Afton Klein Group: Design Without Limits

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Jennifer Diehl, Managing Partner and Communications Director for Afton Klein Group (AKG), stands in AKG's open-office plan, which lets designers quickly collaborate.
Photo: John Barkiple

How do designers solve the challenge of creating relevant, engaging and successful work for clients while staying true to their creative vision and brand? The team at Afton Klein Group (AKG) accepts this challenge every day, infusing their unique point of view across many sectors, from fashion to architecture, sports, healthcare, tech and more.

“Rather than just thinking, ‘The client needs XYZ,’ we’re thinking, ‘How do we bring our point of view into this project in a way that will be successful for the client?’ That then attracts clients interested in our point of view,” says Mike Daines, AKG partner and Creative Director. “We’re passionate about the idea that design is a way of thinking. We don’t ever put a limit on what our capabilities are.” While Daines says the agency doesn’t box itself into a specific style, understanding design as it relates to contemporary art is a big inspiration to him and his coworkers. “As we’re working in all sorts of sectors, thinking about design in an experimental way is always on my mind,” he says.

“We all ended up back in Utah and decided to partner up and go into business together.”

So far, this experimental thinking has manifested throughout AKG’s portfolio on acclaimed projects such as digital advertising for Everlane, brand identity for GuideCX, surfboard graphics for Billabong and brand identity for AIGA: The 100 Show. To foster an experimental creative process, designers at AKG set aside time to create personal work based on a prompt that changes every few months. “We’ll work on experimental projects in the studio to keep the creative juices flowing, and sometimes we’ll create some really cool things that influence what we’re doing with client projects,” Daines says.

For example, when AKG had the opportunity to design a wrap for a NASCAR racecar in only two days, a poster that had been made by designer Jamie Stevens as one of these personal projects ended up coming in clutch. “It solves problems when we can take personal, experimental work and insert it into client projects,” Daines says. “It’s all about keeping the balance between servicing clients and keeping things creative. That mindset has helped us attract some really talented people.” Though AKG was officially created in 2016, its roots can be traced back much further, as three of the agency’s four partners are siblings. For them, design has been a lifelong passion. “We all ended up back in Utah and decided to partner up and go into business together,” Daines says. “We can fight like siblings, which is helpful in a partnership. We’re really honest with each other.”

Designer Brooke Scott of Afton Klein Group.
Photo: John Barkiple

The partners chose Salt Lake City as the location of AKG to “be where the action is,” Daines says. “Salt Lake has an amazing design community. It’s a pretty small area, but for how small it is, there’s so much talent here. The design schools in Utah have really strong programs, and all this talent is being pumped into our small market. It’s unusual, and we’re excited to be part of it.” A part of it, indeed—and raising the bar, too. From project to project, a focus on good design guides everything the AKG team does. “Everyone is affected by design on a subconscious level more than on a conscious level, and good design respects the intelligence of its user,” Daines says. “Like Paul Rand said, ‘A badly designed product that works is no less unethical than a beautiful product that doesn’t.’”

“We’ll work on experimental projects in the studio to keep the creative juices flowing, and sometimes we’ll create some really cool things that influence what we’re doing with client projects.”

In addition to working with some of Utah’s biggest healthcare and tech companies, AKG’s current projects include a product activation booth for Prada at the upcoming TwitchCon conference, a building wayfinding project in North Carolina and a 400-page monograph for Jones, Partners: Architecture in collaboration with AKG’s sister architecture firm, Office DFK. To learn more about the agency and its projects, visit aftonkleingroup.com or follow AKG on Instagram @aftonkleingroup.

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