Downtown Salt Lake City is sprinkled with design, from antiquated edifices to esoteric street sculptures. The aesthetic of the city is apparent, yet its origins often aren’t. Across from the consumptive shadow of the Salt Palace Convention Center, a small collection of brand-scape architects are bent on pondering the deeper meanings of their community. modern8 has been in business for 16 years, but the heart of its mission began in 1980 with the career of its founder and lead designer, Randall Smith. It was this same coolly fashionable fellow who met me at the entrance of the firm’s office, nestled in the historic Bertolini Block, a space that feels perennially replete with stories. In combination with a litany of posted design awards, I am already experiencing modern8’s mission to make marketing a more attachment-informed process. This mission is achieved via a thoughtful consideration of their clients’ vision and creative set of media, which connects the clients more deeply to their ideal audiences.
Randall and I are joined by Alysha Smith, who manages modern8’s projects. We set up shop in the firm’s spacious conference room. modern8’s work spans print, web and video mediums, several of which adorn the walls. Everything they make looks like Utah—in colors, shapes and familiar imagery. On the conference table, modern8’s 2017 draft copy of the University of Utah College of Fine Arts annual publication, Studio Magazine, is simple, elegant and rife with moving and dramatic kinetic photographs of dancers and artists. The firm’s well-reputed work with the University of Utah extends past this project to work for the College of Law and Pioneer Theatre Company. “We approach their projects as an attempt to really use our ability to capture the emotions of what we’re communicating,” says Alysha. “We found that there’s certainly emotional reactions that the different audiences will have that we try to capture. In the College of Law, it’s a different audience than the College of Fine Arts—with the art department being more expressive and the college of law being more straightforward and collegiate. With Pioneer Theater Company, we try to convey the emotions of theatergoers.”
It is this imperative that drives modern8’s “five-dimension emotional design,” which includes discovering, distilling, depicting, designing and finally deploying their final product for the client. Every aspect—from illustration to typeset—is informed by the firm’s desire to connect clients and products at the heart level. The team becomes invested with clients and how they manage their attachments. However, challenges can present themselves if there are changes that clients need to make. Nevertheless, their commitment persists. Randall says, “Yeah, when you create something, it becomes your baby, and you feel very attached to it. We are very concerned about shepherding through the process … helping them understand the emotional attachment associated with it.”
Randall notes the Ritual Chocolate campaign, which, to date, has been one of modern8’s most lauded successes. Alysha says that the campaign was a rare opportunity for “more expressive and creative solutions, so it was something we were really excited about.” The Ritual Chocolate project brought a great deal of attention to the firm, garnering multiple exhibitions and publications, including a spread in the prestigious Communication Arts. modern8 created images for Ritual Chocolate that reference its Park City home base as well as colors and iconography of Southern Utah, meant to connect consumers to a sense of place and attachment to the region. Images of the flora and geography of Utah in elegantly embossed line drawings adorn the packaging, cleverly crafted in an origami-like trifold style that prompts the hungry consumer to slow down and engage with the sensory experience. Ritual Chocolate feels like a meditation on nature and creation because of modern8’s design choices.
Modern8 also puts its money where its mouth is with regard to its commitment to Salt Lake’s community. Several passion projects in the form of printed illustrations of the Rio Grande, Ken Garff Building and Downtown Main Library took off when library staff acquired prints of their building. “We naturally see design in other areas of life, and architecture is something we enjoy,” Alysha says. “We felt like doing something that was more for us, that could help get our creative mojos on.” Randall says that the posters “have been fairly well received, considering that they were mostly done for ourselves … It was really giving back to the community. They’re $10 each. The Public Library is an iconic piece of architecture.” Library staff became so enamored with the prints that their subsequent popularity eventually generated a contract to create more for the entire Salt Lake Library system, attesting to the notion that appealing to a people’s pride in their work makes for good business, and that modern8 is motivated by more than the bottom line.
The fundamental mission of modern8 has been a topic of recent exploration: “to create and transform brands through design and emotion,” says Alysha. As I leave modern8’s inviting and contemplative space, I find myself feeling just a bit attached to that mission, perhaps a testament to the vision they commit to every day.