Taking the Pulse of 2021 Young Blood Award Winners

Q&A with 2021 Design Awards Young Blood Winner Ben Magnus

June 22, 2021

Taking the Pulse of 2021 Young Blood Award Winners

Daughter Creative, CABIN – BEST WE CAN, Young Blood Motion Design - Series, 2021 Design Awards winner.

After graduating from the Alberta College of Art & Design, 2021 Design Award winner in the Young Blood category, Ben Magnus cut his teeth working with Critical Mass on global clients such as Clorox and Nissan, but his heart lies in making small, local businesses big. Now with Calgary-based Daughter Creative, Magnus was kind enough to answer our questions in an honest and sagacious manner that belies his Young Blood label. For more of his work, check out his website here, Twitter here and Instagram here.

What is your creative process (from idea to finished product?)

Starts with a brief based on the client’s needs. I’m really lucky to be able to work with some excellent project managers at Daughter who can distil all of this into a document for us designers. I then gather some relevant inspiration (and my own thoughts) before beginning some loose sketching / ideation. Things move from there to the computer to get refined. I to have a loose early process in programs like Illustrator—I won’t use artboards, which allows me to keep things loose and very stream-of-consciousness. Shake all those ideas out of the old brain bag. When creative gets approved and needs to be buttoned up, then there’s a lot more attention to detail. I have the rare opportunity at Daughter to see work through from concepting straight to its production.

Can you walk us through the specifics of creating this piece (specific winning piece)

Sure—initially, once Cabin’s label designs were finalized (the process of this was just trying the established brand patterns in different ways on the cans), I had an hour or two free one day to try out an idea I had for this, which was an animation of the can designs rotating in space. Once it was set up in After Effects, I realized that it would be feasible to animate the label artwork itself, instead of just “spinning” the can. So I gave it a go, paired it with a groovy piece of 70’s music, and showed the rest of the office. I think we all felt really excited about it, the client did as well, so we smoothed out the workflow a bit, and have done one of these videos for every beer release since. I think it’s been over 70 labels now.

For the process specifically: the vector artwork gets stripped into its component parts so the layers can be manipulated in motion. That file gets imported into After Effects, where we can animate the artwork, and then map that composition onto a can mockup.

What has the response been like for this piece?

The response has been great—we’ve had a lot of positive attention because of them. They seem to be really engaging among beer enthusiasts. They really helped Cabin hit the ground running—they were the new kids to the beer scene, and it gave them some polish right off the bat. It’s been cool to see other breweries in the market developing and trying out their own animated assets in response.

What inspires you?

That’s a tough question to nail down. It’s a bit of a mixed bag—I get a lot of inspiration from sports branding, editorial design, screen-printing, and a lot of movies and TV shows. LOVE a good logo sting/intro sequence.

How would you describe your artistic style?

I guess I’d try for it to be described as casually delightful. I try REALLY hard to have my style feel like it’s not overworked or overthought. The more time you spend with a product, the more you may notice the depth of thinking and consideration, but hopefully it comes across as innocuous and casual. There’s something about being reserved and simple that can be exciting, especially when a lot of packaging is plastered in displaimers. Sometimes design tries too hard, and I think simplicity is a good way of having the audience feel like their intelligence is being respected.

What is the hardest part when you are creating/when you created this specific piece?

Probably hardware capabilities—it’s hard to experiment with things like animation when it can put such a strain on your machine. I think this is why there’s been such a separation between motion and non-motion designers. They just require different machine specs. Programs and computers are slowly becoming more and more powerful, though, so I think that line is starting to get blurred.

What do you think is an issue in the world of (photography/illustration….etc)?

Copycat work. And I don’t mean anything nefarious or plagiarism. 

There’s this great YouTube essay from the channel Every Frame a Painting on the issues of big movie soundtracks. It talks about how composers use tracks from other movies as placeholders while the scene gets sorted, and by the time they need to compose an original track, the director has fallen in love with that placeholder track, so the final composed music sounds very familiar. Rinse and repeat this process and suddenly you have a lot of movies sounding indistinguishable to others within their genre. It creates a lack of strong identity between productions.

I think, in design, it’s really easy for inspiration to become reference, these days — with the heavy reliance on Pinterest or Dribbble or Behance, a lot of designers are referencing the same work. So stuff starts to look really similar, and trends are becoming really obvious.

Where did you go to school? How did your scholastic experience shape your creative career?

I went to ACAD (now AuArts) in Calgary. Everybody has a different experience with school but I think mine was one of the best times of my life. I had already been to post-secondary studying business, so when I arrived at ACAD as an older student, I felt like I had a bit more direction and conviction for what I wanted out of the degree. It really taught me the value of process and hard work — where the results were physical artifacts that you could be proud of. That was a totally new experience for me.

What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out in your field?

Consider what excites people. It’s the difference between a cool logo and a cool logo on a hat. One is something that somebody can appreciate, the other is something that the same person could be excited about owning and wearing. Big difference. Everything needs context.

What have you learned from creating this piece? (if anything at all)

Down time can be permission to try something new. To run with an idea without worry about it wasting time. That feels really core to being truly “creative” as opposed to just being referential or executional.

What do you wish people knew about your industry?

It’s fun, but also a lot of work. I think every designer I know has struggled to communicate this to clients. Because the end product of our industry is so visible and subjective, it can be easy to look past the process, and the value of strategic and objective thinking that got the work to that point. It’s easy to just look past the education and instincts and intentionality behind a piece of design.

What do you hope people say/think when they see your piece?

I hope they say “woah, that was cool”. I wish I had a more nuanced response. But that’s about it.

What are you working on professionally? Anything outside of the usual?

We’ve got a lot of new packaging work at Daughter Creative. We’re also trying to level-up our motion and 3D game.

Who is your creative hero?

I’ll say Aaron Draplin. He was like my gateway drug into design. More than what he put on the page, I think he’s a great ambassador to our industry. He knows how to talk about design in a colloquial, unpatronizing way. I think it’s an important reminder—in our visual industry—to not let other forms of communication fall by the wayside. When I think about how to grow design fluency and broaden the appeal of our industry, I think of him.

If you could buy any work from any artist, who would it be?

Rolf Harder. Shapes and grids, baby!

What is your dream work environment?

Some place quiet where I can concentrate, but that’s constantly busy with all sorts of different projects. The pandemic has actually checked that box, in a way. Is this a boring response? This feels like a boring response.

How do you stay creative/inspired?

Taking breaks from design. It took me a long time to figure out that I just didn’t have the capacity to design as a job and a hobby. So being able to step away and unplug a bit is huge for keeping things fun and not a slog. I find now that I’m more open to inspiration, when I’ve stopped looking so hard for it.

Tell us your biggest art world pet peeve?

Designers who can’t talk about their work. I don’t think everything needs to be a suave sales pitch, but the designer should be able to talk about the considerations behind their work.

What are your interests outside of work? 

Oh my god, I’m so glad you asked. I started playing Dungeons and Dragons a couple years ago and have never looked back. I’ve been running a game for over a year now with some of my closest friends—it’s been a great way to unwind time during the pandemic. Big shout-out to Gnome Chomsky, Jafar’iam Stuk, Leeroy Leroy, Bayli Buckle, Jove, and Seblyn Dundermifflin.

Other than that, I love being in the kitchen, and am a big NHL fan.