Amy and Jason Schwartz have a new baby and run their own agency, Bright Bright Great, which they’re rebranding. As life has changed, so has their work.
Amy Schwartz sits on a couch next to Lucas Nelson, a young designer on her team at Bright Bright Great, a design and branding firm in Chicago. A cold, bright November day shines through BBG’s frosted windows as Amy, creative director of BBG, taps her fingernails on a coffee cup and sings aloud to herself. “OK!” Amy says, focusing on Lucas’s laptop screen; he’s pulled up illustrated icons he designed for Health Champion, a startup client whose website and brand BBG is building from scratch. Health Champion will be an app that collects patients’ health data, making medical records portable—Amy and her husband Jason Schwartz, founder and managing director of BBG, are fresh from the belly of the healthcare system, having given birth to a child three months prior. They felt a personal connection to the startup’s mission of easy access to medical records. Part of their work philosophy is to collaborate with people who are innovative and passionate, another is to put good work out into the world. If you’re creating something that’s bad, Amy says, you’re a jerk; if it’s neutral or mediocre, what’s the point?
“If we add multicolor icons, do you think it’ll be all over the place?” Lucas asks Amy.
“I don’t think that it’ll be good for these,” says Amy, 28. She has a cherubic face and wears a hoodie with torn jeans. “Keep it single color.”
The heart of Bright Bright Great—ceilings covered in copper and aluminum pipes, walls decorated with murals, awards, wacky toys and bizarre photos of women pouring mustard into a high-heel hot dog—is a rectangular group of 10 white desks bunched into the middle of the room, including Amy’s desk, which is filled with half-sheets of paper, a purposefully misspelled pennant that says “problmes” and a note to herself posted to her monitor that says “green is not a creative color.” Jason’s wooden desk sits just 15 feet east, a sparse arrangement highlighted by a bright-pink Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Jason’s slightly graying beard rests in his left hand as his right hand scrolls his calendar, which looks like a disastrous game of Tetris. At 39, Jason is the BBG patriarch, a veteran compared to his young staff. He wears a black hoodie and cuffed jeans, his legs pumping like pistons underneath his desk. Amy turns around and asks Jason if he has time to take another call today.
The AMA leads an unparalleled discussion on marketing excellence. Continuing in the tradition of Borden and so many others, the AMA offers differentiated content that focuses on the tension between Best Versus Next Practices™.
With content coming from unrivaled scholarly journals, like the Journal of Marketing, and award-winning publications, like Marketing News, the AMA offers a robust perspective that understands marketer are expected to provide both solutions for today and solutions for tomorrow.
No other organization provides more ways for marketers and academics to connect with the people and resources they need to be successful.
For over 100 years, Rit Dye has been on a mission to deliver enduringly beautiful color to our most loved fabrics. Introduced in 1918, 2018 marks Rit’s 100 year anniversary and also marks the launch of their new digital experience and digital tools for every dyeing process.
The BBG team also had the amazing opportunity to shoot with Barbie Roadkill for the Rit Site in her home studio.
TopCon is is an annual, one-day conference celebrating all things creative. Every year hundreds of incredible minds come together to share stories and ideas, failures and successes, and a whole lotta love.
Hear and learn from some of today’s emerging, influential, and downright nicest people in the creative industry.
Include your audience and remember less is more — Amy Schwartz
The Brand New Conference is an annual design conference that is organized by UnderConsideration, the group responsible for the popular design blog, Brand New, that critiques brand identity work. The two-day conference focuses on the forms that brand identity takes on—with eight speaker-sessions per-day. Each speaker highlights a different topic in the brand identity universe, and the speakers themselves come from a broad range of experience from large-scale creative agencies to in-house design, to smaller creative studios.
For those of us in the creative agency world—the chances are that our own work has been up for critique on Brand New.
This year, the conference took place in Bright Bright Great’s hometown of Chicago at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park. We were super excited that our Creative Director, Amy Schwartz, was one of the speakers this year.
Amy focused her talk on how to tell jokes visually and how to incorporate humor as part of a brand identity. As a case study, Amy highlighted her work from Cards Against Humanity and urged designers to follow three important steps to land a joke or communicate to a client:
Find The Thesis (and remember, less is more)
Treat design and copy like a comedy duo (and really finesse the relationship between your elements)
Always include your audience (because brands have a responsibility to be good to the people they care for)
Beyond that, Amy’s message was that there is power in having a brand be unapologetically who they are and to have fun in that ownership. If you have a ticket from the event, you can watch Amy’s video recap over at Brand New.
After the conference, Jeanne of Bright Bright Great sat down with Amy to ask her some questions to recap the event:
I love how your speech focused on process and how to achieve results with a framework versus just focusing on the final result of a new branding project. What advice can you give to younger designers about the brand identity process at a creative agency that they might not already know?
Being designers, we often tend to roll up our sleeves and dive into visuals right away—be it looking for inspiration, creating mood boards, or picking up a pencil or mouse. But I think it’s important to first take a step back and consider the strategy prior to any visual work. This way, the design work isn’t in a vacuum. It is intentional and built upon the strategic framework that you created with your client.
One way we do this at Bright Bright Great is to create a Brand Deck exercise. This involves having the client choose 5-10 words that resonate with their brand. From there, we use the chosen words in different combinations to create unique visual manifestations of the brand. Exercises like this give you a strategic North Star. You know you’re heading in the right direction for the brand before you even open an Adobe program. And when you eventually do design something gorgeous, it’s easier to explain the concept to your client and sell it to them–you’ve built a strong foundation together.
I’m always really curious about how much the conference organizations want to know about your speech ahead of time. You had to give a topic prior to the event, right? What else beyond that?
Brand New asked for a topic, description, and bio ahead of time. They also requested the slides a few days in advance which meant no last-minute fixes, which was actually a relief.
For those clients not well-versed in the creative process (but experts in other areas), how can creative folks better explain that brand identity is so much more than a logomark?
There are different levels to explaining about brand identity. I think walking clients through what to expect and showing them real-world examples is really helpful. First, you explain the visual brand, starting with color and then the why behind it, i.e. what the color stands for and why it needs to be a certain color. Then, how color and then other brand elements like typography and imagery and layout help to shape the language and attitude of the brand. There is a reason why you don’t see the Coca-Cola logo on blue.
For brands like Cards Against Humanity, their brand identity is very much built upon using humor in all of their communication and reminding people of their brand voice every step of the way. For companies like Pepsi, that puts out a commercial (that people don’t receive well—for very good reasons)—it’s all part of a brand, with intentional choices that have an impact. Think of a brand like a person. And if you put a person in a different shirt it might look different, but it’s still the same person. Changing the visuals of a brand doesn’t erase the brand’s attitudes, communication, and other touch points.
What is one of the best things about a big design conference?
The best part is making friends. I was really excited to meet other speakers, people I was a fan of, and also have casual moments with people who attend the conference to share common ground and maybe a drink.
For those of us that didn’t go, tell us about the atmosphere at Brand New?
It was professional and high-caliber and also down-to-earth and welcoming. It was fun to talk to so many like-minded people in one space. It was big! I appreciated that there was a lot to see and it provided that one-on-one chance to interact with the design community members that might not otherwise be in Chicago.
Did you learn something new or get inspiration from the event?
Ohhhhh yeah. The whole Bright Bright Great design team left with inspiration on what type of projects we are eager to take on next year, and how we might work together to continue to evolve the Bright Bright Great Brand. I loved Mike Reed’s talk about the importance of words in a brand. It was really great reminder for designers to always be working with copywriters.
Next year, New York?
Amy: Yes! The ’15-minute flings’ that Brand New had with local speakers were very well done and great to see. It gave me a lot of hometown pride and I look forward to seeing what other cities have to offer.
Bright Bright Great Announces New Creative Director, Amy Schwartz
Chicago, IL – Tech and design agency Bright Bright Great welcomes new Creative Director Amy Schwartz to oversee all design, user experience, and brand strategy. Schwartz is well-known in the Chicago design community for her work as Design Director at Cards Against Humanity and Vice President of Member Experience for AIGA Chicago.
Already part of the Bright Bright Great family, Schwartz is excited to return home and invest in agency. “I started my design career as an intern at Bright Bright Great in 2011, and I’m thrilled to be a part of the team again,” says Schwartz. “I’m excited to bring the knowledge and skills I’ve gained since then back into the Bright Bright Great team, and to continue pushing the limits of contemporary, effective design work.”
Schwartz’s design style is influenced by the years she spent earning a Masters in Design from the Cranbrook Academy of Art, famous for producing some of the best designers in the country, including Charles Eames and Florence Knoll.
Schwartz previously served as the Design Director at the best-selling party game, Cards Against Humanity. Notorious for their huge, public stunts and generous charitable gifts, Schwartz has directed a variety of large scale design projects for the company including a full-ride scholarship for women in STEM, several holiday promotions, and rebrand for packaging and e-commerce. Before that, Schwartz worked at numerous design-focused agencies in Chicago and Detroit, including gravitytank and Skidmore Studio. Select past clients include Motorola, the NFL, and Google.
Schwartz is noted in the Chicago design community for her desire to uplift and support those she works with, demonstrated in her experience as Adjunct Professor at DePaul University. She currently serves as Vice President of Member Experience for AIGA Chicago and hosts yearly workshops for students in design.
“Effective teams recognize the importance of each individual, whether they are an intern or C-suite. I facilitate ways for my clients and the creative team to mesh into one, where all ideas are considered, explored, and tested– until we solve the problem together,” says Schwartz.
Bright Bright Great has worked with clients worldwide, including Comcast, The University of Chicago, chewy.com, Nike and Hightower Financial. They recently rebranded American Needle, one of the largest retailers of sports related headwear, as they celebrate their 100 year anniversary.
BBG Creative Director Jason Schwartz and Cards Against Humanity Design Director Amy Nicole Schwartz (Collectively The Dracula Family) Part of 2016 Lecture Series at Cranbrook Academy of Art in November.
Jason Schwartz is an enabler with a passion for crafting engaging experiences that intersect human interaction with technology. Over the past 15 years, Jason has worked for start-ups agencies & INC500s as Interactive Designer, Strategist, Advisor, Director of Marketing, Investor and Creative Director.
In 2007, Jason founded the Chicago-based design, strategy and technology house Bright Bright Great where he currently acts as Creative Director. Jason is also the acting Creative Director at Avondale Type Co. , TSH & Mlmtr, all of which he founded.
Amy Nicole Schwartz
Amy Schwartz is a designer specializing in branding, digital experiences, and games. She is currently the Design Director at Cards Against Humanity and Blackbox.
Amy was the winner of Command X at the 2015 AIGA National Design Conference; other recognition includes the 2016 Emerging Designer Award by AIGA Chicago, 2016 Finalist for Young Designer of the Year by the Net Awards, and the recipient of the AIGA What’s Next Grant in 2014.
Amy founded Liminal Space in 2015, a design initiative that promotes experimentation, community, and dialogue within Chicago’s thriving design, art, and technology scenes. Amy holds an MFA from the Cranbrook Academy of Art and a BA from DePaul University.
They say don’t mix business with pleasure, but for these creative couples, that’s just the perfect working formula between themselves and their clients in producing some of the best work in the industry today.
For this series, we’re speaking to creative couples at the top of their game, running small design studios near and far, who prove that there really is such thing as a better half. As for ‘who’, well, that depends on what day of the week it is.
Romance strikes the heart when you least expect it. This is true of Jason Schwartz and Amy Nicole Schwartz whose initial meeting at INsight in Indiana was nothing more than a mutual exchange of coolness. Three years later and they are INto each other, facilitated in part by social media ties and good old fashioned curiosity.
“I would ask Jason questions like, ‘should I take this unpaid internship?’” says Amy, who is eleven years Jason’s junior (just like Jay Z and Beyoncé). This couple has found a way to collaborate and work together outside of the traditional 9-5.
ADC: Everyone here is refreshingly breaking the cardinal rule: Don’t date in the workplace. Do you think it’s time we changed this traditional sensibility?
Jason: Depends. People who bring work stress home shouldn’t work together. It just turns into a vicious cycle of complaining about clients. People who can leave work and work-related stress at work are fine to work together. Amy and I actually both tend to have very fluid work/life balances where a lot of cool things we do bleed into nights and weekends. We are always on the lookout for creative inspiration and we both are deep in the horror, comic and gaming worlds.
Amy: I’ve worked at agencies full of creative couples and I think it’s fantastic when two people share the same passion and can share that intensity with one another. It’s nice to have a partner who understands why you’re cancelling plans to work late, or why you enjoyed the title sequence more than the film, or why purchasing dope looking comic books from the 1980s should be a business expense.
ADC: Sometimes you end up liking the people you work with and I think that’s okay.
J: We liked each other from outside of work. Now it’s nice to like someone you work with. As long as you make each other better, why not.
I could write a pretty long list of design power couples I admire. I think their work and their love lives are probably better off.
Amy Nicole Schwartz
ADC: Did you think this would work from the get go? Any doubts?
J: Amy and I are insanely alike. It’s rare that we have non-aligning opinions, so it’s really easy to get along.
A: I knew that we would work– both in a romantic and professional sense– from the beginning. I am very much a Type A, get shit done, lead the team person, and it’s so refreshing to have a partner who is exactly the same way. It’s nice to not have to be the person doing everything. We split things up evenly in everything we do. It also doesn’t hurt that Jason has impeccable taste and enjoys the same brand of humor.
ADC: Has a client ever been skeptical to approach or have you ever been turned down work given the work dynamic? Some people feel like work may not get done, or there are too many emotions involved.
J: People who we want to work with should look at our existing work and know that work gets done. We make each other better. People should pay extra for that. Fun fact: At BBG, our development team is also led by a husband and wife. If you can find one of them on Slack, the other is usually close.
A: That’s never happened, and I don’t think we would want to work with people who think that would be an issue. Anyone who thinks emotions would keep us from doing work clearly doesn’t know us. The most emotional this relationship has been was when Jason brought home 3 boxes of Count Chocula for me last week and I was overwhelmed with happiness. He knows that spooky junk food is the way to my heart, and also knows how to get things done.
ADC: How do your employees feel about the fact that their bosses are together?
J: They totally don’t care. We don’t bring anything weird into the office.
A: They don’t care.
ADC: Is this one of those things that “isn’t for everyone”?
J: I have done this in the past (and with that particular person), it totally didn’t work. We were two people who could not work and play together. We brought all of the stress home and it was just a compounding snowball of madness.
A: I think it depends on the people, their preferences, and their communication abilities. It takes a lot of confidence to voice your opinion to someone you respect who has more experience than you, and it takes a lot of respect to hear a person’s side of view when you disagree. You have to be open with each other and remember that your critiques and suggestions in the workplace are not correlated to that person’s feelings on the relationship.
ADC: Have you ever had a moment where you guys were like “that’s it, I quit!”
I don’t quit things.
A: We were playing a zombie survival horror video game recently, and I quit because it was too creepy. That’s the last time I quit something we worked on together.
ADC: What are some of the main differences between working in this dynamic versus working in a larger agency setting with different people?
J: I don’t think it’s husband/wife as much as I personally like working in small teams. I don’t ever plan to work in a large agency ever again. I like the hunger of small teams. No fat.
A: Jason is my go-to person for everything. It’s amazing to have a person you can rely on when you need advice on how to handle a client, need feedback on a project, want to celebrate even a mundane personal victory, and set big life goals with. That really amplifies the level of trust and compassion in a relationship.
ADC: How does it help each of you personally, to be able to work with someone you also cook with and do laundry with?
J: We actually don’t do laundry together. I’m too OCD to let anyone else touch my clothes. Also I don’t cook.
A: I am too afraid to touch Jason’s clothes! He says he doesn’t cook, but that’s only because unlike myself, food is not his prime motivator. In the kitchen, I’m the head chef and he does the prep work. Like all tasks, we divide and conquer.
ADC: Are you guys like a soundboard for each other?
J: We have a slight age gap, so there’s a few things going on. We aren’t at the exact same spots in our career. I’ve been doing this for 16 years, so I feel like I’ve seen everything and don’t get surprised as much. I am definitely able to help with process and business stuff. I think we both run a lot of ideas off each other as a sounding board for each other. We make each other better, which is independent of skill and can be used in all facets of our lives together.
A: Jason is definitely a mentor for me, especially in my new role at CAH. We both have a lot to offer each other in terms of advice and support, with Jason’s years of experience and my range of experiences. Not a day goes by that we don’t help each other out with something we’re working on, big or small.
ADC: Any tips, tricks or advice?
J: Set up an Apple family account. We get each other’s app downloads. 😉
A: Always be honest. Always be kind. Always work towards the same goal.
ADC: Do you generally work together as a team or as individuals and have check-ins?
J: Most of the things I do, I do in teams. I feel like creative in general is typically worse solo. I like people to bounce ideas off of. I also like people to tell me I’m doing something wrong. My goal is to always surround myself with people who I think can add to the bigger picture.
ADC: How do you balance the work/life thing? Do couples have a rule that when you aren’t at work you aren’t talking about work or does it blur into personal hours?
I wrap all work at work. I don’t bring anything home. My New Year’s Resolution 2013 was to take work email off my phone, which was one of the best things I’ve ever done. It let’s me breathe.
A: If we’re ever talking about work in personal hours, it’s usually a short conversation about what things happened today. After a quick recap, it’s back to personal.
ADC: Do you give yourselves or each other days off?
J: I don’t take any work days off. If it’s not a holiday, or a weekend, I work. 2015 was actually the first year in about a decade I took a sick day. Even during that day, I still pulled a mostly full-day and got all of my inboxes to 0.
A: I only like taking days off for things that are still related to work, like conferences, and even then, I find odd moments to work.
ADC: Do you guys see eye to eye on most things?
J: Yes. We are building a house together that we are designing ourselves. If we didn’t, we probably would’ve killed each other by now.
A: For sure. Sometimes we disagree on some taste level things, but that’s because I tend to love “ugly” and odd design. I have that Cranbrook sensibility, whereas Jason is more Bauhaus.
ADC: Do you have more freedom?
J: Because I run 3 active businesses, I have less freedom. I feel guilty taking vacation. I need to be better about this. New Year’s Resolution 2016?
A: I feel like I have more freedom than most. Yes, I am often working– but I am working for my vision, or the vision of a small team. I’m not a cog in a bigger agency machine, a nameless face behind a campaign for a major company. I am connected to the work, and I am pushing my team’s ideas forward. I wouldn’t give up this level of creative freedom for anything. No salary or benefits could give you the feeling of owning your craft, and owning your time.
ADC: It seems like the work came first and then the relationship. Does work still come first or are there more important things?
Family first. In the end, you only have family and friends. No one will care about your website, or Dribbble shots. Love and life are the only things that are important.
A: Life is first. Work is just a vehicle to do the things we enjoy, like creating things and spending time together. It’s important to remember that we can spend time together without working, too.
ADC: What is one thing you wish people would understand about working as a creative couple?
J: Think of all the carpooling!
A: I recently heard Michael Beirut speak about his time working with Massimo and Leila Vignelli, and he was explicit in pointing out that Leila’s contributions kept the studio running. Massimo referred to himself as the engine and Leila as the brakes; while that sounds like Massimo was more crucial to the dynamic, it’s important to remember that you don’t die because your car won’t start– you die when the brakes fail. Creative couples work in different ways and distribute tasks differently. Whether you’re the brakes, the engine, or both, each person’s contributions are crucial, despite how unglamorous they might be.
ADC: Please fill in the blanks: I ______ working with my significant other because____.
J: Please fill in the blanks: I ALF working with my significant other because waffles.
A: Please fill in the blanks: I will never stop working with my significant other because we see the opportunities in everything.
Designing at the Threshold: A panel-based discussion about experimentation and the boundaries of design. Panelists discussed the intersection of contemporary art and graphic design, balancing commercial work and personal work, the workings of their studio practice, and more.
The speaker panel getting ready at the Cards Against Humanity Theater.
Anton Jeludkov comments to Jen Hansen Liminal Space Chicago’s Designing At The Threshold
Jen Hansen speaks at Liminal Space Chicago’s Designing At The Threshold