Interview with Ozan Karakoc
is a graphic designer and creative director specialized in branding and advertising, but this is only his official title. He defines himself as a ‘design partner’. With his truly caring, pro-active approach, he has served global brands such as Fox Sports, Hilton, Pepsi, Monster, Carlsberg and Mucinex, along with start-up initiatives and small businesses.
Hi Ozan! Could you please introduce your work with Ozan Karakoc Design Studio and what led to your founding your own studio, rather than working as a freelancer or for an agency?
I started my design career at the age of 16. Until I graduated from University, I worked as a freelancer. Then I had an internship in one of the major advertising agencies in my own country Turkey and I found the place pretty chaotic. I felt that design and aesthetics and even strategy were not their priority. It was all about 'saving the day'. And I heard similar stories from a lot of other designers and I didn't like that approach and my goals shifted from building a career in a big agency to finding alternate ways to be able to express my creativity more freely. I had an opportunity to move to Los Angeles and work at the boutique agency in which designers had more chance to focus on what they do. In five years of time my role evolved from graphic designer to creative director and finally I became one of the partners in that agency. But even that title, even being a partner didn't allow me to do what I really wanted. So later on I decided to start my own studio to be able to have more control on what kind of projects I work on and what type of clients I work for. To sum it up, what led me to founding my own studio was the need for more creative freedom. I wanted to represent my core values and being my own boss was the only way to do that.
How does Ozan Karakoc Design Studio stand out from other design studios based in Los Angeles?
Well, I think it's pretty difficult to answer this question in today's world. It's almost impossible to stand up with a specific quality, every studio would say that they are capable, every studio would say that you know they care for their clients. But when you look at them from a client's point of view. They're almost identical. And what really differentiates a studio is in its core values. I define myself not as a contractor, not as a service provider but a design partner because I care for brands as much as their owners care for them. As the owner of the brand, you feel like your brand is your child. And is the designer of the brand. I feel almost the same thing. The design is like my child. Therefore I keep listening to the client, understanding their needs and proactively questioning opportunities to improve every level of the brand experience. And I called it being a Design Partner. And one other thing is yes I obviously do my job for my clients and for their brands but I also do it for myself because design is my true passion. I value design itself as much as I value my clients and that's why my studio never becomes a place where we do things to you know just save the day. We always seek the better.
How would you describe your aesthetic and approach to creating unique branding campaigns for clients?
Every brand has a different story. Ideally you don't shape the brand with your own aesthetic style and your personal taste as a designer. Instead the brand and its needs, shape your designs. Creating something beautiful is not always enough. It has to make sense. It has to make sense for the brand, for the client, for the industry and for the target audience. If your client is a high end jewelry brand let's say, you can create something very elegant. Very design heavy, you know minimal and sleek and it looks and feels just right for you. The client loves it. People love it. The design community loves it and you feel the best form of satisfaction for it is the designer. But if your client sells cheaper, more affordable jewelry in their more approachable little discount stores or if they target teenagers and sell five gold bracelets to them then you can create an identity like Louis Vuitton just because it looks beautiful or it reflects your visual taste. Your unnecessarily elegant design would be misleading, to say the least and the brand could lose everything because of the wrong decisions on branding and marketing. Even the most beautiful design can easily fail if it's not supported with a reason of existence and a valid strategy. Our job is not to create something beautiful. It's not the only thing. Our job is to create something that works, something that makes sense. So my aesthetic approach to creating good branding always changes, always evolves depending on the qualities and the genuine needs of each brand. And that's why listening is the most crucial part of my design process.
What are some of the unexpected aspects of running an independent design studio?
Before I started my design studio, I experienced working as a freelancer for many years and I also spent some time in different agencies so I had enough chances to observe what difficulties I could face and what I should do and what I shouldn't do, for a smooth run. So far I didn't have any surprises luckily and probably it's because I was very well prepared. If there's one thing I'd like to tell designers who are considering quitting their jobs and starting their own design businesses- I would definitely say don't be afraid to get out of your comfort zones. If you are sure that you're a talented designer- believe me, everything's going to be great.
What's next for your work with Ozan Karakoc Design Studio as well as your independent projects?
This is our fourth year and the studio keeps delivering great projects and it's growing with great new clients. And my short term goal is to keep it that way. In the long run, it can evolve to a different type of studio. But for now I'm happy happy with how it operates. When it comes to my independent projects, I have a pretty long list of ideas that are waiting to come to life. The one that excites me the most is an online platform for the design community. I think it has the potential to change the way we communicate. But for now, that's all I can tell you about it.