Q&A with Autograph Creative Directors

By Miyoko Ohtake
Donerik Dela Cruz and Aaron Pou describe their business as a “design start-up in challenging times,” but since launching Autograph, a brand consulting, art direction, and graphic design company, in April 2008, staying busy has been anything but challenging. In its first year of operations, Autograph has developed designs and campaigns for high-profile companies including Adidas, Levi’s, and Method Homes, to name a few.

The Berkeley, California-based co-principals and creative directors say "design and brand are one and the same." But the two are not just about creating a logo. "That’s just one component of it," Dela Cruz says. We spoke with Dela Cruz and Pou about their company and how graphic design and brand development intersect.

You founded Autograph a year ago. What were you both doing before that?

Adidas Grun campaign designed by Autograph

Adidas Grun campaign designed by Autograph

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Adidas Grun campaign designed by Autograph

Adidas Grun campaign designed by Autograph

Donerik Dela Cruz: I was running my own freelance firm in San Francisco. It was predominantly graphic design work for print and the web. I met Aaron when I hired him on for a project I was doing.
Aaron Pou: I had been living in New York since 2001 working at several cool little boutique design agencies but then moved to San Francisco and was working at a studio in the Mission when Donny contacted me. It was for a project for Adidas called Grün, which is German for "green." The concept was focused on Earth-friendly style and their products that were made from recycled materials.
DDC: It’s been pretty much like clockwork with us since. We have a very dynamic relationship.

What moved you to launch Autograph?

Donerik Dela Cruz (left) and Aaron Pou (right), co-principals and creative directors of Autograph

Donerik Dela Cruz (left) and Aaron Pou (right), co-principals and creative directors of Autograph

DDC: One of our mantras is "Power in numbers." Aaron brings a different aesthetic: he’s traditionally trained whereas I have more street credibility. We play off each others’ dynamics and expertise. But we’re a small firm, just four people, so we bring an intimacy that you can’t get from a larger design firm. We pride ourselves in always being hands-on with a project.

You share a building with WA Design architects in Berkeley. What is your relationship with them?

Autograph offices in Berkeley, California

Autograph offices in Berkeley, California

AP: WA Design built the building and their offices are upstairs and we are downstairs so the whole building is filled with creative people.
DDC: Being in this industry as a designer you want to be situated in a creative environment. The actual space we have is very industrial but it’s also chic and modern. It reflects our aesthetics and design sense as well.

What is the importance of design when it comes to brand identity?