A Mighty Big Harvest Packaging Design

Design, Packaging

As a freelancer, it’s a fun treat when I get the opportunity to bid on a project, win that bid, and then work on that project from concept to completion with a team of other creatives (versus working solo or only on one facet of a campaign’s design).

I presented ideas to Applied Underwriters (a workman’s comp insurance agency (which has a GIANT St. Bernard for a logo)) for their annual wine promotion, an incentive program for sales reps to get more quotes and deals through their company. They have been doing these pretty elaborate direct mail campaigns for a number of years, so have a history of high quality, thoughtful designs under their belt.

The conceptualization process starts out many months in advance of when the program starts (technically, I think they are already thinking about the next year’s as soon as the program is just finishing up for the current year). I was given an overview of what the mandatory requirements for the promotion were, samples of things they’ve done in the past, and a brief idea of what “might be cool” this year. Amusingly, the initial concept was about pairing wine with chocolate, which is the concept I presented for, and then won the bid for, but as so many things go, issues with that concept arose afterwards, and we all had to then pivot and create a new concept after a few weeks worth of work had already gone into plan A.


My pitch for chocolate/wine pairing

Unfortunately, this promotion would be mailed out in August, which for most of the non-fog-bound-San Francisco parts of the country means melty times for chocolate.

But that’s ok, we played with a few other ideas but then eventually moved on to a concept of sending custom Govino glasses (those plastic ones with the little notch for your thumb) for the first mailer, and then a wine tasting game for the second mailer (basically, magnet poetry for your wine). Because it’s fun to look back on how things evolved, here are 2 of the very initial sketches for both of those pieces.


Initial box design


Magnet Poetry meets wine tasting design idea

Over the course of a couple more months, we refined, rewrote, reimagined, and then finally designed the 2 final pieces. I worked with the team up until almost the very end when their in-house design team took my files and cleaned them up for print production. A few more changes were made that likely were the result of seeing in-person mock ups and working out issues or cleaning up the design (like the outside of the box was supposed to be a scene from Napa, but I think it must have been a technical nightmare to line up AND looked very busy compared to the toned down, no image option they ran with for the final).

Fun to have played a big part in that process and guided the overall design work, and then see the final product turn out so well. A very great experience! Shout out to a very great art director and creative writer who were both so thoughtful and detail oriented throughout the whole process. It’s always a pleasure to work with such smart people. Also, a shout out to the highly technically scratchboard illustrator, Steven Noble, whom they have been working with for ages, for his contributions to the piece.




box open with reward chart insert removed









reward chart





Second Mailer in its plastic mailing sleeve








San Francisco Card Deck

Design, Illustration, Packaging

This year, my client gift was a custom deck of playing cards featuring landmarks from San Francisco, a fun personal tribute to the city I love and that so many also love to love.

I am no stranger to designing cards, having created a custom deck of poker cards for a charity poker tournament, as well as two card-based games for Google (Data Center Manager and Launch & Iterate). I love games, and also love designing for them, so deciding on a poker deck as a client gift seemed like the perfect pair.

I started back in the summer, thinking how to organize the face cards. There are a variety of options, such as by neighborhood, or by personalities (techie, hippie, by park, etc. I decided on buildings and landmarks because they had a pretty decent correlation by category for each set of 4 face cards and also had a certain amount of historical and intrinsic value to the people of San Francisco. But, as no option was perfect for capturing every aspect of the city’s culture, heritage and history, some icons didn’t make it, such as Dolores Park, AT&T Park, or the Presidio, to name a few that got cut from the long list.

What I did include were 3 categories of landmarks for each set of face cards.


SF Card Deck KingsKings were represented by famous tall buildings or towers: Sutro, TransAmerica, Coit and the Ferry Building clock tower. I think I chose them as Kings purely based on height.


SF Card Deck QueensQueens were some of the beloved bridges that are either in or connect to San Francisco: Bay Bridge both east and western spans, Golden Gate, and the slightly less famous but delightful bridge in the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. Perhaps I chose them for queens because they hold some of the real power in the city, as far as connecting us to our neighbors.


SF Card Deck JacksJacks comprised of other famous tourist attractions including the Painted Ladies in Alamo Square, Alcatraz Island, Lombard Street, and the Palace of Fine Arts, which coincidentally happened to celebrate its 100th birthday this year.

SF Card Deck 2Of course, the real character of the cards lies in the Joker, whom I aptly chose our dear Emperor Norton to fill the role of. It seemed all too appropriate. (Don’t know who he is? Check out the wikipedia page).

SF Card Deck 3

The final consideration for the cards was the color palette, which is very limited. These colors are the ones I’ve chosen for my personal branding, but it’s not a huge coincidence that the cadmium red (not quite international orange, but certainly in the spirit) and sea green are in play for this San Francisco-based designer.

SF Card Deck 1

Want a deck of your own? Email me, and I can mail you a pack ($20+shipping). While supplies last.

SF Card Deck 4

Launch & Iterate Tech Talk

Design, Illustration, Packaging

I was invited to Google last week for a really cool Tech Talk presented by the creators of the game Launch & Iterate, that I took part in the graphic design for. It was a really great presentation that gave a detailed explanation of the process of creating the game, from the first email exchange where the notion of making a game was first introduced (a good 2+ years ago now) to where they are now with a final product and lots of positive feedback, with all the lessons learned along the way and the things that went right that they’re most proud of.

Eddie and Jessica walking us through the game’s development


Having worked closely with the team on the project from a relatively early stage of the development, it was still enlightening to hear their stories of all the testing and reasons for all the changes they made along the way. I also learned that their target demographic was actually students who were not already familiar with the genre of Euro-style gaming, which for some reason came as a surprise to me (wait, doesn’t everyone play these games now?? Are you saying I live in a board game bubble?).

Hey, they’re talking about me!


They were very generous in giving me a shout-out in the presentation as the outside professional they hired to pull the game together. I probably couldn’t talk enough about how great of an experience it was to work on this project, and how much I have enjoyed watching (and participating in) its evolution. It was inspiring, and of course, puts the fire under me to once again have a go at creating my own game again.

Launch & Iterate: a Google Recruiting Card Game

Design, Illustration, Packaging

Launch+Iterate 1 web

I am so pleased to finally be able to post the final product of this project. It took almost a year to finalize, and it was so much fun to work on, so am thrilled to finally share it.

Launch+Iterate 2 web

This is a co-op game with the end goal of launching the most products. Designed as a game to play at recruiting events, it is targeted at programmers and people familiar with programming lingo and/or Google, but no reason why anyone who just loves games couldn’t play it, too.

Launch+Iterate 3 web

The game design and mechanics were already mostly defined by the time the Google team who worked on it decided they were ready to reach out to a designer to create the game’s art. I came in to do a test round with their scratch deck and I was immediately inspired. They had a really good concept for game play, fun and clever ways to incorporate the Google brand and programming job functions into the theme of the game, and also had already compiled most of the details about verbiage, card distribution, game balance, etc. So it was my job to take the pieces and ideas and put them into a cohesive looking deck with fun, bold, Google-esque graphics.

I have played enough card games to understand some of the more practical elements required in making a good deck of cards, such as combining colors with symbols to make identifying types of cards easier (especially for color blind folks), putting at-a-glance info on the sides and corners of cards since they’re typically held fanned out in your hand, and also making sure layouts are consistent, fonts are legible, and type isn’t too small. These basic requirements, along with keeping text and pertinent design elements within the proper margins, were my guides in getting the designs started. I also had the benefit of having a well-defined brand to work with, which uses eye-catching, bold, primary colors (they also have their own font!).

It’s a thrill to see how this project evolved. I commend my contact at Google immensely for being such a great communicator. She was very organized and thoughtful with feedback (both her own and what she compiled and filtered down to me from the rest of the team), and I feel the feedback and changes they suggested really furthered the design immensely. Looking back on some of my round 1 and 2 ideas makes the excellence of their input and insight so clear as you compare it to our final product. I absolutely love when a project comes together in such a way.

So I started with a relatively blank canvas. The scratch deck they had created had a rough card layout with a solid bar of color on the left side with text on the blank space adjacent. It wasn’t a bad starting point, since the majority of the cards would be hand-held, and having that left bar for at-a-glance icons turned out to the basis for the final design of most of the cards in the deck.

Launch+Iterate 13 web

Sample of Tech Cards

So, a brief synopsis, there are Tech Cards, Event Cards, Launch Cards, as well as penalty/bonus cards, in addition to 4 “Tech Stack Base” cards.

Launch+Iterate 14 web

Basic Game Layout, Tech Stack Base cards “F0,” “A0,” “S0,” and “T0” in the center, Tech draw pile on the left, Launch cards below that, Event cards bottom right, and then penalty/bonus cards available as needed.

Tech cards are split into Tech Stack cards (labeled with F, A, S, or T and numbered 1-7) that will get piled on top of one of the 4 coordinating stacks on the game area. Each color is assigned a color and shape (blue/square, red/circle, yellow/4-pointed star or green/triangle).



Additionally, there are “One-Shot” Tech cards that do not get stacked on the base piles, but are instead used one time and then discarded and are black with no attached symbol.


Other cards in the deck are not held in-hand such as the Tech Stack Base cards, Penalty/Bonus Cards, Launches, and Events.

Launch+Iterate 12 web

Penalty and Bonus Cards

Penalty Cards will either get placed on top of a Stack, or in front of a Player.

Launch Cards are the basis of how you earn points in the game, by earning Users.

Launch Card Diagram

Launch+Iterate 8 web

Launch Cards

All the Launch cards were cleverly designed as one of Google’s April Fool jokes (aka, products that were not real and were also far-fetched and hilarious). Examples such as Scratch and Sniff Google Searches, Locate a nearby kitten, Google Translate for Animals, etc.

Launch+Iterate 10 web

Launch+Iterate 9 web

Launch+Iterate 11 web

I created the art for these based on the graphics or videos that still remain on Google’s April Fool websites and YouTube, keeping it as close to the originals as an Illustrator working with vectors can (only raster images that remain are the Google Maps 8-bit logo and the $20 bill coming out of Google Mobile ATM).
The thing I found most illuminating now that I’ve had a little break from working on the project and can now sit back and see the final product against the many revisions we worked through to get there, are the Event cards.
Launch+Iterate 5 web

Event Cards

These guys really went through some transformations.

Samples Description 1 events

Event Card Proposed Design, Phase 1


Samples Description 2 events

Event Card Proposed Design, Phase 2


Samples Description 3 events

Event Card Proposed Design, Phase 3


Samples Description 4 events

Event Card Proposed Design, Phase 4, with 4 options for layout


Samples Description 5 events

Event Card Proposed Design, Phase 5 – getting close, but not quite right.


Samples Description 6 events

Event Card Proposed Design, Phase 6 – with 4 options for treatment.

I really enjoy how the eventually turned out, and find the process in getting to that point so valuable and interesting.

This is a culmination of roughly 70 hours of work for me over the course of 10 months including a folded page with instructions (not including the Visually Impaired version we augmented the layout for). I loved every minute and it inspired me to want to design and create the art for my own games (it’s really hard, btw). I really loved brainstorming with a team of super smart people to realize what I believe is a really thoughtfully designed game. I will jump on any chance to do it again.

Launch+Iterate 16 web

For you Board Game Geeks, here’s a link to the game on BGG.

Google Datacenter Manager: The Game

Design, Illustration, Packaging


I was very pleased to work on this little side project that a Google employee requested design assistance on. He had in the past create a few Google fan/Google employee exclusive projects like t-shirts, and had the great idea to put Google into a card game that he and his fellow Google/Game enthusiasts could play during their lunch break.

We used the base of a game called Palastgefluster, a German card game that is apparently not as obscure as it sounds (even though I don’t think even my nerdiest of board game geeks I know have ever heard of it). But, my client knew it well and thought the structure would work really well to make a Google parody of it.

I’ll walk you through it and how we adapted it for Google, which by the way I should mention, this game is not sponsored by, condoned by, or paid for by Google, but they did give us our blessing on the proof which ensures that all the logos and colors were up to their specifications.


Anyway, the cards we were working off of were in a medieval/knight/castle style with lots of textures and shading. I figured that wasn’t quite right for Google, so cleaned up the background, and stuck to the bright solid colors that Google uses in its logo. We had to add an additional color to the palette, so chose an equally bright and vibrant purple, and have a neutral gray as well.


Our plan with the Google version was to pair Apps with actions (seen above, the actions are a little cryptic in their native German – but each character you see actually represents a specific action you can take on your turn). In order to know which action each card represents, you can either piece together the illustration at the top of the card, or follow a cheat sheet that you keep beside you at all times. It’s easier when the actions are described as verbs instead of character names (also being in English is helpful, for those of us who are a little rusty on our German).


The game designer/redesigner, Richard, paired up the actions with corresponding Google Apps that seemed appropriate for what action they represented. Maps = Show, YouTube = Discard/Draw, Android = Return to Hand, Gmail = Trade, Chrome = Swap, Search = well, Search, obviously, and Labs = No action. I thought it was quite clever.

So each player is associated with a color (above is the green set of the cards). There are 5 players with 7 sets of action cards, yellow, red, green, blue, purple, and 2 sets of neutral grey. Each player gets a set of score keeping cards and the above mentioned reference cards that explain exactly what each action means. You place your reference card on top of the score card and slide it down as you earn points.



The action cards are meant to be held uni-directionally, unlike playing cards where you can flip them any which way. But, each corner is marked with a few helpful codes to make it easier to play when fanned out in your hand. 1st, we have a shape associated with each color for anyone with color blindness issues (these shapes are also present on the score cards, top left). 2nd, we have a symbol associated with that action, which is repeated on the reference cards for an easy key as well.


Ok, then we also have SRE cards (stands for Site Reliability Engineering which apparently is responsible for keeping the Apps afloat on google.com. In game terms, these are the cards that when put into play disable certain functions, making the corresponding action card in your hand unplayable. The backs of those cards is a patch that Google Engineers get when they’ve gone through the SRE program – a little insider info.


You can see on the SRE cards that we named them based on where there are major Google hubs around the globe, so I popped in little google map images (hard to believe these images are already outdated since Google updated their maps graphics since we finalized this project!). The Mission control map is centered over Houston, which was my own funny idea about where “Mission Control” is (not really Google related, but who could disagree).


The only cards left are the rules, which honestly sound a little daunting, but once you play a round or two, it becomes very clear how to play. The game is relatively quick; a great lunch-time option. Minimum of 3 players is needed to play, and typically you play best of 3 rounds to determine a winner. I won’t go into the rules of how to play exactly, but you’re welcome to come and play with me some time if you’re that curious.

Anyway, I had a lot of fun working on this and am really happy with how it turned out. Looking forward to playing my first round!

Where’s the Beef?

Design, Invitations, Packaging


It’s been a couple years ago now since I made this invitation, well before I started blogging about  my favorite projects, but I was going through some old stuff and realized this one was probably one worth sharing (not to mention writing down at some point so I don’t forget what went into it either).

Back in 2010, I co-hosted a beef tasting party. The idea being that I really had no idea what the difference between some very basic cuts of meat were, and while the idea of sitting down to a 12 course meal of side-by-side beef tasting sounds entertaining, it was simply going to be just too much meat for one person. SO…. why not throw a party?!

beef3Designing the invitations was an amazingly fun process. I spent a lot of time researching beef and what the different cuts were, as well as where on the cow they came from. I wanted to share a little of that knowledge with my invitees, hoping to entice them to participate in the experiment.

I made the invite itself into the shape of a cow, and cut 3 overlapping sections out of it to give the information what, when and where. I then included a vellum overlay with the cross section of the cow (I have a weakness for science diagrams – couldn’t resist).

For the envelope, I wrapped the invite into a piece of butcher paper, a kin to how apiece of meat from the butcher would be wrapped. I then created an address label that mimicked the pricing sticker that you get at the store, indicating weight, price per pound, sell by date (in this case, RSVP by date) and the barcode (which sneakily included the numbers of the date of the actual party), which then sealed the envelope shut.



I also made a custom USDA seal of approval on each envelope, indicating it would be a swell party, as well as a return address sticker that had the “brand” from the “ranch” the meat came from. The one failing point of the project was that there were no beef-themed stamps available at the time I sent these out, so wasn’t able to complete the them as entirely as I’d hoped.

The party was a hit, I was able to enlighten myself, and a handful of friends about the different options we have for ordering and enjoying beef. I will admit, and I’m not ashamed to, this is probably the first of many parties I will host where the idea of how to design the invite was a strong driving force to make it happen versus just think about how cool it would be to do.

So anyway, I learned a lot about beef. All the research leading up to the day was more educational than just doing the tastings. I am happy to share a little bit about what I still remember (with the quick caveat that I am definitely not an expert, and if I got anything wrong, I’m happy to be corrected):

First off, there are 3 categories to grade the beef sold in the US: PrimeSelect, and Choice. They rate, in descending order, the quality and marbling (the fat:muscle ratio) of the meat. We aimed to get as many prime cuts as possible for our tasting, which we found to be somewhat difficult. Even Whole Foods carried mostly Select cuts. We ended up going to Los Gatos Meats (a disaster of a website, but a gem of a brick & mortar) for most of the meats. Also, to keep the playing field constant across the different cuts, I tried cooking them all with as simple a preparation as possible, allowing the flavor of the meat to be the only thing we were judging the taste by.

Now, where on the cow do the cuts come from? For this, I made a little cheat-sheet that outlines where a variety of the cuts come from on a cow. (Mind you, in Britain, they have very different terminology for all of this, so this is all American beef knowledge I’m dishing out.)


So, I didn’t want to have a party with 50 cuts of meat, but did want to have a sampling from “all parts” of the cow. We didn’t get too crazy either – no organs or “non-standard” cuts were investigated; remember, we were hoping to understand our options when looking at a typical menu of meat options at a steak house.

For the tasting, we grouped the cuts into rounds of tastings based on which part of the cow they came from. We started on what are considered the cheaper cuts, and worked our way up, to what are generally considered the more expensive, highly desired cuts.

Kowal_LogoKowal_LogoFlank & Skirt Steak. This meat comes from the end of the ribs, called the flank or plate. It has a strong grain and should be scored and marinated for a while to be tenderized. This is your standard fajita or steak salad meat, and should be cut against the grain, or else you’ll be chewing it for a while. I did marinate these in some soy sause and brown sugar before broiling. The flank is typically thicker than the skirt, so cooks a little bit longer.

Kowal_LogoTri-Tip: The little triangle at the bottom of the sirloin diagram is basically where the tri-tip steak comes from, which is the piece we elected to try from this portion of the cow. Back in the day it was typically made into ground beef, but at some point, someone figured out that you could cook it low and slow and slice it thin for a low-fat steak option. I remembered having it as a kid smothered in barbecue sauce and sandwiched between french bread. I think for our party, we just did a dry rub and I seared and then baked it until it was medium rare.

Kowal_LogoPorterhouse: We’re moving into the short loin now. This is where you start seeing real steak names come into play. What is the difference between a Porterhouse and a New York strip?  Well, I’ll tell you. The porterhouse is your “t-bone,” the ubiquitous caricature for what steak looks like. You have a large cut of tenderloin on one side , and the other side of the bone is strip steak. Technically, a porterhouse is classified by having more tenderloin than even a typical “t-bone” but they’re hailing from the same part of the cow, so same cut of meat.

Bone-in New York: This is what is on one side of the porterhouse – the strip. It’s a muscle that is infrequently used on the cow, so still tender. It can be cooked bone-in, or cut away from the bone. We went with the bone-in option because we were told that those typically cook better because they retain the juices. No argument here.

Tenderloin: The tenderloin is a long a narrow piece that follows inside the spine and is very tender because it is not a used muscle. We took the more famous cut from there, the filet mignon. A medallion, sometimes wrapped in bacon, that is so soft you could sometimes cut it with a butter knife. We actually got a little extra experimental here and got one regular corn-fed cut, and another grass-fed to see if we could notice a difference. (the answer is yes).

Kowal_LogoShort ribs: These are typically braised. The cut is from the rib and surrounding meat, and they are cut into ~2″ chunks. You could also get them cut Korean-style, which is a much smaller slice and then it’s just marinated and grilled. We opted to try them the “old fashioned” Western way for our taste-test. After being braised, the meat is very tender and literally falls off the bone. It also really soaks up the flavors of whatever you braise it in, so the flavor of the meat is not typically standing on its own.

Bone-in Ribeye: This is the meat inside the rib bones, and unlike tenderloin, gets a fair bit of exercise in the cow, so is supposedly more flavorful. We went for the bone-in option again, like with the New York strip, but can also be cooked without the bone.

Prime Rib: This is essentially the same part of the cow as the ribeye, but cooked as a roast, with anywhere from 2-7 ribs wide. The main difference between the two cuts is how they’re cooked, and also a lot more fat has been removed from the ribeye than the roast.

That’s what we tried. I had my opinions, of course, on what the best pieces were. I made a form people could fill out as they tried everything so we could keep track of the different aspects of each kind of cut.


Hopefully this was mildly informative. I look forward to the next food-themed party and invitation design. Also, the first photo in the post is credited to Carol Le, a terrific friend and photographer.

Texas Hold Em Poker Tournament Custom Card Deck

Design, Illustration, Packaging

Every year the company I work at hosts a Poker Tournament Fundraiser for Relay For Life (American Cancer Society). A couple years ago, I made a poster for the event and designed a face card with the President/CEO’s face on the card and it was a huge hit. I had been considering making a whole deck of cards with faces of other people from office since, but never quite got my act together to put it together. This was the year it was going to happen though, even in true last minute fashion (isn’t there an expression that great things only get done when you don’t have enough time to do them in?).

The face cards are all of people whose faces most people who work there would recognize. The President and co-founders got the King cards, and the Jacks and Queens are VPs, with one exception being the Queen of Clubs who gets a spot as the official cheerleader for the Relay for Life event, as she’s very active in organizing events and getting people on board to donate. I modeled the cards after the classic “Bicycle” format, and used the colors of the company’s branding. I used the font “Helldorado” to get that western look with the typography.

Getting the cards to coordinate upside down and right-side-up and look the same was a fun challenge. I was more brazen with some designs than others, but overall was pleased with each of the designs. In the interest of sharing the joke with you, since you probably don’t know what these people look like, I’ve done a couple side-by-side comparisons so you can see where I drew the characters from. All of these were designed in Illustrator, and I more or less traced the faces with a .5 stroke to start, and once I was satisfied that I had included just enough detail, I finished off the designs with the neck/shoulders/patterns. I spent roughly 1 hour on each face card design (some more, some less). Most of the images I was able to pull from just 1 photo, but there were a couple that I pieced together from multiple photos to get the right look.

If you are very interested, I’ve posted the full pdf with all the final artwork for a full res viewing experience.

I was super happy with the vendor I chose to print these. There is such a smattering of custom playing card design/printing companies available on the web and I didn’t have much to go on, so was glad the gamble paid off when I decided to use them. How I got past their really terrible 1.0 website is beyond me, but again, they were great, so withhold judgment on the site.

For the record, the event these were made for was a huge success, and I believe raised nearly (or over) $7,000 towards this year’s Relay for Life Fundraiser.