15. Devising a conceptual palette

My week as a visual designer.

Post #15

Welcome back, friends! It’s been a minute.

A rumbling in the deep…

I’ve been hard at work establishing the material conditions for my next project.

Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I’ve been establishing the material conditions for the next major step of *this* project. A spiritual throughline connects the CURZIISM newsletter and the thing that’s coming next, What-Is and What-Is-To-Be, and I’m planning for all of it to synergize.

But, preamble notwithstanding, I’m not quite ready to announce what’s next. Not yet. In the mean time, I have a teaser available, via some ‘brand assets’ that I’ve been working on. (Some day I’ll be able to utter that phrase without a hint of irony... 🤖)

So this week I’ll be describing my amateurish but bold attempt to be a visual designer for a week. I hope your email client displays pictures, because cool ones are incoming, as well as some of my current best guesses on what design is all about.

Devising a conceptual palette

My task was to create visual assets for a me-shaped brand, that conveyed a hard-to-articulate ‘feeling’ I associate with my work and my vision. It needed to be (or be able to become) distinctively ‘me’ (or close enough), and also be compatible with the culture of the audience I’m going to try to talk to. It needed to be cool, but not cringey. Distinctive but not clownish. Bespoke, not gaudy. It needed that je ne sais quoi. That joie de vivre. That facteur ‘X’. You know what I’m saying.

But how to make a feeling visually concrete? I Googled things, tried to draw a bit. I paced around and mumbled indiscriminately. Things weren’t really clicking, until I noticed that, weirdly enough, my mind kept going back to these two t-shirts I own, and the fact that I don’t look too bad in them on camera:

I spent a bunch of time on Pinterest, exploring fonts and color schemes along these lines. After a few hours of browsing, I ended up picking the following two pins as a point of inspiration:

They fit within a broader design and imagery palette, which I thought could expand the initial theme:

In these you can see not just the black & white, but the sans-serif minimalism, Chinese or Japanese characters & names, and a kind of raw, pre-production, science/technical energy.

I started drafting things in black and white. After some time I decided I wanted a bit more color. In particular, the following image struck me, and I liked the drab green idea, as well as this really juicy ‘terrain map’ vibe:

Still, when I played with the drab green, I couldn’t it to look quite right. So I went in the complete opposite direction color-wise, the results of which you’ll see in a moment…


I think it’s not so bad!

It’s not as great as the images above, but given that I have next to no training and made this myself, for free, in a janky-but-functional online program (Canva), I’m happy with the output. I can always pay someone to upgrade it down the line.

The above is a header, with matching subtitle/redirect images to complete the set…

It’s simple but punchy. And it’s a definite upgrade over the simple ‘MC’ I’ve been using for this Substack:

Another part of this overall process involved trying to describe the energy I was aiming for to a friend of mine. After some back and forth, this is what I came out with:

Tyler ended up firing back some incredible images, taking the concept-palette in a direction I totally hadn’t thought of yet. I haven’t figured out a way to incorporate these ideas, and I’m not even sure I want to, but I thought I’d share them, in part to convey my intuition that a ‘design palette’ is an evolving thing:

I think the Greats of design (from Michelangelo to Steve Jobs) work on palettes and corresponding concept-sets for years, to see how things combine and what can be drawn out of them.

E.g., Kanye has been working on this one:

And you can see that visual work culminate (in draft after draft after draft) in things like the visuals for his Presidential campaign:

More updates coming soon.