Jonathan Isaacson balances design quirks with technical care
Across a growing freelance practice the London-based designer and art director balances “the tension between refinement and mess”.
- Lucy Bourton
- 20 June 2022
Despite already working as a senior designer in Wieden and Kennedy’s London office, art director and designer Jonathan Isaacson has been keeping busy on a range of freelance projects this past year. In fact, he’s actually always maintained a freelance practice alongside any full time work. At first this was to gain experience in new areas when entering the industry, but as his career developed “and the holes have been ‘plugged’, it’s become about staying creatively challenged and engaged as much as I can,” he says. “As you might be able to tell, I’m very bad at switching off.”
An ongoing collaboration you may have spotted in this practice is Jonathan’s ongoing work with musician and artist Glor1a. Art directing for the artist alongside creative director Claire Arnold since 2018, the duo have continually shaped Glor1a’s visual world. Initially, inspiration was led by graphic artefacts Claire had collected, from old techno and industrial flyers, but also the creative director’s previous work with the musician. Primarily this was in the photography used in early releases, as “the images [Claire] produced were so evocative that it made it easy to build visual worlds out of them,” the designer explains. In doing so, Jonathan’s work mirrors Claire’s via bold typographic and colour palette choices, particularly in his work for Glor1a’s dystopian futures concert series, as well as the custom drawn logo, numerous tour posters and six record sleeves he’s designed to date.
However, more recently, Jonathan’s been concentrating on developing the visual language of London-based fashion designer, Bianca Saunders. More typographic in focus this time, the designer has created a bespoke drawn logo for the growing brand, taking its cues “from historic lettering, but rendered in a more modern style”.
Developing a logo which demonstrates confidence due to its craft, its design was led by a feeling that Bianca’s previous logo “wasn’t living up to the quality and energy that her brand was becoming synonymous with,” he says. In turn designing a logo which offered character and presence, it’s a wordmark that purposefully feels both masculine and feminine, connecting with Bianca’s own narrative as a female designer predominantly creating menswear. “Where we landed was a hand-drawn serif, both rough and angular as well as elegant and refined… making something that could have existed 400 years ago on the side of a building, as much as in ten years on the back of a jacket.”
Jonathan’s direction was dually influenced by his experience as a self-taught type designer. Archiving his own collection of typographic idiosyncrasies gathered on travels throughout England and Europe, part of the joy in designing for Jonathan is marrying elements that have caught his eye together. “A lot of the fun comes in making happy accidents and seeing where those might take the design of a letter or word,” he adds of this process. This level of care Jonathan brought to the table was then refined further with type designer Kia Tasbihgou, “who trimmed the fat and refined it to its final form”.
It’s a combination that fits seamlessly into a fashion context, while encouraging connection through such purposeful characteristics. “I guess it differs from a lot of logos in the industry right now (although I am sure there will be people who can show me 20 that contradict my point) because of the way it embraces more individual quirks,” he adds. “In a period of time where much of the industry is archiving its heritage and characterful logos and adopting more contemporary sans-serif versions, I was very keen to pull Bianca’s brand in the other direction.”
A further project balancing design quirks with technical care is Jonathan’s work for The Pattern, a visual identity created in collaboration with Play Nice and motion designer Mark Gilligan. Organised by Play Nice, The Pattern is a curriculum in cultural production offering 20 young adults the opportunity to respond to briefs set by industry leaders, with the aim build new pathways in the creative and wider cultural industries.
A visual identity for such an initiative needed to present “the freedom that great learning environments give you to experiment, make mistakes and learn,” explains Jonathan. This sentiment is brought to life in the use of an illustrative motif resembling a blob of ink, an embodiment of experimentation which then lives within a more structured, gridded design system. “I wanted to draw inspiration from the way a student would be working within the confines of an education framework, where they will respond to that in a human way that often feels more organic and real just in the nature of them being a person, rather than an institution,” the designer describes.
Each of these projects, despite differing in style and context, lean into how Jonathan utilises his practice to explore “the tension between refinement and mess,” he adds. Perhaps this is aided by the fact these projects are led by a passion outside of work, yet remain adjacent to his full time job in advertising and branding. “Sometimes the day job can be the most inspiring part of my practice, but when it’s not,” he says, “I like to have something creatively fulfilling ‘to come home to’.”
Jonathan Isaacson: The Pattern (Copyright © Jonathan Isaacson, 2022)
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.