Branding of IDC printing
Designer Charles Daoud
Michelle Gagné Photographe
Branding for a local print shop and Charles Daoud at his studio.

Interview: When your company becomes bigger than yourself

Design a Company publishes interviews with people from the creative industry who have started a company using design processes.

Charles Daoud is a graphic designer and brand consultant living in Montreal. Over the last few years, he has run his own design studio, Charles Daoud, as well as ventured into the business of producing and selling type.

You’ve published some typefaces. They are doing quite well aren’t they?

So far, I’ve released three typefaces, and I'm currently working on my fourth. When I started doing this over three years ago, it was just for fun, but they've been doing so well, I just kept going. I didn’t know anything about designing typefaces, and while I was in the process of creating my first one, I thought to myself "Hey! This actually looks pretty good; maybe I can sell it!" I design a lot of logos, and that’s where the love for typography comes from. I realised that on most of the logos I designed, I ended up modifying the type. One day, on a particular branding project, I found myself changing every single letter and thought to myself "why not design a whole typeface?"

When did you get the idea that you could sell this and become an entrepreneur?

A few years ago, when I was an art director at a design agency, I was working on a logo, and I was looking for a condensed sans serif. I looked at all the popular ones, like “Knockout” and “Tungsten”, and while I love those fonts, they just weren't what I was looking for that day. So I decided to start creating one. When I got home later that day, I started drawing letters out in Illustrator just for fun and thought they looked pretty good. I then wondered how I could make them into a font? So I started reading up on the subject and downloaded some free trial software. When I saw that my font had potential, I actually bought FontLab. I wanted to be able to say: “This is a complete typeface” but I didn’t know how to use Fontlab at all. So while I was designing Dense, I was learning how to use the software at the same time. Next thing you know, I had already designed three weights and figured I could try to sell it.

And then it’s just the kerning left?

Exactly. There’s a lot of things to do; kerning pairs and everything. When you’re not a veteran typographer, you’re afraid you’re going to miss some little detail. Being a perfectionist, I didn't want to miss anything. When it came to kerning, and ended up contacting a guy in Italy called Igino Marini. He has this service called ikern and has developed a method to kern pairs and even trios of letters mathematically. Once he was done, it looked perfect. He actually kerned all three of my fonts. I believe he also kerned Museo. That was why I was confident. When I released my first font, Dense, on Behance, I truly didn't expect so much positive feedback. Needless to say, I then hurried to submit it to Myfonts.com.

“Big companies like the idea of having custom typefaces. It's an extension of their brand.”

Tell me about the type industry

It's much bigger than I thought it was. When I put Dense up for sale, I thought I could make a few bucks a year. Why not? I soon realised that if it’s a well-designed typeface, you can make quite a bit more than that. Big companies like the idea of having custom typefaces. It's an extension of their brand. It opened a lot of doors for me, not just as a typographer, but as a designer as well. Recently, I’ve even worked on the Netflix brand.

Wow!

Yes, it’s a type logo, right? I was part of the team that worked on it. Now I'm working on another custom type design project. It’s a market that I didn’t even know existed.

I reckon you’re working with design processes when you’re doing your studio work. Do you use design processes managing your company?

I suppose I do. I’m a creative first and foremost; I just like to make stuff. However, I’m a very analytical person. I look at things very carefully, be it business decisions or design-wise. That aspect of my personality goes into every single decision I take.

Tell me about a business decision where you used your analytical skills?

A project that I’m working on right now requires me to expand one of my typefaces. It’s about adding more weights, doing some hinting and general technical adjustments. I’m a typographer, yes, but I’m a designer and art director first. The typography gig started off more as a hobby. As that aspect of my business expanded, it required more of my time. I simply had to give it more attention. Designing type is a very time-consuming process, and the challenge is managing said time. So when that project came along, I had a tough decision to make. Do I focus on my typography and put aside the graphic design or do I hire some help? I analyzed every possibility and option available to me; it was quite tedious. “What would be the best business decision in this case?” I finally decided that I simply couldn't refuse a project of this scale just because I couldn't do it all myself. Expanding my team allowed me to take on more projects and gain more notoriety. I decided to assume a more artistic director role, where I would set the tone and supervise the creation of it, and I think by expanding that way, it opened more doors than it closed. Had I done otherwise, I think it would have been a stupid business decision.

“I simply couldn't refuse a project of this scale just because I couldn't do it all myself.”

It’s interesting that you’re starting to look at your company as an entity that’s more than yourself?

Exactly. When a company has your name on it, you want to make sure that whatever work comes out of there looks pretty great. My name is on the line after all.

Are all the people you work with from Montreal or are you able to work via the Web?

They’re people living in Montreal. On this one project, I was really close to hiring a firm in California to help me out. I didn’t know them, though, and if something went wrong, I wasn't quite confident in their service. That was another decision that I put a lot of thought into. Instead of hiring them, I actually hired some folks here in Montreal. It was more expensive, but at least, I'm able to talk to them whenever I want. For me, human contact is very important, and that’s something that the Internet can take away. Working with new people has allowed me to expand my circle of contacts and open a lot of doors. I don’t want to be just Charles Daoud forever, I want it to be bigger than that, I want to have some impact in the long run. For that to happen, I need to have more reach, more products, and more work, all of which requires more people.

Looking ahead, will Charles Daoud be producing and selling products or be more like a studio?

That’s something I ask myself every day. My design work is very important to me. I believe I have a talent when it comes to understanding brands. At the same time, my foundry, CDType, is what put me on the map. I don’t want to neglect that. I have to have my own entity for CDType, where I sell my typefaces as a foundry, and possibly have employees one day. I will continue to offer my design services and try to expand that as well. For now, everything is under the same roof – everything is me. Strategically, it might be wiser to divide them. When someone is looking for branding, they don’t necessarily need a custom typeface. Having the possibility to offer both is great, but it’s not the same service.

Your strategic approach to branding is time-consuming too. Are your clients willing to pay the price?

It is time-consuming, but I’ve been doing it for 15 years, and the longer I’ve been doing it, the easier it gets. I know what NOT to do, and I know what works as well. Recently, I've been focusing a lot more on my presentations. I’ve had some that were 250-slides-long. I like to show my process, not just my final results. It's very difficult for a client to dislike your work when everything is well thought out. They can say they don't like the look of it based on their personal taste, but they will not be able to say that the work itself isn't cohesive. That’s when it becomes an interesting debate. Are personal tastes more important than a smart process that would work well on the market? I tend to approach branding as a puzzle. When a brand is communicating, it's important to know who you're talking to, and how you want to talk to them. I try to have a 360-degree strategic approach. It’s time-consuming, but so far it has worked very well for me and clients are willing to pay for it. We designers are professional communicators. In my opinion, a lot of designers think they’re there to make something look good. That isn’t true. Design is communication. I think it’s a big problem that people are focusing on aesthetics too much, not enough on content.

You seem to be quite of a stoic to me. Tell me about some obstacles that you’ve overcome or gone around.

Perhaps I’m more rational than others. I have a very straightforward and analytical approach when it comes to my work. A lot of people don’t seem to understand what we do exactly, and there’s a certain level of education that needs to be done. Some people think that designers just execute, but I believe we’re thinkers. There’s a very big difference. So I find myself very often having to educate the client. I’m here to give the client better ideas and open their eyes to seeing things a bit differently.” I have to make the client understand that he might not be the target audience for his own product.

“Some people think that designers just execute, but I believe we’re thinkers.”

Do you do surveys, or are you observing customers?

Most of the time when I am working with a client they’re taking care of market research. I will add to it, but I will not execute it. In my opinion, that is more of a marketing thing. If you want to build a brand, it’s important to know whom you are building it for. Let’s say you’re opening a restaurant, and it’s a vegetarian restaurant. I’m not a vegetarian, and the client isn’t a vegetarian either, but the restaurant is. So you need to know how to talk to these people without sounding like you don’t know what you’re talking about. Sometimes I do a bit of market research, or market interviews, or plain old-fashioned research in libraries, or on the web. It brings certain logic to creative work.

How is the design scene in Montreal?

Montreal is a big creative hub. There's a lot of creative talent here. I don't just say that because I live here, but because I SEE it. There's probably more talent here than there is demand. Our mindset is influenced by both European and American trends. Being between those gigantic creative entities, we take the best of both worlds and develop our own. That’s why, I think, we have become a hotspot for creativity.

Christian Leborg

Christian Leborg

Christian Leborg is a visual communicator and branding consultant. He specialises in building brand strategies and brand identities. Christian has worked with several specializations within visual communication as well as teaching and being an author. Christian now works on his third stint as an entrepreneur.