In these strange and uncertain times, trying to move forward in your career and carving out a path as a creative can be… daunting, to say the least. Behind every twist and turn lurk dreaded “what if’s”. What if my approach is stale? What if I’m not different enough? What if the competition blows me out of the water? What if?
Designer Damjan Ćorić (he/his) is fearless. A seasoned and entirely self-taught designer, his academic background in psychology has made him this way. He knows that building a solid brand goes beyond the logo. It’s much more about the emotions and community the brand inspires in those who interact with it. Taking a collaborative approach with clients and making sure they understand the “why” behind his aesthetic decisions, he guides them to comprehensive brand identities with longevity and power.
His designs lean into the nostalgic and punk rock, and are very much a nod to his personal interests. But what really sets him apart is how he shares his knowledge with fellow creatives and clients in an effort to educate others and build his network. After all, knowledge is power. And he has a lot of it.
Read on to get a crash course in heraldry, Instagram and Damjan’s best advice for designers navigating the industry.
Hey Damjan! Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself?
Hey, 99designs! I’m a 27-year-old psychologist from Bosnia and Herzegovina, currently living between Mostar and Trebinje with my wife. As a kid, I loved spending time outdoors with my grandad and caring for the many animals we had. When I discovered music, namely punk, in my teens, I was captivated! It shaped the way I think and approach life and really made me who I am today. That’s why I always try to support the punk scene as much as I can.
In college, I first studied sociology and psychology as someone fascinated with local heritage and the human mind. This tied in well with my new-found passion, heraldry, which I’ve actively taken up as a member of The Serbian Genealogical Society.
Did you know…
The use of heraldic symbols as a means of identification spread throughout the European nobility in the 13th century. It originated when most people were illiterate but could easily recognize a bold, striking and simple design.
via Encyclopedia Britannica
What inspires you?
My inspiration comes from a variety of sources, mostly from the history of graphic expression. Things like vintage posters, historical monograms, medieval manuscripts and heraldry to name a few. I read a lot about anthropology, linguistics, psychology and sociology which sparks my imagination and gives me topics to ruminate on. As for the edge, I believe it comes from my personality that’s been shaped by counterculture.
As a self-taught designer, do you remember the moment you realized design was the right path for you?
I’m not sure if I can pinpoint the exact moment. It feels like design came naturally to me. For as long as I can remember, I was always drawing—in sketchbooks, notebooks, textbooks, on walls—you name it.
Later I attended a technical high school and learned the basics of CorelDRAW. I continued to explore the software in my spare time, creating t-shirt graphics and gig posters.
One of my classmates noticed I was getting the hang of it and encouraged me to sign up for 99designs. I wasn’t expecting much from it but I thought, “why not?”
As crazy as that sounds, I ended up winning the very first contest I submitted designs to. Maybe it was beginner’s luck, but at the time it truly reassured me that I was on the right track.
I’ve noticed you share a ton of useful information about branding and design on Instagram. Everything from explainers about different types of logos, to general design advice. When did you decide to start doing that, and why?
Instagram isn’t something I’ve always been consistent with. However, earlier this year, after I received my Master’s degree, I realized I had enough time on my hands to keep up with a frequent posting schedule.
At first, I was just sharing my favorite pieces to get feedback from fellow creatives and market my business. Then I started getting so many DMs from young designers looking for advice about developing personal style, different industry standards, and processes. I was talking with them 1-on-1 for a while when it struck me that by creating educational content, I can share my experiences and help others as well. It does take time and energy but it’s super rewarding to read comments and messages from young designers saying they find my content valuable.
It struck me that by creating educational content, I can share my experiences and help others as well. It’s super rewarding to read comments and messages from young designers saying they find my content valuable.
Without revealing any of your trade secrets, what role does the network have in bringing you clients or industry connections?
Instagram is the #1 spot for networking for me. The platform is purely visual and facilitates conversation which makes it perfect for designers and artists, and it’s great for lead generation because it has a global reach and a huge user base. Today it’s essential for me to get clients, gain insights and grow my brand.
I’m active on 6 social networks at the moment (LinkedIn, Facebook, and Pinterest apart from those mentioned earlier) and continuously creating new content for them can get difficult and time-consuming. To avoid getting overwhelmed, I take it easy and do my best. That’s all I really can do.
Well, we love reading your tips for designers. What’s a branding trend you foresee taking off in the near future?
Nostalgic branding for sure. The reason is simple: people naturally reach for nostalgia when in crisis. The pandemic was a major crisis, the kind that’s hard to fully recover from. Now that its end is in sight, the whole world is going through a challenging time.
Nostalgia helps us cope with difficult chapters because it evokes feelings of comfort and reminds us of ‘the good old days’. For brands, simple old-school aesthetics can make them seem friendly, relatable, and reliable—which is exactly what their customers want.
Plus, even new businesses get to leverage the loyalty of established brands if they go for a vintage look.
A lot of people think that nostalgic branding is only right if the target audience is older. However, young consumers find it appealing and memorable, too.
Trends are moving faster than ever, and keeping up with them has become tiring and frustrating. Nostalgic branding offers a different way, one that represents a reaction against modernity and capitalism and the exaggerated consumption of mass-produced goods.
Thanks for the insights, Damjan. Now, paint us a picture: what does a typical day in your life look like?
The first thing I do every morning is play some music and make a fresh cup of coffee. I do a couple of light stretches and then spend an hour or so researching something non-work related that interests me online. This puts me in a good mood and makes the rest of the day less stressful.
When I’m ready to get to work, I write up a list of tasks I want to complete. I always start with the most demanding one as I’m much more energized and creative in the morning. After breakfast, I try to read in silence for at least 30 minutes before delving back into client work (with another cup of coffee of course). If I notice that my mind is wandering, I take a short nap to get back into productivity mode and push through until dinnertime. Once it rolls around, I take a walk with my wife before we eat and watch a couple of episodes of whatever TV series we’re into at the moment.
I have to say that I wasn’t always the type to have a routine. Now that I’m older I definitely understand how beneficial it is. When I’m traveling or busy and I fall out of my routine, I tend to get a bit anxious.
What do you think has been the most rewarding part of being creative? What has been the proudest moment of your career?
For me, it’s simply doing what I love. I wake up in the morning and look forward to work! In fact, I find it therapeutic. And if that isn’t a privilege, I don’t know what is.
This provides great learning opportunities for me as branding design requires loads of research. Plus, it enables me to meet and befriend people from all over the world.
I always feel proud when I see the brands I designed come to life. Sometimes it feels unreal and it’s definitely a humbling experience. It’s also incredible that I had the chance to work with some of the bands I grew up with. However, the proudest moment of my career must be when I received the 99designs award for Best Branding Design in 2021. It inspired me to work even harder and definitely helped my business grow.
What’s your favorite industry to design for? Your favorite project? Any clients you want to shout out?
My favorites are brands in the craft beer and spirit market, followed by the alternative fashion industry as that’s where I can get most creative.
My design style is vintage, edgy and raw, and I think it works best with brands that nurture values like craftsmanship, authenticity, originality and history, whichever industry they’re in.
In terms of projects, it’s very hard to pick a favorite as they’re all unique. If I had to name a few, I’d mention the branding for “Witching Hour Brewing” from 2021, and the logo for Thirty Something Record’s Vinyl Collection “From City to City” from 2022. Both of these projects went so smoothly! The clients and I hit it off right from the start. They loved the first proposal I sent over and the designs didn’t need a lot of tweaking before finalization.
As for clients that deserve a shout-out, one comes to mind right away: Gia Adams Wheeler, the founder of sister brands Adamo1987 and Industry Instincts. We created the logo for Industry Instincts from scratch and refreshed the logo for Adamo1987 earlier this year. Collaborating with her was such a pleasure throughout the process, from conception to delivery.
What music shaped your life?
I grew up listening to classic British street punk (bands like Cock Sparrer, Cockney Rejects, The Business, Blitz, etc.) and punk bands from ex-Yugoslavia. With time, I expanded my horizons to different genres. Now I also enjoy blues, ska, bluegrass, metal, psychedelic rock, dark wave and ethnic music, depending on my mood.
It wasn’t easy narrowing down the playlist to 10 songs, but I tried to pick tunes I’ve been jamming to most lately. Hope you like them, too!
Do you have one piece of advice to pass on to fellow designers?
Good design isn’t solely about execution and the technical side of things. A huge part of good design is the concept, the idea behind it, and the message it communicates to the audience it’s intended for. The prerequisites for creating amazing concepts are a familiarity with marketing psychology and a good grasp of general knowledge. On top of that, thorough research when starting any project is an absolute must.