Before COVID-19 altered the makeup of our daily lives, John Littleboy—Artiphany’s designer and CEO—was back on the road, on his way to Tunisia. He’d been there just the year before, to visit some friends, and now he was going there searching for some space: space to pursue a few creative projects that had the funny habit of being delayed, interrupted by the fast pace of his life back in Sunnyvale, California. So it was there, in Tunis, that he returned with new energy to his children’s book—Luca & the Mongrels of Montparnasse, which now, is all but completed—, while also juggling the more quotidian design demands of a growing business.
But then the virus made its way to northern Africa and John picked up his belongings again and moved slightly outside of the urban sprawl to a home on the edge of the sea. That is where you will find him today. “I’m only 150 yards or so from the Mediterranean,” he describes, “so the sea breeze is a gentle reminder of where I’m located. Lots of trees around the house so birds are plentiful. There are swallows everywhere and two of them flew in the other day through the window and out the back door.” In this idyllic locale, John once again set up his creative station—his mobile workplace that has been with him, now, across the world.
“My current workspace is as nice as I've had,” he says. “Because the desk is next to two large windows, their relative position to the path of the sun keeps them indirectly and evenly lit throughout the day. There's a café across the street that's close enough to allow me to place an order from my window. A few feet from my desk is the stairway to the roof and from there I can see a big expanse of the sea and sky. Even during the lockdown, I could still visit the rooftop and feel free from confinement.”
From this desk, John set to work on a project that has demanded much of his time and patience over the past few months: a redesign of our famous Pack of Dogs and Kitten Club card decks. The reason for the redesign was this: after a very successful year, our two most popular decks of cards were nearly out of stock. And this got us thinking: how can we make these beloved products even better? It’s tricky territory, altering a good thing to make it “good-er”, but even in those best-selling decks of cards, John saw room for improvement. “The previous packaging was created while trying to meet the demand of a major viral event,” he explains. “I had to come up with something quickly to meet the demand and I settled on something simple. I always intended to change it and come up with a design that had more color, texture and complexity. I also wanted to see what current styles were in play and see if I could learn something new.”
“I thought the current design was not visually interesting and lacked the creative spark that you find inside the deck,” he continues. “I wanted the packaging to give a hint at what was inside and be compelling enough to make you want to open it. The other reason was that I wanted to make the packaging concept and execution consistent across the five different decks. I designed each at a different time so they didn’t have a unified appearance. Also, I committed a major design sin in using the Papyrus font on one deck. It’s not Comic Sans, but it’s close.”
John is a perfectionist, pure and simple. And if he had his way, he would probably fall happily into a self-selected purgatory of redesign: observing, critiquing, and improving his creations until the end of time. But he is also the head of a small business, a small business trying to keep afloat during corona times. He knew that the project needed to be tight, focused, and tuned into contemporary tastes. So, he went looking for inspiration.
“I'm fond of Japanese design, so I started by looking at current packaging trends to see if I could find something to stimulate my thinking. A deck of cards is an extremely small workspace so strong graphic impact with simplicity and style have to be in play. As usual, pages and pages of drawings are necessary to refine the ideas. Some of the card sequences were strong enough to survive the review. Some I just tidied up the drawings.”
But this process was not like that one so many years ago, when he had first pieced together these decks. As an artist, John has a diligent, daily practice and, as a result, his tastes and skills were in a much different place than they had been when the current packs were completed. “Since I designed the original deck, I've been drawing 4-5 hours a day for over 10 years,” he says. “I've gotten much better and also understand the capability of my tools of brushes, paper and ink. My understanding of how to use Photoshop to enhance my drawings is also much improved. There's an extraordinary range of effects and tools available and I still am learning.”
“I reworked a few of the sequences with some new ideas,” he continues. “The club sequence in Kitten Club is brand new. I redesigned the back of decks as well. There are few new face cards, too, in both decks. The Pack of Dogs jokers are new. I also added a thank you card for my customers which made me feel good.”
The result are two decks with tighter narratives, and extravagant packaging: bright colors and bold choices as a preview to what is within. And now that the work is done, these new packs will be on preorder as soon as our current stock runs out—and in fact, our Pack of Dogs did just that this morning! They will be in our warehouse and ready to ship mid August.
“I'm always happy to be working,” John reflects. “I floundered with my early efforts to come up with new packaging and break free from some concepts that weren't much different then one I was trying to improve. Adding multiple colors to the design means having to harmonize the overall effect with great care.”
“I keep my standards high and don't want to release anything until I think it's my best effort,” he adds. “This process is painful but necessary so I think it's fair to say that when it's done, the absence of pain is a joyful moment.”
Now get off your computers and tablets and phones and enjoy this time with your loved ones! All of you! Don't make me bark at you!
Love and dog bones,