Finding the prospect creatively and financially daunting, Boston-based graphic designer Noah Baker first entered design due to feeling “too scared to continue pursuing fine art,” resulting in a switch in major. A few months after graduation however, Noah felt creatively stifled while working at a commercial advertising agency, and was starting to fall out of love with design. “In school I had the time and freedom to push projects wherever I wanted,” Noah recalls, whereas now he was feeling unnerved at people caring little about experimentation and questioning. “This led to subpar work,” Noah adds, “as there was no sense that co-workers or clients would respond positively to anything different than what they were expecting.” To stay creatively stimulated, Noah chose to chase external freelance and personal projects which would allow for more creative freedom.
Despite this initial difficulty, Noah now cites working with four specific individuals as influential in shaping the form and function of what he produces today. Firstly, he recalls his time working with David Rudnick during his first job on Mother! Making the Fever Dream, a book by Darren Aronofsky concerning the making of his film Mother! Seeing a spark in Noah’s work, David later brought him on as a design assistant, “a huge learning experience,” adds Noah, “and a really insane five-day InDesign sprint.”
Finding it hard to chronicle the influence David had on his formative practice, Noah explains that “David’s craft and high standards for himself and his collaborators showed me that you get out exactly how much you put in,” describing that no matter who the clients are or what the brief entails, “ultimately you have to be satisfied with the work.” In turn it was an experience that not only taught the designer simple precision in design execution, but the importance of highly considered logical and conceptual design justifications.
Not too long after working with David, Noah began working with Bethany Heck after the designer reached out with the offer to join her at Medium. A great admirer of Bethany’s practice, even studying her work as an undergraduate, Noah jumped at the opportunity to join her team. “Our projects often revolved around creating custom type or leveraging existing fonts in surprising ways,” Noah explains, noting that it was here that he was pushed by Bethany to move past just an initial idea. “She showed me that if we were enthusiastic about the process the same would be true of the result,” Noah explains, detailing the thrill of seeing Bethany’s reaction after bringing her work which had been through many iterations and devoted time. “You knew she'd nerd out on all the small details nobody else would,” Noah adds. “It felt like a studio environment, not a corporate one, where experimentation was always the priority and was rewarded.”
Admiring his discussion of process, Noah had always followed the work of Hassan Rahim, so much so that he emailed him during his first year after graduation. “He eventually came back to me for some freelance help on projects he was working on,” including branding and typography work, t-shirts, posters, and film titles. Soon becoming Noah’s mentor and friend generously sharing Hassan’s creative process and methodologies, the designer explains how “Hassan had, like David, an understanding of his own tendencies and practice that went incredibly deep.” From this experience, Noah began to understand the key role of research in developing both aesthetic and concept. “He always had strange books laying around,” the designer recalls, “sometimes it was less about designing for hours and hours, and more about surfacing the right reference at the right moment.” Noah also, seemingly less consciously, adopted the tendency of leaving space for an idea to germinate prior to design or strategy, a step which felt key “in maturing as a designer and art director, and just a constant ‘maker’.”
During the past year or so, Noah has also been working with the London-based electronic label AD93 (fka Whities) alongside Alex McCullough, creating record sleeves. A huge admirer of Alex’s work for its ability to be “precise and nuanced at a technical level, often overflowing with content and concept, and remain singular and iconic,” the pair have designed six records, with another one in progress. Following these fair few projects, Noah has developed a pattern of work to compliment Alex’s thoughtful practice. Holding Alex’s pursuit of client understanding in high regard, the designer finds the work very rewarding, thriving in the feeling of collaboration that arises from producing design for musicians. “There’s none of the typical label bureaucracy, instead it feels like a direct collaboration between artists,” Noah describes. “Sometimes artists come to us with a more resolved vision, other times they may only have a general ‘mood’ or motif for the release,” Noah notes, leaving it down to the pair to concoct their own ideas to help “package and communicate the music within.”
Already confident in his ability to arrange micro and macro typography, Noah has found it more complicated to develop an instinct for album covers, describing how “that is the difference between some nice graphic design and an impactful ‘moment’,” in which a designer creates “something memorable, but still elusive.” Crediting this as a skill he “absorbed” from Alex, we can see this pursuit of concept, theory, consideration and instinct throughout the plethora of work Noah has already produced – crafting meticulous and arresting work that is aware of what it intends to convey, the mood it infers and where it has come from.
In discussing this line of influence, a viewer can understand how Noah’s approach is often led by process. As the designer puts it, “versioning is how I think, and often the process becomes part of the output itself,” he says. There is also rationality to Noah’s aesthetic expression, apparent in his continued inquiry into image-making, asking “how far a simple pairing or placement of imagery can go.” Certain in the methodology behind his work, Noah is keen for the audience to understand the feeling of what he produces, rather than it being explosively obvious at first sight. “I'm more interested in work that resists easy categorisation or understanding anyway,” Noah tells us, concluding “I just strive for intention and clarity on my end.”
Noah Baker: Vegyn ODCD Reissue (Copyright © Noah Baker, 2020)
About the Author
After graduating from Winchester School of Art, studying graphic arts, Harry worked as a graphic designer before joining It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in March 2020. He nows works as a freelance writer and designer, and is one half of Studio Ground Floor.