From football branding to album covers, from social content to motion graphics - super talented graphic designer Nathen does it all. Footy mad, he's built an all-star portfolio and established himself amongst some of the best known brands in the game. We chat to him about his career highlights, how he got to where he is now, and what we can expect in the future...
Nathen, thanks for taking the time to sit down with us - I know you've been working all around the world lately! First up, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Hey guys! Thanks for having me! I'm an art director and designer currently based in London, but I've been a little bit of everywhere. Born in Carlisle; I've lived in Manchester, Leicester and New York. I started a record label at 16 and got to travel all over the world with music, before realizing I was more creative than I knew and decided to go to Parsons in New York to discover a whole new world. It's been a wild ten years or so, but I developed a love of football in there somewhere and it's now my main focus. I run a creative agency with my best friends called Common Goal, and we lead projects from branding to strategy for teams, brands and more. I also run a much-loved project called Where Is Football that tells global stories about the sport with photojournalism, brand work and more.
And that explains why you're so busy all the time! How would you describe your style?
I feel like style is more difficult to nail down than ever before. I'm constantly inspired and changed by the people I meet, experiences I have and design I'm exposed to. With the internet, I feel like the limits of my imagination are stretched every day, and it creates an enjoyable process of personal discovery. I'm always interested in the alternative, slightly off-kilter approaches to simple solutions through branding, typography and minimalism. I'll often strip things as far back as I can in order to explore the most basic elements of layout, color, shape, motion and more. I am a huge typography nerd, though. It consumes so much of my process.
You've specialised into sports design, particularly football - was this an intentional career move?
It was never explicitly intentional from a business perspective. My entire life has revolved around happiness and enjoying what I do— whether that be music, football or otherwise— and that has inevitably lead to intentional decisions on which projects and jobs to take. I never want to work on anything I can't take enjoyment from, so it felt natural to step into football and help shape a corner of the world I'm so passionate about. Plus it felt like so many organizations in sport have done such a bad job valuing design over the years that I wanted to help steer the ship however I could.
Do you think having that specialism has impacted your career at all?
It definitely has in ways, but largely positive. The benefit is that I'm more likely to work on projects I have real love for! The flip-side is that sports can often be quite insular and difficult to influence. Teams and leagues are often not set up in ways that recognize creative people, so it can be difficult continuing to grow while fully invested. Personal projects have really helped with that. Having a specialism has been the best thing that happened to my career, though. Knowing I wake up each morning with passion and expertise on a subject is a powerful thing!
It seems you've worked with most people's dream list of sports clients. Is there anyone that you'd still love to work with?
I've been super lucky to have had the chance to work with who I have. Nobody specific comes to mind for my 'design bucket list', but I'm finding more and more enjoyment in solving design and creative problems with people that value the power of creativity. Branding has been more and more enjoyable for me recently as there's a level of creative strategy and problem solving involved that I can think on and aim to solve. I didn't love the work at first, but projects like Wieden+Kennedy's Formula 1 rebrand are now high on my list and I'd love to be involved on something similar. Bold creative decisions in sports get a lot of eyeballs because of the cultural resonance. Playing a role in that is something I'd love to do more of.
And that brings us nicely to our last question - what are your plans going forward? Already preparing for 2022 - or are you taking a break from football?
Not ready for a break yet. I'm already thinking about 2022! World Cups are an amazing space for the globe to come together, and telling those stories is important to me. Using creativity to tell stories, empower people and effect change is vital for me, and I've got a running list of ideas that I'll add to over the next few years. So many brands and plans don't come into focus until six-to-twelve months out from the tournament, so there's a lot of time to work on it. Besides the World Cup, I want to expand scope a little bit over the next few years to cover more forms of entertainment— esports, music, moving picture work— and try to innovate in those spaces, taking learnings from each and applying them to different scenarios to see what works and what doesn't. I've also been enjoying my dive into photography recently. Hopefully I get to do more of that! Though you do have me nostalgic for the World Cup now...