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Studio Herefor On How to Make Nice Things For Nice People Nicely

by Bill McCool on 08/23/2022 | 8 Minute Read

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“We always say we make nice things for nice people nicely,” says Jena Garlinghouse. 

As far as mission statements go, you can do a lot worse, but it also covers all the bases, particularly in the design world. You do great, beautiful work and collaborate with like-minded, good folks, and what’s more, you do it without being a jerk. It’s a standard we can all aspire to in our working lives, no matter how chaotic our world.

And that’s just how Brooklyn and Honolulu-based studio Herefor have centered their design practice. Founded by Jena Garlinghouse, Cory Uehara, and Ryan Hammond, they specialize in developing visual identities, working with many start-up brands (and some of the big guys as well) with an eye towards growth and how they exist in the marketplace. 

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From left: Cory Uehara, Jena Garlinghouse, and Ryan Hammond.

“I think having a super collaborative approach with the clients we work with and building a long-term relationship with them is important to us,” adds Jena, the director of client services for the studio. "'Nice things' speaks to the types of projects we take on; 'Nice People' alludes to the relationships we have with our clients; and 'Nicely' reflects our process, approach, and how we put it all together."

“It definitely started as a joke,” says Cory Uehara, Herefor creative director. Four years ago, in the studio’s infancy, they tried to develop a working motto for themselves, simplified it, sat on it, and then laughed over it some more. But it came to mean something more without them realizing it as they took on more work. “It's kind of silly, and we don't take ourselves too seriously. But it feels relevant to our personalities and how we like to work. It’s more conversational, natural, and human.”

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The trio first met while working together at the San Franciso-based design agency Hatch, and after working on several projects, they fell in love with their team chemistry. “It felt like we had stumbled upon a team dynamic that felt unique and exciting to us,” says Jena. “We played around with the idea of starting our own studio and got super excited about being able to take on the types of projects that we wanted to take on, developing a process for building the creative we wanted to build out, and having total creative control of the work we produced.”

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And while they loved their experience at Hatch (and zero disrespect to the studio, they insist), that desire to have more control over the creative and the relationship with the client fueled them. Get rid of the creative director overseeing their projects and get more involved in the actual process of not only the design work itself but nurturing that relationship with the client and creating something collaborative and beautiful—essentially, owning the whole process.

“Selfishly, though, we just wanted to keep working together,” Cory jokes.

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Also critical to the trio was working alongside clients with a mission beyond just moving products. Adding purpose and value to their work was a top priority, which is why they latch onto branding projects with sustainability in mind. 

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Nowhere is that more evident than in their work for AWSM Sauce, a line of powdered ketchup and BBQ sauces. Consumers only need to add water to the product and, boom, instant ketchup. Not only does it break away from single-use plastic bottles, but they eliminate 95% of the plastic commonly associated with the ketchup space. No, the brand isn’t entirely plastic-free, but it’s the kind of game-changing project the CPG space could use more of, a complete transformation in how we experience a product that also cuts water out of the bottling and shipping process.

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Build the brand identity from the ground up, Herefor created a packaging system that was instructive and educational for the consumer as it was something relatively new to the world of condiments. Taking visual cues from diner menus and the sauces themselves, they constructed something that felt interactive, with saucy blobs becoming the star of the show as getting to work in the kitchen can be a messy—but fun—affair. What's more, interjecting that playful attitude into the brand only heightens its plastic-free mission

“We want our efforts to lead the world to a better place, and we don't want to create more harm,” Jena mentions.

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Similar to AWSM Sauce, JOI (short for just one ingredient) is a DTC plant milk alternative that sells concentrates consumers can mix at home. Available in glass jars and fully compostable bags, the brand touts that milk is mostly water (98%) and that by just shipping the concentrated form, they can save unrecyclable milk cartons from hitting a landfill. JOI approached them about carrying out a redesign, and the trio helped the alt-milk brand level up its packaging by instilling a sense of optimism in how they reduce packaging waste. They also enabled the brand to transition away from plastic tubs to glass jars.

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With both AWSM Sauce and JOI, it affords the young studio to indulge in another one of their passions—working with start-ups. That way, they can influence a brand from the ground up and imagine something new from scratch. “We love working with startups,” says Ryan Hammond, creative director. “We love being involved with a product or company from the very start because it’s fun to put a stake in the ground for what they stand for visually, their tone of voice, and everything else. We definitely love working with founders, too. Working directly with the founding team allows for more seamless conversations and usually results in a better brand.”

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And while they enjoy having the balance of working with existing brands and playing and improving upon their existing assets, playing in the sandbox and building entirely new brand worlds is where they shine.

Adaptogenic trail mix brand Toodlaoo wants to improve healthy snacking for consumers by creating functional treats loaded with ashwagandha, reishi, and lion’s mane, but they’re also trying to engage in more eco-friendly methods as they are both plastic and climate-neutral. The central premise they wanted to build into the brand world was that healing and good-for-you snacks were something that could be fun.

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To do this, they focused on the magic behind the brand, pulling out all of the stops with playful typography and lively illustrations with crystals and ingredients that match the flavors. But it also works based on who the brand is; they could own a mystical vibe because of their ingredients and adaptogenic herbs. 

“They're the only ones who can leverage this weird, fun, and magical aesthetic that we've developed for them,” Jena says. “It's not just developing a logo, color palette, or type system. It's developing every single element to make it feel unique and whole. We also developed an icon library that speaks to the amazing benefits of Toodaloo.” The illustrations used for the icons are a playful way to get away from the rigid graphics or lettering used to say something is dairy or gluten-free. Instead, you get cows with hearts in their eyes and floating balloons carrying off a piece of grain. It’s an unexpected but joyful voice that they built into the brand.

“We don't have the desire to do something we've already done, so that's why it's so fun to go on this journey with the client,” explains Cory. “You know, what’s the color palette? What’s the typography or voice for the copy? With every project, it’s new, but there’s always excitement and joy. Then you look back at everything you touched or worked on with the client, and you can say you had a hand in that.”

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“We never want to just deliver a logo and packaging,” says Ryan. With every project they work on, they deeply invest into building the brand world and thinking about everywhere it will live and how consumers will interact with it.” The brand is so much bigger than that to us,” Ryan adds. “That's what turns the company or product into a living creature with a personality. And that comes through outside of the logo and outside of the packaging. It's this beast that just comes to life.”

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Now, with four years under HereFor’s belt, making things nicely, they can reflect on taking the leap and striking out on their own and see how that philosophy continues to inspire and drive the studio.

“It’s fun for us to see that it still totally rings true to who we are as a team,” says Jena.

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“I think our perspective that collaboration and getting to the truth of who a company is and being able to bring that to life visually feels like a win for us,” she adds. “If we can create a visual identity that feels like this company is the only company in the world that can leverage this aesthetic, then we've done something good and done our job right.”