The names Mark Pernice and Elana Schlenker are two those in the design sector will know well. Elana runs her own multidisciplinary practice, Studio Elana Schlenker, and founded font fanatic magazine Gratuitous Type. Mark, on the other hand, has his own illustration practice, has worked as an art director with the likes of Stefan Sagmeister and Paula Scher and his own project, Photo Booth Mask, garnered viral global attention. Together, two of contemporary design’s intuitive minds have formed their own studio, Out of Office, and one of its first projects is going to have any designer carefully watching their backs.
Released at the tail end of last year, one of OOO’s first pieces of work unleashed to the world is Hacking Finance, a new publication covering the financial tech industry, but with an aesthetic that would encourage a double take from any savvy design type.
Outside of just its aesthetic achievements, OOO’s work on Hacking Finance displays how engaging an audience should be the key initiative for any creative project, whether you’re a stockbroker or student.
Already causing a stir in both the financial tech industry as well as the independent magazine sector, below we leave it to Elana and Mark to take us through this eye-opening publication demonstrating how, if the client trusts the designers, the results can be entirely refreshing.
Can you talk us through the initial brief and the starting stages of designing Hacking Finance?
OOO: Our initial brief was sort of a dream – to create a brand that was unlike anything else in the financial tech landscape, that would appeal to those in that world, but more importantly, bring those who weren’t into the fold.
Anthemis, our client, is already known within its industry as being something of a pioneer, and came to us with really unexpected references, most notably 80s and 90s skateboarding culture and a hardcore punk aesthetic. In contrast to this, Athemis also expressed a strong desire to build something accessible and welcoming.
In many ways, the hardest part of the process was to really trust these requests and not fall back on the often stale, safe tropes found in so much banking and investment branding. Clients frequently say they want something “wild” when in fact they don’t. Hacking Finance really did want us to go crazy!
We explored a number of options but were unanimously excited by a blackletter execution for Hacking Finance’s logo and masthead. What we loved about it was that it offered a sort of undercover cool – if you are aware of contemporary design, blackletter feels current and interesting; if you aren’t, you might interpret more classic, institutional connotations, or even read it as a bit punk. We liked that. In tandem, we developed a suite of colours and patterns that could be applied in various combinations to soften the blackletter and, in some cases, even make it a bit pretty.
Initially, we were engaged to launch the Hacking Finance brand, website and magazine all in one go, but shifted gears to first focus on the brand and Hacking Finance site, though our initial concepts included some rough cover sketches and mood boards for the issue. Working through the Hacking Finance brand via its online presence, which included art direction, really turned out to be a valuable testing ground and we were grateful to have several months to live with the brand we created before jumping into print.
Hacking Finance has already caused a stir in being a magazine with a design aesthetic never applied to a subject such as this. Was engaging a wider audience one of your aims?
OOO: Yes! From our earliest conversations with Anthemis, we discussed the importance of appealing to a very wide audience. In the introduction to the issue, the editors note that “we are all the money people” in that we all touch money and are all impacted by the financial systems that surround us – even if we don’t identify this way. They believe that a lot can be learned from adjacent fields and cultures to improve financial services, and so have strived to build a space that bridges these worlds.
A lot of credit goes to Leslie Campisi, the CMO at Anthemis, who sought out a completely unexpected partnership in us, and who lead the editorial direction of the magazine in such a unique way. The content isn’t about bankers banking and stock tickers ticking. We wanted to make that clear at a glance and worked very deliberately to create a magazine that would intrigue people who don’t think they have an interest in finance, but wouldn’t alienate those who do.
Are there certain design quirks in the magazine you’re particularly fond of?
OOO: We’re proud of the whole issue, but especially of our art direction and collaboration with all of the illustrators and photographers in this issue. There were some really great results and we are so excited to continue to work with these collaborators and bring new ones into the fold.
Beyond the magazine, we were also quite pleased with some of the details we were able to incorporate into the website, in particular, “Banking Mode”, a little easter egg we’ve added that converts the site to a very serious and very SFW version, riffing-off of some of the more conservative banking design we mentioned earlier.
What’s the plan for future issues?
OOO: Now that we’ve got the format and the flow knocked out we’re excited to continue to refine and evolve the design direction we established with No.1. Something we discussed early on with the client, but weren’t able to realise, was incorporating inserts or other physical goodies into the issue.
All through the process, we’ve joked about different pseudo-corporate Hacking Finance objects we’d love to make – it would be amazing to realise some of them. But first, we need the green light to get started on No.2!
About the Author
Lucy joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In October 2016 she became a staff writer on the editorial team and in January 2019 was made It’s Nice That’s deputy editor. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about new and upcoming creative projects or editorial ideas for the site.