Drew Hodges is a designer, strategist and founder of New York’s SpotCo, a creative agency known for the iconic branding of Broadway shows Rent, Chicago, The Book of Mormon, Hamilton, and many more. In his new book, On Broadway, he revisits the breadth of SpotCo’s work and exposes the best and the worst of the creative process. Drew is a long time member of AIGA and past president of AIGA NY. We talked with him about his career, his book, and why he chose to make the move to Maine.
What do you hope to capture about your work and SpotCo in this book?
With this book I wanted to do a lot of things.
One, I wanted a record of so much work. When you work in as dynamic an area as entertainment in NYC, the work comes quickly and goes just as fast. It is not uncommon to start an ad on Tuesday, release it on Thursday, and see it in the paper Friday. In addition, we work on approximately 25 shows a year, and each design has at least 6 or 7 outtakes. Much of the early work was on Quark—so I also wanted to do some archiving here and find what was lost.
I wanted to hear from other people we worked with on these projects—Broadway is an incredibly collaborative process. There are around 65 different people writing in this book besides me.
Lastly, I wanted to share process—the branding thinking that goes on before we ever start to design. Each of our projects is a fresh launch, and we are working with an almost blank slate. So deciding what the unique position and qualities each project possesses is an enormous part of the job. I call this the ‘EVENT.’ If I ask you, “What I should see while I am in New York,” you may say Kinky Boots. Then I will say, “Why?” What you say next is the ‘Event’—word of mouth powered by enthusiasm. And it will form on your project if you do nothing, often in a direction that is inaccurate and unfortunate. So you have to know what you want it to be, and then consider how to get there graphically.
Have you always been passionate about theater?
I lived in the Hudson Valley, two hours by train from the city. My first love was Rock ‘n’ Roll shows—Yes, The Rolling Stones, at the Garden. I began to see Broadway shows—the first I can recall were Sweeney Todd and Ain’t Misbehavin’—two amazing shows. Throughout art school at The School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, I continued to see both kinds of shows, plus dance and of course art. But I never intended to work professionally in it. After school I was lucky enough to work for Paula Scher, and did entertainment work. That led to me starting my own five-person design firm. That firm was hired by Geffen records to do album package work for Lisa Loeb and Aerosmith among many others. And that ultimately got me my first Broadway gig—Rent.
How you long have you lived in Maine, and what prompted your move here from New York?
I shared a weekend place in Kennebunkport for ten years or so. Four years later I began spending weeks at a time on Mohegan, reconnecting with watercolor. Finally, my partner and I bought a place on the mid-coast in Cushing. That became our go-to getaway from NYC, and we just fell further and further in love with Maine. Every time we would drive by Portland with five hours left to go, we realized what a fun and convenient place [Portland] would be to live.
Finally, I sold the advertising agency. For me, New York had become synonymous with work. I needed another place to go. But we now live eight minutes from the airport and I visit New York every six weeks or so to consult, or enjoy. So it works perfectly.
How long have you been involved in AIGA? What was your focus as President of AIGA NY?
I served a three year stint on the board of the AIGA NY somewhere in the mid 2000s and then returned as President for another around the wonderfully flush economic times of 2008. That year, every sponsor disappeared and it became clear that survival of the chapter was at stake. New York is the largest chapter, and due to people coming through, it often has speakers available. But suddenly we needed just what all the other chapters needed—free spaces, and no lecture fees. Honestly, continuing the great work that so many had done before me was my goal, but my actual job, along with some rock star fellow board members, became ushering the chapter through that tough time.
What are some exciting trends or opportunities that you see in the design world today?
The trend that excites me has nothing to do with virtual reality or an amazing blog—it’s the idea that design/branding/marketing/event planning—whatever you want to call it—can be an enormous part
of successful launches and helping business and nonprofits alike achieve their goals. Designers need to claim their place as part of a key path to success for our clients, not just participants in a retail beauty pageant. That’s really what I hoped to show in the book. Paula said I should call it “How I made money making Posters”, but hopefully people who see and read the book will understand that there is both business and art featured here, and I couldn’t be prouder.
Drew’s Book On Broadway: From Rent to Revolution can be purchased at http://www.amazon.com/Broadway-Rent-Revolution-Drew-Hodges/dp/0847848248
AIGA Maine Member Spotlight is a regular series where we highlight one of our members. If you would like to suggest a member for an upcoming spotlight, please email our Membership Director at Kara@maine.aiga.org.