Last June, I attended my first InSource Regional Roundtable, an amazing workshop where in-house creative leaders assembled to discuss the challenges, breakthroughs and best practices of navigating the design landscape within corporate America. I left the workshop creatively refreshed and with the business card of Andy Kurtts, the quirky, cool design manager at The Fresh Market, a chain of 125-specialty food stores operating throughout the eastern United States.
We agreed to meet later that month for lunch between sessions in Boston during the HOW Design Live Conference. Armed with our BIG tickets, he presented Private Brand Package Design: The In-House Perspective at the Dieline Package Design Conference. And we both—over lunch—reveled in Tim Cox’s genius on building a solid in-house team that helped grow the Publix Super Market brand with beautifully prepared, tasty creative.
Andy studied illustration, design and printmaking at the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida. In 2007, he decided to leave the depression infused recession in Florida and joined The Fresh Market in-house creative team as a graphic designer. Today, he leads that team in providing new perspectives on the design of environmental graphics and private brand packaging.
Outside of work, Andy is a voracious printmaker who is also advancing the awareness of his local design community by establishing a local AIGA chapter. You won’t regret having lunch with Andy Kurtts, a designer and printmaker with design skills equal to the culinary artistry of a master chef.
I’ve been looking forward to this! What are you having for lunch?
I’ll have the falafel wrap with cucumber sauce, seasoned fries and a sweet tea from my favorite lunch spot in Greensboro called Jack’s Corner.
Sounds delicious! My dad grew eggplant in our backyard along with corn, potatoes, cucumbers, pole beans, squash, blueberries, peaches, apples and of course “Better Boy” tomatoes. You’d think we lived on a farm; it was a half-acre in the suburbs!
My friends would see tassels from huge cornstalks billowing above our six-foot fence and point asking with a grimace, “What’s that?!” I was so embarrassed.
Today, the “farm-to-table” movement is both necessary and cool. In 1981, my dad’s “backyard-to-table” movement—not so much. In honor of my dad, I’ll order the Baba Ghanouj platter with extra eggplant dip!
Tell me, how has the “farm-to-table” movement impacted The Fresh Market’s business model?
The Fresh Market’s principals and value system grows alongside the “farm-to-table” movement. We believe in a small footprint, supporting local growers and getting to know the people behind the products produced. Our challenge is getting this message out to customers in an information-overloaded culture.
I'm curious, what's your earliest creative memory?
Watching my brother draw Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Leonardo (Michelangelo was my favorite). My brother is an incredible draftsman. I tried to copy him but it usually turned out horribly, making me really upset. I realized later that we all have a unique voice and style. The fact that I could not draw exactly like my brother was just fine.
How do you define design and its relevance in-house?
My practical, watered-down definition of design is a combination of ideas, strategy, typography, colors, composition and function combined to express a vision. I also believe if you create art regularly the definition and processes of design become magical. I think businesses that integrate design into their culture are much more relevant than those that rely solely on business school basics.
Why do you work in-house?
Since taking my job at The Fresh Market I’ve become slightly obsessed with in-house. Back in the day, I had no idea that a company like The Fresh Market had a graphic design position. I thought jobs like that only existed in outside agencies. The fact that designers can become an integral part of a client is very exciting. The design world seems to be taking a real interest in design created in-house. In my humble opinion, I’d venture to say we are entering The Golden Age of the in-house creative.
"The Golden Age ..." I love that and completely agree.
What role does your team play in developing private brand products like Dapper Cola or Harvest Pumpkin Salsa?
The Fresh Market has an amazing private brand collection. My team attends a lot of product tastings and cuttings. In those meetings we listen for clues that could be useful in designing the packaging. We never know what will inspire us. From there we follow a traditional design process: brainstorming, thumbnails, presentations, revisions, mechanicals, etc. We have also collaborated with the private brand and grocery teams on developing names of products like Dapper Cola.
Does the taste of a product influence the design of its packaging?
Definitely! We don’t have one “line look” for all our private brand packaging. So the combination of story, history and taste are essential influences in the design of a product’s packaging. The design can’t happen just by sitting behind a computer. Taste is an important influence.
Who are your design heroes; have they influenced your design aesthetic or work?
This is an incredibly hard question to answer, ugh! Well, I was exposed to art history before design history so the one fine artist who I look to for ultimate inspiration is the California painter Richard Diebenkorn. His colors, compositions, materials and ever-evolving vision enter my thoughts often. I also find German Expressionist printmakers incredibly inspiring for their limited palettes and bold statements. And I feel quite strongly that we all should portray the world as beautifully as Maxfield Parrish.
From a strict design perspective in-house designers occupy my realm of inspiration; the in-house team at Publix come in on top. Everything Tim Cox presented this year at the InHOWse Manager’s Conference resonated with me. I personally find Tim’s story aspirational. Finally, Allan Peters and the in-house team at Target are amazing!
I’m also inspired by the no-name designers from forever ago that created little labels and ephemera for packaging and products that now can only be found in antique shops and flea markets. Those folks just seemed like they created what was needed and did it because that was their job, not for fame or recognition.
You’re a fantastic printmaker! I see a mix of German Expressionism and a lot of fun in your latest work. How important is it for you to actively produce personal work—art for arts sake?
Thanks! Creating is my spirit. I’m deathly afraid of not sharing what I have inside. I believe it’s an essential part of a creative life. After a day of designing for your client, it’s nice to get some grit under your fingernails—wood chips in your hair. Printmaking is my main vehicle but I also like sculpting and painting crusty old pieces of weathered wood. Whatever keeps it interesting! It’s nice working with your hands and physical tools; these things feel so much better than carpel tunnel!
You’re working hard to get an AIGA chapter started in your area. Why is this so important to you?
It’s important to me on many levels. For one, I think some of the most creative people live in North Carolina’s Triad region. Second, there’s a unique voice and visual vernacular in our region that can’t be found in other regions of North Carolina. I’d like to shine a light on our unique voice. Plus, I think creatives in the Triad deserve the continuing educational opportunities that an official AIGA chapter provides. And last, my dream is for North Carolina to be known as design-centric. I believe having at least three active AIGA chapters that touch each corner of our state would get us closer to that dream.
If you could grab a bite with anyone in our industry (alive or dead), who would it be and why?
I'd love to have lunch with Tim Cox. I'd probably request a little more time with him to really pick his brain. We'd probably need to get beers afterwards.
Thanks for lunch, Andy. I'm headed off to The Fresh Market for a jar of that Harvest Pumpkin Salsa! Oh, by the way, congrats on AIGA Triad's successful signing party!
Ed Roberts is Creative Lead at ElectriCities of NC, Inc. and manages a team of creative superheroes. Follow Ed (@InHouseObs) on Twitter for more inspiration and insight.