Launched yesterday, &Walsh is the new creative agency headed by Jessica Walsh. Previously a partner with Stefan Sagmeister, operating as Sagmeister & Walsh, for seven years, the new firm is a continuation of the evolution of that firm that will maintain the 25 people that were there prior to the name change, minus Sagmeister who is withdrawing from commercial work to focus on personal work (not just a sabbatical as he has done in the past but for good). Based in New York, NY, &Walsh will focus on branding and advertising, kicking things off with their own identity.
For our non-graphic-design-industry audience: This project is notable due to the very public profile of both Stefan Sagmeister and Jessica Walsh. Sagmeister has been working since the early 1990s, setting up his eponymous design firm in 1993, creating work that was often controversial and just as often novel and surprising for the industry. Having headed his firm solo for almost 20 years, Sagmeister offered Walsh a partnership position at the age of 25 in 2012… which blew everyone’s mind. Since then, much of the commercial work has been headed by Walsh, who also created some notable projects of her own, including 40 Days of Dating. There is way more to be said about both, but let’s get to these ampersands, shall we?
Our branding uses an ampersand for both the visual identity and tonal expression. This typographic system includes our clients, projects, collaborators, experiments & endeavors: hence the (Blank) & Walsh. We’ve drawn 50 final ampersands in our style and will draw a custom ampersand for every new project or team member. The ampersand is one of the most beautiful typographic characters and will challenge ourselves to continuously reinvent its form.
The previous logo featured an ampersand to highlight the new partnership, which, as mentioned above, was unexpected so making the logo about “and” was significant in acknowledging that it wasn’t just about Sagmeister anymore. Typeset in an industrial-looking sans serif, the logo was fine. Nothing too extravagant and just a notch above the usual sans serif. The new logo takes the ampersand form to an extreme, with a beautiful, curvy, dimension-y interpretation that begins to convey the attitude of the firm, which is amping up the volume on the “weird” but stopping short before it gets too weird. The secondary ampersands are all nice as well, although some are highly questionable like the fourth one on the bottom row — too much flex. The wordmark is set in Milieu Grotesque’s Maison and, like its predecessor, it’s a funky choice that goes a little beyond the deadpan sans serifs favored by designers for their own logos.
The ampersand then becomes, literally, an object of desire and although it sort of deserves it — if they sold that matte 3D version it’s something I would love to hang on a wall — the videos start to get a little creepy, to jump the shark, and to feel gratuitous. As you’ll see below, the identity is at its best when its more reigned in and less artistic.
To me, the image above is the perfect balance of loud and subtle with a heavy dose of design-ery. The sizing of the logo, the tight margins, the deadpan typesetting… it works. It’s both functional and striking. Some of the applications below, I’m not sure what’s going on and while they look fun they make me start to raise an eyebrow.
Another approach that’s debatable is the heavier typographic stylings that mix Maison with Sharp Type’s Ogg, with arrows, with bursts, and with lots (and lots) of ampersands. It’s sort of interesting and there are certain compositions that look great but it comes across as trying a little too hard to be cool and trendy and relevant. I mean, in a way it’s much better and memorable than some straight-up, flush left GT America (no offense to GT America) so there is that.
The announcement promo images that made the rounds yesterday were too much, at least for me. They felt more like magazine spreads for a fashion magazine than the launching of a 25-person creative agency. However, the message was clear: this is a new design firm unafraid to be exuberant and headed by a confident principal. I’m not the target audience for this part at all — I think this is about signaling to potential clients exactly what (and who) they are getting when they work with &Walsh.
Overall, I like the bold and exuberant approach and it’s highly commendable that they didn’t take the easy way out most design firms do by making their identities minimal — and usually boring in contrast to the work they produce for clients — but instead have really infused it with a lot of personality, which may not be for everyone… which is a good initial filter for getting the clients that will be the best fit.