On a quiet, tree-lined street in North Berkeley, there is a shop called St. Hieronymus Press. You could easily walk right past it. The storefront is unremarkable, but a closer look through the windows reveals a curious sight: enormous turn-of-the-century lithography machines next to drafting tables strewn with books, wood carvings, typewriters, a stray mannequin’s hand, and wine bottles. Welcome to the studio office of David Goines.
Goines has left an indelible artistic imprint on Northern California, creating brand identities for it’s most iconic institutions, including Peet’s Coffee, Ravenswood Wine, Chez Panisse, and Domaine Chandon.
In 1966, shortly after his 20th birthday, Goines took an apprenticeship with a printer who had just moved into this store. As I sit in his studio, surrounded by timeworn machines methodically thumping away, he explains that his introduction to the art of printmaking was not particularly romantic: after being unceremoniously expelled from the University of California, Berkeley, for his role in the Free Speech Movement, he needed a job and this one fit the bill. Half a century on, Goines–a distinguished if somewhat eccentric-looking gentleman with a curlicue mustache and dark-rimmed glasses, who works in a black Japanese robe–is still cranking out posters on these same printing presses. Meanwhile, right outside his front door, the Bay Area has been completely transformed by the technology industry. When I ask why he chooses to use such old-fashioned equipment in what is arguably the most technologically advanced corner of the world, he says, with a twinkle in his eye, “These machines are very heavy, and once they are moved in, they don’t get moved out.”
Goines tells me he is attracted to the sheer physicality of printmaking, which is so different from the digital design work that is the norm these days. “If you were to reproduce my art digitally, it would look, by comparison, pretty lifeless,” he says. He shows me a letterpress card he is working on. “This print is three-dimensional and those are real, solid colors, not the illusion of color,” he says. He tells me that his influences, like his techniques, are from a different time: his work is inspired by art of the Ukiyo-e period in Japan and the Jugendstil period in Germany. “I’m not paying too much attention to what is going on right now,” he says. “I’m just not interested in trying to look new, hip, and up to the minute.”
Ironically, while Goines has been studiously avoiding modern design trends, letterpress and lithography has of late become hot with hipsters. Consider how ubiquitous Le Chat Noir and Lait Pur Stérilisé posters have become. Originally created by Swiss printmaker Théophile Steinlen in the late 1800s, cheap reproductions are now plastered in dorm rooms across America. Millennials are also intrigued by letterpress art, perhaps because it provides an interesting contrast to the two-dimensional digital fonts that fill our lives. Stationery startups like Minted and Paperless Post are doing a booming business in letterpress wedding invitations and business cards. Still, it is rare to find branding agencies or designers using printmaking techniques to craft corporate identities.
Goines’s approach to branding is unlike anything else coming out of the Bay Area, which has become a hub for high-tech design. Take Karin Hibma, who has been Goines’s friend and neighbor for many years. Hibma began her career as a painter just as Goines began printmaking, but she eventually co-founded the design firm Cronan, which has helped create brand identities for Amazon, Apple and Tivo. Her goal is to connect companies with large, global audiences, while Goines’s work has always been very focused on the needs of the Berkeley community. Since Goines has been part of the fabric of the town for so long, Hibma tells me that he is able to instinctively respond to the aesthetic sensibilities of his target audience. “David’s work draws on and reinforces the character of Berkeley,” she says.
That character has increasingly transcended Berkeley, appealing to audiences far beyond this quirky, leftist haven. Ravenswood, which now produces 600,000 cases of wine a year, has become a national sensation, regularly winning rave reviews from the New York Times and Wine Spectator. Chez Panisse, a world-renowned Berkeley restaurant often credited with kickstarting the endlessly evolving farm-to-table movement, is also an influential global food brand; it’s owner, Alice Waters, has written a dozen bestselling cookbooks, many of which Goines illustrated, and has been a driving force in the Slow Food movement. Peet’s Coffee, which served as a model for Starbuck’s, now has 200 stores across the country and has a thriving business selling its beans online and at grocery chains. The explosive growth of these brands is, in some part, Goines’s doing. “David’s work brings out a time and a place that relates, in people’s imagination, to the dream and the story of Berkeley,” says Hibma. “Conjuring up that sense of place is an important part of what branding is about.”
In the modern world of digital design, branding has evolved into a kind of science, but for Goines, it remains a mysterious, indescribable art. “It just happens,” he tells me. “It’s not something I understand or can put into words.” When someone asks him to create a poster or a label, he expects them to entrust him with artistic control over the project. “They do not usually tell me what they are looking for and I don’t ask their opinion,” he says. Goines’s designs rarely miss the mark and this is perhaps because he tends to know his clients very well. Many are old friends.
He first crafted the aesthetic identity of Chez Panisse when he was romantically involved with Waters, just as she opened it in the late ’60s. “So of course we worked together,” he tells me. The two are still close and Goines continues to create posters for her every year. He worked with Ravenswood’s founding winemaker, Joel Peterson, to create the iconic Ravenswood logo and has just created a label for Peterson’s son, Morgan, who is launching a new wine brand. In 1966, Goines worked closely with Alfred Peet to design menus for his new coffee shop and most recently made a poster for Peet’s in 2010. “I cannot work with corporations,” Goines tells me. “I have relationships with individuals. I cannot waste time on focus groups and things like that.”
Goines’s methods go against the grain of the modern design industry, which is highly focused on executing the client’s vision. Hibma’s process, for instance, involves extensive conversations with clients to understand their past work, their audience and their expectations. “We spend time trying to grasp the character and the aspirations of the organizations that we work with, so we can help them strengthen both of those things,” she explains. Ben Pham, strategy director at Character–a San Francisco branding agency working with companies like Android, Nike, and Fitbit–says his team works hard to help their clients articulate their vision. “We will do workshops with them and ask them to bring things that are visually aligned with where they want to take the company,” he tells me.
High-tech design firms often have elaborate and methodical practices to identify how consumers are reacting to a brand. Pham tells me that his agency does focus groups early on, then maps out consumers’ rational and emotional responses to a given product. He points to his work with Dropcam, a company that produces video monitoring systems for homes. While the rational reason for purchasing the camera is home surveillance, Pham’s team chose to highlight the positive emotions the camera’s footage might generate, such as the pleasure of watching your pet’s mischievous antics while you are out or checking to see if your kids got home from school safely. “We shifted the conversation so that it was more about dropping it into places that they care about.”
In his own style, Goines also engages with his audience’s emotional needs, rather than their rational ones. For instance, he points to a poster he made for a local fabric company, Diamond Foam and Fabrics, in which two cats are sitting comfortably on a velvet chair. “I create aesthetics that say something about the company, maybe not directly, but in a way that is oblique and subtle,” he says. “The idea of two cats sitting on this luxurious chair tells you that this is high-quality fabric. Also, people just like looking at pictures of cats.” He tells me that many people have purchased this poster to put up in their homes simply because they like cats, which is excellent advertising for the company.
While for Goines branding remains deeply intuitive, design firms have scaled up and streamlined many of the same processes, so that they can connect corporations with large audiences worldwide. Technology tends to direct our attention away from our immediate context, nudging us to focus on digital and global spaces, so it is becoming increasingly uncommon to find designers who are singularly devoted to creating artwork for one town. “All the art I do is for Berkeley,” he tells me. “A lot of what I create would not work anywhere else.”
That may be true, but as the rise of several Berkeley brands attests, the rest of the world has clearly noticed.