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Good Graphics

Good Graphics

Scott Stowell 90 GD, winner of a National Design Award, knows that aspiring entrepreneurs need to grab opportunities when they can.

Scott Stowell 90 GD, winner of a National Design Award, knows that aspiring entrepreneurs need to grab opportunities when they can. Years ago, when the retro cable network Nick at Nite asked if his studio had experience working for television, he immediately answered “yes” – even though the truth was a bit murkier.

“We didn’t have experience working in broadcasting yet, but we knew the executive board would love our branding ideas,” Stowell explained to a RISD audience in early April, visiting campus as part of the Graphic Design department’s spring lecture series. By avoiding full disclosure, Open – the refreshingly clever name of his company – managed to keep Nick at Nite from slamming its doors in their face. And the budding business soon got the opportunity to rebrand the station, which proved to be “a smash success.”

Having gotten a foot in the door at one network, Open went on to create a series of promotional videos for Bravo inspired by the editorial layouts of popular magazines like Vogue and Vanity Fair. Stowell’s team designed a series of colorful, engaging motion graphics, along with the trademarked logo still in use today.

“It looks like a weird megaphone,” he notes. “But it’s a distinctive graphic that’s immediately recognizable.” And before long, it had completely revitalized Bravo’s image.

Today, Bravo’s popularity continues to grow among young, affluent viewers, Stowell says. “I’ve become known for reviving old brands that have fallen out of the public eye. We add modernity to their identity, with the main ingredient being: fun.”

Stowell’s successes – which extend beyond the world of television – haven’t gone unrecognized. In 2008 the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum selected him as winner of the National Design Award for Communication Design. “When I got the phone call, I thought it was a practical joke,” the designer admits. “It was the 10-year anniversary of my firm…. And I just couldn’t believe it.”

In the print realm, Open has designed more than 200 distinctive covers for The Nation, the venerable liberal magazine founded in 1865 by leftist abolitionists. Stowell’s studio has also done extensive design work for GOOD, a quarterly magazine and online platform focused on sustainable issues, politics, economics and pop culture.

Beyond the realm of traditional media, Open has been involved in branding high-profile urban planning projects. About a decade ago, it was commissioned to create materials announcing plans to turn Brooklyn’s post-industrial piers into the Brooklyn Bridge Park. “The area was a really desolate space. There were no signs of life,” Stowell explained. “It looked like the ideal place to stash a body.”

To inform the public about the $85-million project, the studio designed a user-friendly website. And instead of manufacturing signs, it painted the URL of the site across the dilapidated piers – a clever and environmentally friendly method of sharing the good news. “If you want to change big things – like the world,” Stowell told the audience, “you first have to start with changing the small things.”

–Abigail Crocker