We interview the founders of this Los Angeles-based studio. Find out how they’re fusing the creative realms of illustration and design
Like many other studio start-up stories, this one begins with two college friends who took very different paths before teaming up to form their own design studio: DKNG.
Founder Dan Kuhlken studied graphic design, aware that this would eventually lead to an artistic career. Nathan Goldman, however, focused his energies on both graphic design and art direction before working
full-time at DKNG.
So the pair collaborated in the field of design while their nine-to-fives kept them apart. This is how they encountered a career-changing opportunity. “We came across the chance to create posters for the Troubadour, a world famous venue in Los Angeles, California,” Kuhlken tells us. “Together we built a large portfolio of posters for them, over the course of a couple years. Eventually, this caught the eye of potential new clients and our career has continued to flourish since then, one project at a time.”
DKNG is now known for producing high-quality graphic design and illustration. Its services also include brand and identity development, web design and development, packaging design and apparel design. From this, it becomes apparent that Kuhlken and Goldman have a special interest in operating in the entertainment industry.
The studio works with a bespoke philosophy, believing that every client has a unique voice and therefore that every new project requires a distinct perspective. However, due to the fact that the studio’s origins lie with gig posters, it’s noticeable how this experience has inspired a few noticeable factors in DKNG’s design – the application of bold colours and shapes, specifically. “One of the main purposes of a poster is to grab the viewer’s attention as quickly as possible,” explains Kuhlken. “The first thing people see is colour and shape. It’s only when they look closer that they actually notice the variant details.”
Setting these elements aside for now, DKNG’s design and illustration styles can change drastically from project to project. Kuhlken believes that a stubborn dedication to a niche style is commercially detrimental. “To us, this is not what a design firm should express when dealing with a wide variety of clients. We want to show we can do it all,” he says.
DKNG goes some way towards achieving this principle through the different personalities that the duo bring. “Nathan and I wear many different hats,” admits Kuhlken. “We’re both involved in the creative focus on illustration, marketing and customer service. Nathan focuses on graphic design, typography, art direction and client relations. We’ve very different mindsets and our roles reflect this.” Kuhlken admits to being more concerned with creating artwork, while Goldman demonstrates strong skills in running a creative business. “Our backgrounds definitely work well together and are the main reasons for our success as a studio,” Kuhlken adds.
As a business, DKNG continues to thrive by allowing its stellar work to speak for itself. The pair successfully build contacts through a strong portfolio and successful marketing. Kuhlken makes sure that the DKNG website and social networks are constantly up to date and active. “We don’t know what lies ahead, but we do know that someone will see what we create and possibly reach out to us with more work because of it,” he tells us. “Most of our work comes to us through email, which stems from our website. Many new clients cite past work that they’ve come across – either from a design blog or an image-sharing site.”
DKNG proves it’s a contemporary studio by utilising powerful social media platforms as a highly successful promotion tool. Indeed, the two directors believe that it’s always good to let commercial clients know what they are up to, as creatives, on a regular basis. “Our work acts like a constantly refreshing advertisement in that sense,” Kuhlken explains. “We joined the social networks that we believe are the strongest, most useful and relevant to our industry. These have helped grow a consistent following.”
DKNG ensures that clients keep coming back for more by making sure it gets projects right the first time. This makes complete sense, because if a client is impressed with what we create then it’s very likely that we’ll work with them again. “Creating something we can be proud of is a big part of what we do,” says Kuhlken. “We’re very selective about who we work for. We want to make sure we do a great job, and in order to do that we must have a strong creative interest in a project.”
This isn’t too hard to find, though, when you’re working with clients such as Disney, HBO, MTV and Mondo, like Kuhlken and Goldman are doing. Subsequently, we pose the question: “How does DKNG approach existing IP projects when working with clients such as Mondo?” Kuhlken answers promptly: “We always do our research. We dig deep and business sides of our studio. For instance, Iand become aware of what has already been done, and this is how we can create something even more special. Creating a concept that has never been envisioned is ideal. If that’s not possible then we take a known concept and envision it through our own unique perspective.”
Kuhlken and Goldman bring their collective skills together for this, abiding by the motto ‘two heads are better than one.’ “Nathan and I take concept development very seriously and brainstorm for several days, sometimes, before presenting our ideas to a client,” reveals Kuhlken. “We’re hard on each other and hold each other to a very high standard. Once we’re both genuinely excited about a series of ideas, we know it’s okay to move forward.”
It’s at this point the duo roll up their sleeves, and begin using Mac computers with Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop software. Photoshop comes in especially handy when working with textures, applying these to vector artwork and stepping out of the realms of clip art. “We often use the Stamp tool to create custom textures,” he tells us. “If we like a certain photograph of cement, for example, we clone that area into one large image. This is then used in our design as a textured element, which fills our entire art space.”
Colour adjustments, especially Selective Color, are also readily applied to DKNG designs. “It’s not uncommon for our design to change colour, moving away from its original digital format into a screen-printed image,” explains Kuhlken. “We often use this tool to colour-correct photos of our work, so they match seamlessly in our portfolio.”
Referring back to print production at DKNG – specifically, screen-printing – Photoshop’s bitmapto- halftones functionality makes all this possible. “In the world of screen-printing, every ink colour (layer) must be reduced down to a purely black and white file,” Kuhlken tells us. “Photoshop techniques allow us to take a highly complex design, utilising a large spectrum of tones, and reduce these down to halftone dots without compromising detail.” In a nutshell, DKNG depend on Photoshop to bring all of their creative projects to life. “Photoshop is the electricity we use to awaken Frankenstein’s monster,” Kuhlken concludes.