Dark Igloo : Branding the World

Some of Dark Igloo's recent work Pepsi. Doritos. Target. MTV. They’re some of the world’s biggest brands, and in recent months, they’ve all turned to VFS grad Mark Miller‘s Dark Igloo.

Since graduating from the one-year Digital Design program in 2005 — as part of its very first graduating class, in fact — Mark hasn’t had much in the way of downtime. He headed straight to New York and signed on with Firstborn Multimedia, where he spent a year creating Flash interfaces. From there, thehappycorp global.

Now, with momentum on his side, he’s slingshotted into a new challenge altogether — running the Brooklyn-based Dark Igloo with co-founder Dave Franzese. And in less than a year, they’ve worked with an all-star roster of clients. All the while, Mark’s somehow managed to continue his daily design exercise, stretch daily.

We’ve written about Mark before – notably to touch base on his work with thehappycorp. But we were craving an update on his new projects, and caught up with Mark to talk Dark Igloo, the bliss of MTV-fed nostalgia, and what the future holds for this designer on the rise.

Can you tell us a bit about your career trajectory since graduating from VFS?

VFS instructed us to forward our final project brief to companies we were interested in working for with information about ourselves. When my final project was complete, I followed up with my end result, and Firstborn Multimedia was one of several interviews I set up in NYC as a result of that.

I quickly discovered that as much as I love interaction design, I needed to find a place that would allow me to experiment with different technologies and take on all types of work. This lead me to thehappycorp global, a creative services company that creates websites but also video production, print, branding, 2.0 design, events, and creative consulting, where I served as Senior Art Director for two years. I now run a studio called Dark Igloo in Brooklyn.

Dark Igloo: Dave Franzese and Mark Miller What kind of work did your role at thehappycorp entail?

As Senior Art Director, I wore a lot of hats, and those hats would change style each season. Some of the hats were actually limited edition and I had to get the knock-off versions just to fit in. My job was to lead small teams in creating brands, websites of all sorts, posters, books, cards, underground events, animation sequences, t-shirts, and taglines.

So, what can you tell us about Dark Igloo?

Dark Igloo is a company that specializes. We work with two clients each month in order to focus on quality service and create things we care about. We bring in amazing vendors as needed to fit a project. The rest of the time we spend developing our own dreams and ideas.

For the layperson, could you describe your thoughts on what branding is, and why it’s important?

Your brand is someone’s reaction to you. For example, If you miss a friend’s birthday party, they are not going to be pleased and it will affect your relationship. Pepsi has a hell of a lot of friends.

Humans desire understanding. Relationships are about communication. Without these things, the world falls apart. We help others communicate that understanding.

Why does branding excite you?

I grew up on a small farm around all sorts of animals. I named each and every one of them, and the ones that lived long enough got taglines.

I’ve always been interested in personal image. In 5th grade I lied to the optometrist — and my mother — so I could get glasses because I thought they looked cool.

Creating images that resonate with people is addicting. I made my first logo when I was 12. It’s invigorating to create a symbol and have someone not only recognize it but understand it and feel something.

Personally I use brands to tell stories and flesh out ideas. Dark Igloo creates communication systems that serve as guides but more importantly as constraints. Nothing can be everything. Everything can be nothing.

Tell us about the goals for MTVMusic.com.

In the summer of 2008, MTV digitized all of their old content to share online. For the first time in decades, you could watch the videos from the first hour they were on air all the way down to every video released by the Spin Doctors. If you remember having loved something on MTV, you could finally experience it again.

That concept really informed our goals for the brand. We wanted to design an identity that reminded our audience of the classic videos that once made MTV a home for progressive musicians and directors.

To do this, we created a logo system that could essentially dress up as milestone moments in MTV’s history. Dire Straits’ early computer animation, Run-DMC’s Adidas, Britney Spears’ bare midriff’¦ anything was possible.

This gig was so energizing because we were using — and loving — the product we were branding. While we were whittling down our list of videos to turn into logos, we would have friends over to the studio to watch videos with us. Every time we’d say, ‘Check out this Spike Jonze video,’ a friend would respond with something that they once loved about MTV. ‘No, no! See if they have Dr. Dre!’

Watching a video was like a chain reaction. We could literally see our friends remembering clips or bands they hadn’t thought of in years — and the joy that came from seeing Prince’s old haircut.

What is Dark Igloo working on these days?

This month [February 2009], we are working with a high-end upholstery company based in Chelsea and an innovative global technology company that is developing a sick new online platform.

Internally, we are growing a ‘lifestyle brand’ called NYC WTF [note: parental discretion is advised!], and remixing current events and experimenting with live performance with Collective Permanent Record.

You’ve maintained a personal business, Mark Made, for over seven years. What’s been the difference between your work as an employee and your work as a consultant?

I started working when I was 12 years old detasseling corn for $4.25 an hour — they let me start young because I was tall. My career as a ‘creative’ has been very similar in that I have always been presented with opportunities because I am slightly ahead of my competition and very aggressive. I found work that I enjoyed doing and over time developed it into a lifestyle. I feel very privileged to serve others in this way.

What’s the next big challenge for you?

I’m trying to cook at least one meal a week — sandwiches don’t count — and run every other day.

Your final project in Digital Design at VFS explored branding. How did that experience inform the work you’ve gone on to do?

VFS showed me that you have to start with the big idea. After you figure that out it becomes much easier to spread that idea across the appropriate platforms.

Thanks, Mark! We’ll be watching Dark Igloo closely. Here’s some of Mark’s work around the web:

Dark Igloo – Brooklyn-based studio co-founded by Mark
stretch daily – Mark’s long-running design exercise
Mark Made – Currently redirecting to Mark’s flickr account – lots to look at!

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