Q&A: Sarah Peng & Ben Cannon, Sapient Nitro

Sarah Peng and Ben Cannon are part of the team at digital design agency, SapientNitro, a division of Sapient. SapientNitro’s unique combination of creative, brand and technology expertise results in one global team collaborating across disciplines, perspectives and continents to create game-changing success for their Global 1000 clients, such as Chrysler, Citi, The Coca-Cola Company, Lufthansa, Target and Vodafone, in 31 cities across The Americas, Europe and Asia-Pacific. Sarah and Ben were nice enough to take time out of their (extremely) busy schedules to create a beautiful logo and website for this year’s AIGA50.


Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do.

Sarah: I’m a visual designer at a digital agency called SapientNitro. I started at the company over two years ago right out of college. My primary work involves user interface design for websites, but I also work in other areas that involve branding, art direction, and user experience.

Ben: I’m a Creative Director of User Experience at SapientNitro. In short, I help guide creative teams through the process of designing and building interesting digital products for our clients. In my time here I’ve worked on everything from re-imagining online education to helping one of the largest retail financial institutions set up an in-house “design thinking” incubator. Recently, though, most of my work has been focused squarely on designing responsive websites and mobile app experiences.


How did you get into design as a career?

SP: Growing up I always thought I was going to be an artist. I’ve always been more of a visual learner, so it’s been easier for me to translate my ideas visually. In high school I took a Basic Technical Drawing class which introduced me to typography and prototyping platforms. It sharpened my technical skills and understanding of design. I later studied Communications Design at Syracuse University, which had a strong emphasis on generating big ideas. The program solidified my passion for solving problems through design.

BC: I was always interested and engaged in design but I never considered pursuing it seriously as a career when I was younger. In college I studied pre-med and then psychology but was also the music editor for my school’s newspaper. Back then we used one of the first versions of Photoshop and I would work late into the night creating flyers and promotional materials for a band I was playing in at the time. The work caught the eye of a graduate student who was building the university’s first website and he asked me to help him “make it look pretty.” I taught him Photoshop (how to build an animated “under construction” GIF) and he taught me HTML. That ended up getting me a tech-consulting job once I graduated. That first job was heavily focused on back-end technology work which was challenging but visually uninspiring. I’ve since spent my career working in various startups, corporations and agencies in an effort to climb back into the front-end design work I’m leading now.


How did you get involved in this project with AIGA50? 

SP: Ben told me about it! We were fairly swamped with our current work, but knew it would be a great opportunity to be involved with AIGA DC. It’s also a very different assignment to deliver for. Since we work primarily in the digital sphere, it was a fresh challenge to work with event branding and print.

BC: We were contacted by the AIGA 50 Chair, Ryyan Joye, through a former Sapient Nitro colleague who had previously participated as part of the AIGA 50 planning committee. He mentioned the opportunity in passing and a few days later we were meeting with Ryyan to get started!

AIGA 50 - logo

How did you approach the project brief?

SP: We were given free range for design, which is both exciting and scary. Because AIGA 50 is a community event celebrating local creatives and their work, I brainstormed ideas that illustrated the networking aspect of AIGA. That’s how the constellation of connecting lines came into play. My team and I had also tossed around the idea of integrating an interactive component in the AIGA 50 invitation. The idea of origami was brought up and later became a source of inspiration for the design of the logo.

BC: Like Sarah said, the brief was wide open. We knew what the final deliverables needed to be, but essentially we had carte blanche for concept and visual design direction. The project definitely came with its challenges: a tight schedule, limited resources, and no preexisting assets. We started by brainstorming as many concepts as we could for an interesting invitation. We liked the idea of connecting the invitation to an experience beyond just opening it. But most concepts were scrapped because they were either too complicated or too labor-intensive.

We kept coming back to the theme of “connected community.” Sarah was doodling these beautiful geometric patterns on Post-its during our meetings and those eventually grew into the final design. The logo kept our initial folding paper idea and gave the lettering more depth. Deconstructing the design now, we realize that each element was inspired by completely different concepts but came together really nicely.

For the animation, I was experimenting with some JavaScript for another project and decided it would work well to highlight Sarah’s geometric grid. Ultimately, the goal was to make sure the design remained simple enough to clearly showcase the AIGA50 content.

How was it designing for designers?

SP: I think you try to be as ambitious as possible knowing you’re going to be sharing your work with other creatives.

BC: Fortunately, we didn’t have the luxury of time to overthink it, otherwise, we probably would have. I think if you worry too much about how your audience will react to your work – whether it’s a business client or a community of designers – then you run the risk of censoring good ideas and potentially putting out work that doesn’t represent you. In this case, the constraints helped to keep that from happening. We’re really proud of the final results!

By Pascale Vonier
Published February 3, 2016