What Inspires You?

A Discussion with NORDEN41

In this first in a series we’ll continue throughout 2019, MID asked Denver design firm NORDEN41 to tell us about what drives their creative output. “Think outside the box,” we told them — and they delivered.

Want to be featured in What Inspires You? Contact managing editor Kris Scott at kris@modernindenver.com

Words: Kris Scott

Ninety-nine percent of graphic design firm NORDEN41’s clientele are referral. That tells you something about how they’re regarded by their customer base. “Happy clients — that’s the goal,” says Matt Bargell, N41’s founder and chief creative officer, who started the firm in 2007. Creative director and designer Steve Gray came on board in 2013 and since then, N41 has continued growing its client list by providing refined design, intuitive websites and progressive media campaigns. N41 isn’t like other design firms, however. They have no sales pipeline, preferring to work directly with clients. “We’re really focused on working within our customers’ budgets and timelines,” Bargell says. “We consider ourselves a team player with the marketing departments of some of our bigger clients.” Translation: You won’t find any prima-donna behavior at N41, either. “We’re not trying to shove our design agenda down anyone’s throat … make them conform to what we think is cool. We try to understand what they like and then execute something that looks insanely great or works really well for the goal they’re after.” At the end of the day, Bargell adds, his team is “doing what we love — we hope people like what we’re doing, and we try to treat people fairly and be as creative as we can.”

We try to understand what they like and then execute something that looks insanely great or works really well for the goal they’re after.

Modern In Denver asked N41’s creative leadership team to provide examples of what inspires and influences them, creatively speaking, encouraging them to be imaginative in compiling their list. Here’s what they told us (and then scroll down to see a sampling of NORDEN41’s work):

NORDEN41’s Recent Projects

Matt Bargell

Founder + Chief Creative Officer

Swiss-Style Design

Also known as the International Typographic Style or simply the International Style, this design style originated in Switzerland in the 1930’s and 40’s and favors the simplicity — as do we here at NORDEN41. Given the ever-changing attention deficit of the average person, simplicity-in-visual-message and minimal amounts of text in today’s market have become imperative.

Mid-Century Modern Architecture

Mainly, I just love the oblique lines as they remind me of streamlined transportation. Also, I seem to be having a three-decade love affair with the extended horizontal rectangle which is on display with many of the window orientations of this movement.

The DeStijl Movement

I’ve always been fascinated with 20th century machinery — especially transportation (eg: cars, airplanes and motorcycles) from the golden age of the Industrial Revolution. The retro collage quality of the imagery in this video combined with the machinery and other manmade objects excite me. Combing these animated retro images with the straight lines and rectangles of the avant-garde De Stijl movement, I think this video creates a unique visual method of communication.

Albers and Moholy-Nagy: From the Bauhaus Design School: Circa 1920’s – 30’s

Similar to the Swiss style of design, Albers and Moholy-Nagy practiced the idea of breaking down visual communication into basic visual forms derived from the rectangle, the circle and the triangle. It’s this simplicity that excites me.

The Beat Writers

The beat writers were true rebels that challenged post war American culture. While everyone else was basking in the consumer-rich glory of the allies winning WWII, the beat writers turned inward and went after the real things that drive the human condition. Authenticity and realism are pillars of my personality and these have worked their way into my design and literature sensibilities.

Helvetica and Gotham Fonts

For me Helvetica was the first truly moderne type faces as it broke the roman character set down into square, rectangle and circular elements (Bauhaus school hallmarks). It has great clarity and seems to work well in a variety of uses. Similar in spirit to the functionality of Helvetica, the Gotham font family offers a fresh approach with characters of unapologetic consistent thickness supported by beautifully round Cs, Os, Qs and Gs.

Space Mountain (in Anaheim’s Disneyland)

It’s a reminder to me of the following: Just because something is intended primarily for “fun,” doesn’t mean that its sophistication or ambition should be compromised. Space Mountain is a fun ride, but it’s also a sophisticated work of art. There’s the naturalistic angle of its base, while at the top, everything is pointed skyward toward a human-engineered home in the future. I was 8 years old when I first rode Space Mountain, and it’s stayed with me ever since.

The Photography of Edward Weston

… reminds me that a photo is never complete for a graphic designer until it has gone beyond depicting the content of the photo. I like to abstain from adding my chosen photo into the layout until I’ve gone in there and Photoshopped it for maximum light-shadow emotion.

Road Bikes

These remind me of the value of stripping away unnecessary elements while remembering the core function. When a designer takes the time to strip away everything that’s unimportant, what’s left is often beautiful, functional, responsive and lightweight enough that the eye can digest it quickly.

The Opening and Closing Credits of Spy Movies

… inspire me on too many levels to list. It’s a tradition that probably started with the film “Dr. No.” Who would have guessed that a bunch of flashing colored circles appearing in random patterns on a black screen could make you feel afraid for your life?

Steve Gray

Creative Director + Designer