael Osborne wrote the captions and is the creative director on all projects unless otherwise noted. Right: Love and Wedding Stamps. “The 2002 Love Stamp was the first stamp I was fortunate enough to design for the United States Postal Service. I was hired by Ethel Kessler, one of the four art directors for the Postal Service, who reported to recently-retired Terry McCaffrey, director of stamp design services. During 40 years with the Postal Service, McCaffrey oversaw the design and production of more than half of the 2,500 stamps the USPS ever issued, and has been called the ‘creative soul’ of the United States Postal Service. Stamps are a designer’s dream, they are immaculate pieces of miniature art that delightfully document our country’s history, and I would say most of the stamps any of us are familiar with were directed by Terry during his tenure. I’m truly honored to have gotten to know him and to design a few stamps during his watch.” Ethel Kessler, art director; Michael Osborne, designer; Terry McCaffrey, design director; USPS, client. “This promotional kit for Beckett Cambric paper presents the identity development for the launch of a fictional wine bar. Each design direction is then printed and produced in various techniques and is presented in a folio. Also in the kit is a wine ‘primer’ swatchbook containing anything and everything for the wine novice.” Alyson Kuhn, writer; Alice Koswara, designer; Mohawk Fine Papers, client.


Typography Annual 2011

Communication Arts


Michael Osborne the next Love stamp,” Osborne said. “My dream of designing a stamp landed on my desk, thanks to Ethel!” His first Love stamp, issued in 2002, was very popular and over one billion stamps were printed. Osborne’s pro bono work has always been part of his design eVorts, but after the accidental death of his son, Joseph Michael, he created Joey’s Corner, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organi­zation in his son’s name. Founded in 2005, Joey’s Corner provides pro bono design services for nonprofit organiza­tions focusing on healthcare, children’s and social well-being issues. Their creative services have helped numerous non­profit groups, including The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the Child Abuse Pre­ vention Center and the Alzheimer’s Association. William Fisher, ceo of the Alzheimer’s Association, Northern California, asked Joey’s Corner to help them raise donations for the Memory Walk, their largest public event. “It’s kind of a neat contradiction,” Fisher said. “There’s nothing pretty about Alzheimer’s, there are no survivors, but Michael helps us make Alzheimer’s something that people are attracted to and willing to look at. We’ve raised a million dollars for three years in a row and we’re the only Walk that has done that.” Joey’s Corner creates T-shirt designs, buttons, greeting cards and framable broadsides that are given to the Alzheimer’s Associ­ation’s largest teams and sponsors. The little posters, often involving a metaphorical image and a meaningful quote, have been printed at One Heart Press, Osborne’s letterpress shop. The beauty and tactile quality of relief print­ing has a special appeal, so he founded the printshop in 1991 to serve the com­ munity by printing books, business systems and wedding invitations. He also developed the naming and brand­ing of Lettra, the new paper for Crane & Co. made for letterpress. Osborne acknowledges his design skills improved with the help of talented mentors. Originally from Ohio, he left Cincinnati after serving in Vietnam and enrolled at Art Center in Pasadena, California, where he gravitated to packaging. Instructors Hal Frazier and Paul Hauge developed his interest in solving prob­ lems in dimension, and lettering instructor Doyald Young inspired his love of type.

For the past twenty years, Osborne has taught packaging at the Academy of Art University and now teaches the advanced class, Package Design 4, a multi-tiered branding system where he divides the class into teams who work on the same project, just as in the studio. In class, he promotes pencil on paper first, confident that the thinking process goes faster by writ­ ing pages, making notes and thumbnails, talking about ideas and making little drawings. “I can do six things with just a pencil that you can’t type on a computer. You can’t put the ‘T’ where I just put it with a computer or without spending an hour on it.” He also encourages two words he doesn’t think students learn anywhere else: What if? “What if you took this and combined it with that, or combined it in this way? The What if? game allows you to go from a problem to a solu­ tion to a unique solution.” Mary Scott, chair of graphic design at the Academy of Art, has observed Osborne’s students in her portfolio class. “They have to develop mission statements, brand positioning, target markets, all of the touchpoints that a brand bridges and it gives them a very strong sense of how that’s done,” she said. “Michael’s students have told me when they go out and show their portfolios, the people looking at his students’ pro­ jects are just over­whelmed that they are working on some­ thing this complex.” Always hungry to learn new things, Osborne decided to return to school for his mfa in graphic design at age 53. mod could manage without him for half a day a week, which meant it

This page: Michael Osborne Design, Joey’s Corner and One Heart Press: (from left to right) Alice Koswara, Anne Tsuei, Cody Dingle, Connie Bauer, Dennis Whalen, Sheri Kuniyuki, Jane Anderson, Michael Osborne, Cedar Mathis, Henry Lannan, Melinda Malouf, Chelsea Nobbs, Katy McCauley, Beau Monroe. Not pictured: Chad Johnson and Val Simonetti. Right: “These two broadsides are letterpress promotions for Lettra, a paper developed by Crane for letterpress printing that we branded and One Heart Press printed. The first version uses Bradbury Thompson’s Alphabet 26 concept, in which the alphabet is pared down to 26 characters, eliminating disparate characters between upper- and lowercase letters. Using Garamond Stempel and Gill Sans as the basis, we designed an entire digital typeface for the text according to the Alphabet 26 theory, which was then set letter-by-letter on the computer. We were asked to design a second Lettra promotional piece and swatchbook using full color. After Lettra’s successful introduction, Crane discovered that designers were not only using the stock for letterpress printing, but to their surprise were also printing it 4-color process. This piece is letterpress printed in combination with 4-color offset using visuals to juxtapose the old and new technologies.” Alyson Kuhn, writer; Cody Dingle/Michael Osborne, designers; Michael Osborne, type director; Cody Dingle, illustrator/typographer; Crane Co., client. Invitation to a fundraising event for a Joey’s Corner nonprofit client. Jeff Ho, designer; Joey’s Corner, design firm; Family Service Agency of San Mateo, client.


Typography Annual 2011

Communication Arts



Typography Annual 2011

Michael Osborne

would take him twice as long to finish. The Academy of Art graduate pro­gram was a journey of self-discovery and Osborne’s projects ranged from global to deeply personal. They included design­ing and producing T-shirts for an hiv prevention program for young people in Malawi, Africa. He also learned Raku pottery and stamped it with his redesigned written language of his Cherokee heritage. Osborne graduated in 2007 and wrote Back to School about his mfa experience. “I’m happiest when I’m making something,” he said as he pulled his abstract etchings from his print files. Osborne studied printmak­ ing with master printers Pam Paulson and Renee Bott at Paulson Bott Press in Berkeley. He tends to make prints in series, three-tofive works with the same visual language, starting with a gestural mark. “I get all prepared so I know more or less what I’m going to be doing in terms of the gesture and visual language of the piece—and then I just go crazy for three days,” he said. “I forget to eat and wake up at three o’clock in the middle of the night with this idea.” The process is often the opposite of his design method: no thumbnails. “StuV happens that you couldn’t make happen, and you have to learn how stay out of the way to let it happen.” Osborne has sold his work at galleries and fundraisers, donating the pro­ceeds to Joey’s Corner. In the studio, Osborne’s desk faces out toward his team that has fluctuated between ten and fifteen throughout the years, all of

Left: Redesign of the Williams-Sonoma soaps, lotions and home fragrance products. Sheri Kuniyuki, designer; Williams-Sonoma, client. Naming, identity and packaging for an upscale store launched by Gymboree for infants and toddlers. Gymboree, client. This page: “These cards are part of an array of products designed to raise funds during the launch party for Joey’s Corner. Joey’s Corner received a grant from Sappi’s Ideas that Matter program which funded the production of greeting cards, wrapping paper and all launch party invitation materials.” Michael Osborne, designer/illustrator; Joey’s Corner, design firm/client. “The Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco opened its doors as an unconventional start-up museum with an eye on exhibiting, interpreting and communicating contemporary work in craft and design.” Michael Osborne, designer; Chelsea Nobbs, junior designer; Museum of Craft and Design, client. “Every year Joey’s Corner designs materials for the Northern California Alzheimer’s Association chapter’s Memory Walk fundraising event. Banners, T-shirts, buttons, broadsides and greeting cards typically comprise the program.” Jeff Ho, designer; Joey’s Corner, design firm; Alzheimer’s Association, client. Communication Arts



Typography Annual 2011

Michael Osborne whom he chose from his classes at the Academy of Art. Sketch­ books are everywhere. “You might find him at anyone’s desk,” explained Cedar Mathis, mod’s project manager. “Cedar is the best project manager in the universe, I have rock star designers and it took a long time to get that all figured out,” Osborne said. “He’s directly involved with every project and I can’t say that the wheels ever stop turning,” Mathis said. “He may just have an extra ten hours in his day that the rest of us don’t have because he’s con­­ stantly going.” So far, the pace isn’t daunting. In fact, he’s think­­ing about bigger projects for mod this 30th year. When asked about his plans for the next 30, Osborne mentions ambitious dreams: glass blowing, teaching in Rome and a big sculpture studio by a lake. Suddenly, he’s excitedly talking about art he really admires: Woody Pirtle’s sculptures and Ivan ChermayeV’s assemblages. “One time I ran into him, when I was judging the Clios,” Osborne recalled. “The whole group went to this restaurant and Ivan ChermayeV was sitting there having dinner with a couple of guys. I was like, ‘Look! Look! There’s Ivan!’ So I’m looking around for a napkin and there were only cloth napkins, of course. But there were bread sticks on the table. So I grabbed the biggest breadstick, got a pen, went over and introduced myself and asked him if I could have his autograph. I’m as big a design groupie as I’ve ever been. He said, ‘Sure, I’d love to,’ and signed the breadstick. I still have it.” CA

Left: “The Taste Plus product line was developed as a low-cost alternative to nutritious breakfast cereals.” Alice Koswara, designer/illustrator; California Cereal Company, client. “Made from organic rye grain, Square One is one of the first organic vodka products to hit the market. Because the product is organic and therefore by law cannot be in contact with a cork that is non-organic, the closure was required to be made of condensed plastic, now commonplace in the wine industry. Recycled paper and soy inks were also used on the label. We designed the bottle using a square motif in a multi-layered deboss in the glass. This feature, as well as the sharp top corners, created quite a challenge for the glass manufacturer.” Alice Koswara/Michael Osborne, designers; Square One Organic Spirits, client. “The mission of The Art of Yoga Project is to lead teen girls in the California juvenile justice system toward accountability to self, others and the com­munity by providing practical tools, art and yoga, to effect behavioral change. Joey’s Corner designed the identity, business system, print collateral and a yearly curriculum guide, which were printed with the aid of a grant from Sappi’s Ideas that Matter program.” Jeff Ho/Michael Osborne, designers; Joey’s Corner, design firm; Art of Yoga, client. This page: “To celebrate the Smithsonian National Postal Museum’s 15th anniversary, the museum showcased Alphabetilately, an exhibition rich in philatelic fascination and designerly detail. The exhibit, conceived by Alyson Kuhn and Bill Senkus, presents an innovative way of looking at the hobby of stamp collecting via a philatelic alphabet in which each letter stands for an aspect of the collecting of stamps or the sending of mail. The letterpress printed keepsake with tipped on logo-stamp was printed by One Heart Press and given to attendees at the exhibition opening.” Alyson Kuhn, writer; Cody Dingle/Michael Osborne, designers; Pat Burke, executive creative director; Terry McCafferey, consultant; Smithsonian National Postal Museum, client. Communication Arts


Michael Osborne

This page: “BUILD is a Joey’s Corner nonprofit client whose mission is to provide real-world entrepreneurial experience that empowers youth from under-resourced communities to excel in education, lead in their com­ muni­ties and succeed professionally. The program is an in-school elective in grades 9 through 12, taught by mentors and on-site teachers at partnering public high schools. Students learn the basics of entrepreneurship, develop a business plan and learn to run their own busi­ nesses. Joey’s Corner designed the identity, busi­ness system and print collateral materials.” Katy McCauley/ Anne Tsuei, designers; Joey’s Corner, design firm; Build, client. “Letterpress printed wedding invitation including a coaster gift set.” Alice Koswara, designer; Karen Rapoport, client. “Hearts in San Francisco was a Bay Area-wide art installa­tion that debuted in the spring of 2004. A heart was used for the San Francisco program, appropriate for a city that is recognized for its acceptance and tolerance. The primary goals of this project are to raise funds and nurture artistic expression at a time when both are sorely needed. The financial beneficiary of Hearts in San Francisco is the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation which has now received over 5 million dollars from sales of the heart sculptures. The striped version was designed and pre­sented to Intel, and the gold coin version was created for Wells Fargo, both major funders of the installation. I designed the Heart sculpture designs, the logo and banner.” Michael Osborne, designer; Hearts in San Francisco, client. “Redesign of the Kettle Brand product line. The goal was to simplify the principal display panel to as few words as pos­sible, emphasize the flavor name, which was accom­plished through the use of a tone-on-tone color band, and to enhance shelf presence with an array of full-bleed, solid color blocks for Kettle’s wide variety of chip flavors.” Alice Koswara/Michael Osborne, designers; Michelle Hunt, project director; Kettle Foods, client. Right: “Packaging for a line of bake-at-home products targeted to moms and kids as a fun cooking activity of a highly nutritional ‘junk-free’ snack.” Sheri Kuniyuki, designer; Joyce Oudkerk Pool, photographer; Matisse & Jacks, client. “A variety of wine label packaging. Wine industry clients, including large companies and small entrepreneurs, com­ prise about 25 to 30 percent of our workload, the balance being mostly spirit, food and retail brand packaging.” Kristen Clark/Alice Koswara/Sheri Kuniyuki/Michael Osborne, designers; Georgia Deaver, calligraphy; BevMo!/ Cornerstone Cellars/Fess Parker Winery/Jax Vineyards/ Meyer Family Cellars, clients.


Typography Annual 2011

Communication Arts


Communication Arts  

Typography Jan/Feb 2011 issue featuring Michael Osborne

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