A Collaboration and Labor of Love: Designing Handle Barbershop

25, Nov. 2019

By Hunter Oden

Handle Barbershop specializes in classic style haircuts and shaves, offered in a unique and comfortable setting in the heart of downtown Little Rock, Arkansas.

All design decisions were made with timeless history in mind, as Handle Barbershop was created with a deep respect for the history and craft of barbering.

The focus of this blog entry is less about the process behind designing the brand for Handle Barbershop than it is about praising optimal client relationships and building quality work that is award worthy.

To share the enthusiasm behind this project requires me to first discuss graphic design bucket lists. All graphic designers—both green or seasoned, should begin their career with a bucket list. That should be one of the initial tasks following the decision to make aesthetic compromises on behalf of others in exchange for food on your table and a roof over your head. Because, in reality, there's going to be hundreds of projects in between those bucket list opportunities that simply pad your bank account and force occasional late night quandaries over why you chose this career in the first place.

One of the milestones on my bucket list was to design for a brick and mortar storefront. Too often, I design logos, brochures, or t-shirts and send off the files to a satisfied client, only to see the results in a poorly composed iPhone photo that made its way onto Facebook.

When I was contacted about the possibility of designing for a new barbershop downtown, I knew this project would be special as soon as we met on site for an initial briefing. This wasn't just any storefront. This was prime downtown real estate, complete with everything hipsters young and old collectively love. Old wooden and hexagonal tile floors, exposed raw lumber, a full interior wall of textured concrete and massive windows facing Main Street.

Handle Barbershop Interior View

An overview of the shop, shortly after opening in early 2019.

The balance of work I do ranges from a small percentage of larger-scale projects that make their way onto this portfolio page of comprehensive brand identity design cases, to a large percentage of retainer-based work for clients outside of Arkansas that are looking for quick-turn    /    same day volume over quality.

I can typically gauge which projects are going to make the cut for my portfolio following the first presentation and review by the client.

In reality, there's going to be hundreds of projects in between those bucket list opportunities that simply pad your bank account and force occasional late night quandaries over why you chose this career in the first place.

All designers work with clients who make arbitrary alterations to their work in progress, mainly because it makes them feel more ownership over it. Building a quality portfolio is a delicate balance to strike, where oftentimes these alterations sabotage the work at the benefit of keeping the client happy. In the more fortunate cases, clients understand that a professional designer doesn't warrant a lot of alterations, and can instead be trusted to educate them on the process and deliver the work they expected to receive without the need for excessive modifications.

The branding for Handle Barbershop was one of those rare lucky situations, where any feedback that warranted altering was always prefaced with a strategic rationale. For the most part, the key decision makers encouraged me to make progress on the branding without limitations or fear of a bunch of changes.

An overview of most of the vector design artwork from the Handle Barbershop project

An overview of most of the vector artwork from the project.

I've found that clients who have a creative background, training or practice usually understand this more than clients who have never focused on graphic design outside of signing a contract to start working with me. The camaraderie that is built from these types of relationships usually results in a better product, happier clients and over time, referrals to future clients with similar expectations. Rather than trying to sell my services and persuade future clients, my past clients have already done that job for me, while showing tangible results along the way.

Despite having no stake in the business, I was made to feel like I played an important role in its creation. The owner would seek my opinion on every minute detail over the three month process that the shop was being built. He also made his position very clear, in that his vision was to work alongside local artists to collectively bring something special to downtown Little Rock. This level of control and trust is what I would encourage any client to bring along with their expectations when working with a creative professional. I can guarantee that the results you will get out of your team will be far superior to a more rigid style of management.

The branding for Handle Barbershop was one of those rare lucky situations, where any feedback that warranted altering was always prefaced with a strategic rationale.

I’m truly proud to have played a small part in this project, and I’ve gotten some pretty cool accolades as a result of it too. Despite conscious efforts to resort to social media promotion at a minimum, I was incredibly excited to receive all kinds of feedback when the popular Instagram account, @logoinspirations picked up the Handle Barbershop logo and shared it with their global audience. On the local front, the logo design took the Gold and Best of Design Addys at the 2019 Little Rock Ad Club awards ceremony.

Screenshot of the popular Logo Inspirations Instagram account featuring the Handle Barbershop logo by oden.house

The popular Instagram account, @logoinspirations featured the Handle Barbershop Logo.

2019 Little Rock Ad Club Addy Awards—Best of Design and Gold awarded to Hunter Oden of oden.house

2019 Little Rock Ad Club Gold and Best of Design Addy Awards, for the Handle Barbershop logo design.

While awards and paychecks are nice, I still feel like I'm invested in this career for being able to point to small pieces of work I've done that exist in the real world. I take a lot of pride in walking by the shop on Main Street and seeing the sign we all developed to be produced by Redgie Adams and Jon Moore of Adams signs. This relationship led to me working with Redgie and his daughter on their business, Toast Provisions, which offers unique experiences and custom signage to discerning clients within the hospitality industry.

Process shot of the sign letters in production at Adams Sign Shop

An early process shot of the sign letters in production at Adams Sign Shop.

If any current or future clients have read this entry, I hope they can get a sense for the types of situations that surround a positive designer  /  client experience. And if any peers have read along, I hope you either started or reassessed your graphic design bucket list. Early in the career, with the opportunities coming so sparingly, it's one of the only reminders that can keep you motivated as you continue to make steady forward progress creating a brand for yourself and building trust to take on bigger and better jobs.

A note of all people involved in the creation of Handle Barbershop, hidden in the framing of a wall in development

A note of everyone involved in the creation of Handle, hidden in the framing of a wall under construction.

Handle Barbershop owner, Lane Guthrie representing the Handle Barbershop trucker hat

Handle Barbershop owner, Lane Guthrie, rocking the Handle trucker hat.

You can see this project in full here. After being published, the Handle Barbershop logo also won a Bronze WOLDA (Worldwide Logo Design Award).

Process shot of the sign letters in production at Adams Sign Shop

Portrait of Art Director and Graphic Designer, Hunter Oden

Hunter Oden

I'm an art director and graphic designer working in Little Rock, Arkansas. Occasionally, I'll blog about typography, educational resources, or my portfolio and design process.