the Oil Factor

Sometimes, a design just hits the right chord, right away.

The Oil Factor is a couple of years old, and was the first time I had been tasked with doing a redesign of a product currently on the market. Starting the project, I was very concerned that I would over-design the cover, giving a distinctly clean, understated, and modern face to a older, grittier, and less subtle film. The established design was so far outside my tastes and style that I felt completely unable to retain original design elements, so I fired up Illustrator, and began with a completely blank page.

Graphically, this would be an entirely new style. Yet, I wanted to retain the same concept of the original film. The filmmaker clearly intended to sell a distinct narrative with his original design, so I wanted to keep the same narrative, and similarly overt at that.

My first idea was that of a globe covered in oil, but I then realized that I wasn’t creating that design, but remembering it from a film with a similar topic. Stealing a design concept sucks, but I think it’s even worse to create a design thinking it came from your own creativity, only to realize later that you stole it from a glance in the recesses of your mind.

Flipping through fonts, I quickly came across Compacta Bold. It just… looked like oil. The rest of the design nearly drew itself. From my experience with previous blatant and bold vector designs, I was afraid that this concept would be tabled as well. To my surprise and pleasure, the client enjoyed the concept, and wanted to see some applications. Being oil, it was only natural to turn it into an oil stain on the sidewalk.

Unfortunately, neither the straight black nor the oily coloration quite had the desired effect. Attempting to add to the visual narrative even further, I then tried laying the design onto a dollar bill. This proved to be a difficult (and somewhat legally dubious) task, and the early sketches didn’t provide an image compelling enough to pursue further.

Finally, I attempted to simply lay the vectors over a desert sunset. The silhouettes of the buildings provided for a natural visual metaphor for the design, and the colors were eye-catching and appealing. Looking into building sunsets was a fascinating exercise! It’s something I had never noticed before, but buildings carry the glow from the sunset in an aura around their outlines in photographs. I’m not certain whether it’s simply a strange trick of the light in a camera lens, but adding that subtle glow gave the silhouette a professional touch. With that, the rest of the design essentially fell into place.