Designing, Branding, and Creating Community

By Eric Johnson


Ted Holladay explains why his career is at its highest mark, and not yet peaking.

Ted Holladay, who has run the design and branding firm Studio Holladay in Santa Cruz for more than a decade, has a number of highly developed skills that all get put to use in his work.

He is an award-winning photographer, a brilliant (and fast) graphic designer; his branding dexterity is strong enough that so many consumer-facing Santa Cruz companies and institutions bear the Studio Holladay mark, it must be said that Ted has contributed significantly to the way this city looks.

Last year, Ted was able to bring many of his skills together on one project: a book commemorating the 150th anniversary of one of Santa Cruz County’s oldest companies, Martinelli’s, makers of, among other products, the sparkling apple cider that is a holiday staple nationwide. (And a tasty summertime treat!)

In 210 pages, Ted tells the story of this legendary company beautifully. So beautifully that, at the 2019 Silicon Valley Addys, a contest run by the prestigious American Advertising Federation, the book won two Gold awards— for book design and cover design. It also won the Judges Award, kind of a best-in-show, competing against not just books but all marketing efforts in Silicon Valley for the year—magazine ads, TV commercials, online videos, etc. At the regional awards he picked up two Golds, at the nationals he won two Silvers. Not bad for a book about an apple farm.

So … photography, design, graphic arts, branding. What am I leaving out? 

I would say strategy. Because that’s something that I apply to most every branding project that I work on. And if I can't handle the strategy myself, I pull it in the right people who can, especially on larger projects.

So which of these skills came first?

Definitely design. It started when I was really young, when I was 16. I wanted to go into fashion design, but my father, who was a minister, wouldn’t allow it. So I thought about becoming an architect, but I found there was math involved, and I just said, ‘nope, don't want to do that.’

It happened to be a year after the Macintosh came out. So I chose to go into what was called desktop publishing, which was designing on a Macintosh computer. There was no training for it, no schools for anything like that. So I transitioned from traditional graphic design, cutting rubylith and laying down type and using typesetting machines to working on a Macintosh. Doing typesetting was my first job at a printing plant in Pennsylvania.

So I'm pretty much self-taught, learned along the way. I have an AA in theology, but no design.

You’ve done a lot of high-profile projects in Santa Cruz, from the MAH to the library to the wayfinding signage that keeps tourists from clogging up Ocean Street. Tell us about a couple of projects.

Okay—well before NextSpace opened its doors I worked with Jeremy Neuner, Ryan Coonerty, Caleb Baskin and others in regards to what they wanted to achieve brand-wise, and with their logo, and what their long-term vision was for this co-working space. They were on the forefront of the co-working movement, which was starting to take off, and they mentioned to me that it wouldn't necessarily be just here in Santa Cruz.

And so I wanted to come up with a system that would work for different cities. It was meant to represent the Table of the Elements chart, with a big ‘N’ and a small ‘s,’  and it was meant to represent the Table of the Elements chart . The original idea was to use area codes, so there could be a 831 NextSpace , a 415 NextSpace depending on the locale. And I came up with this tagline, “It's elemental,” meaning it's a thing that you should do. And another tagline: Hang. Loose. With periods. Again simple—it’s place to come and hang.  And it's loose! It's not a typical business place per se. And they've used that for a long time now.

Can you talk about how branding works in two different directions—on one hand, for the public, it projects a company’s image. But what about for the people on the other side of that? Can branding help sharpen their thinking about where they’re going to take their company?

I could speak to that in regards to the MAH. So, the Museum of Art and History in downtown Santa Cruz came to my studio to rebrand. It used to be called the Museum at the McPherson Center, I believe. And there's a big red ball that's been sitting on the corner outside of the museum forever. And not everybody necessarily recognized that that's a part of the museum. And the red ball wasn't going to go away. 

And I thought, let's shorten this down to MAH, put it in a ball, like the ball out front. And it also creates a nice system to where, inside the ball, similar to the old MTV logo, you're able to put in most anything you want—it could be a painting, it could be art splashes, it could be people—it’s a container for all the things that go on in this town. I worked with Nina Simon, obviously the previous director of the MAH, to develop that brand idea. That was six, seven years ago and it's still standing strong. 

And I honestly can't see it going away. It has legs, it has strength, it's modern. I'm really drawn towards logos that are flat—that aren't beveled, that there's not a whole lot of going on with them. The MAH and NextSpace are very similar in that regard.  And the brand lives on in all of their collateral—mailers, their website and newsletter have been done based on the original brand work that we created, and none of the collateral work was done by my studio. And this something I love to see.

The red balls that are now hanging in front of the Abbot Square entrance in front of the mirrored walls…

Yup. I was on MAH’s board at that time. There were submissions from all around the United States. One was is a huge diving board, maybe 50 feet tall, out on the sidewalk and pointed towards Abbot Square. Meaning ‘this is the place to dive in.’ I loved that idea. But the impact of the red balls—that quarter circle in the corner reflective wall creating a full circle. And it ties back to the brand, so it’s ingenious I think.

Let’s talk about the Martinelli’s book.

Well, it’s kind of a big deal because it’s this Watsonville company’s 150th anniversary, and it was also Watsonville’s 150th anniversary. And it’s just this amazing story that begins with the Martinelli brothers leaving Europe and coming to California during the gold rush. And they didn’t do well with that… there’s a quote in the book where their mother talks about the fact that they hadn’t yet sent any money back home.

And it just tells their whole history—about how they planted a bunch of trees and just grew it from there. These two guys grew this amazing business in Watsonville and that still where a majority of their apples come from. And the book chronicles right up to today, where they have a bunch of new plants and new facilities.

I worked with their archivist; there were hundreds upon hundreds of old photos that I scanned; there were bottles and packaging ads and brochures; and physical objects and I had to photograph. And I hired a copywriter for the project, and I found the printer—I basically managed all of it from beginning to end. And I have to say this that’s my favorite project I’ve ever worked on.

Last thoughts?

I feel like, you know, I’ve been a graphic designer for a long time now—it’s been 34 years. But I honestly feel like right now is the best. I am more excited about my career than I’ve been. I’m the most excited about doing what I’m doing. Part of the fact is that I’m here in Santa Cruz and I get to work on really cool stuff—it’s not just tech.

I’m getting reassurance from others in my field that are really heavy hitters—people I’ve been watching and learning from, and they’re saying, ‘you learned it, Ted you’re doing it.’ And I learn all the fucking time. I’m not stopping. Most every day I try to learn something new.