Industry Spotlight: Steve Stark Designs

Welcome to the very first in a brand new series of blogs we are putting together!

We already have our customer spotlight blogs. Where we chat to and learn more about our amazing customers.

We also have our product spotlight blog where we showcase one of our favourite products and show some awesome photos of it.

In this new series we will be chatting to other companies who we think will be useful to our customers. So that could be designers, printers, web developers, market organisers. Anything that will be of help to our awesome customers. So if you have a suggestion, let us know!

With our very first industry spotlight blog we welcome Steve Stark who is an amazing graphic designer and illustrator. And owner of Steve Stark Designs.

Steve Stark design blog

Hi Steve! Thanks for joining us in this new blog feature! Can you tell us a bit about yourself, what you do and how you know Sen5es?

Hello. I am Steve Stark. I work as a freelance graphic designer/illustrator.

For the last year or so, the bulk of my workload has been food and beverage industry related. Mainly labels for hot sauce and all the branding and design that goes with it. It is something I have experience in and love doing.

I became aware of Sen5es via James Grace, the founder of The Somerset Chilli Co, who I have been working closely with over the last few months on the rebranding of the business.

Most of my work is from overseas, so it’s great to meet you guys and now be able to refer a reputable company to UK clients when they ask if I have any recommendations.

How did you get into design and illustration?

When I stopped tattooing, I wanted to find a way to continue making art for money. I wanted to find another way to use my skills as much as possible. I’m completely self-taught and never want to stop learning. Earning a living with art never gets old for me. I am very appreciative that I get to do this and forever grateful to my clients old and new for making it possible.

Tealbird sauces label by Steve Stark Design
Tealbird Sauces - Houston, Texas

I see from your website that you are influenced by tattooing, skateboarding and street art. How did you start designing bottle labels?

I have always been interested in brand image, especially for hot sauce and beer. It sounds cocky but sometimes I would look at things out there on the market and think that I could do better.

Whenever I had no paid work coming in, I started to reach out to communities online that were full of people that brewed their own beer and others that made their own hot sauces.

Without labels on all their products looked pretty much the same. I would reach out to a handful of them and say something like “let me design a killer label for your hot sauce - no charge”. 9 times out of 10 they would say yes. It gave me a lot of experience in designing labels.

Now I am lucky enough to be in the position that people mostly reach out to me and I get to charge money for it.

How important is the right label and logo to a small independent food company?

If you are wanting to get yourself out there, I think that it is everything.

It’s a way to represent who you are as a business. Your brand image means a lot. You could be sitting on the greatest products ever but if they are branded badly, people may not gravitate towards it.

Some of Steve's designs from left to right: Tropical Thunder - Bergen, Norway | Angry Emu - Indio, California | The Somerset Chilli Co - Bath, Somerset

What advice would you give to someone who is just starting a small food business and is starting to think about branding?

Go for it but do not rush into anything. Take your time and work towards creating something that is built to last.

Find out how you want to identify yourself against other products on the market. Find out what your competitors are doing, what do you like and dislike about how they are doing things? Could you improve on that?

Start building up a bank of reference pictures of how you want to identify yourself. Note every bit of inspiration you find, no matter how small. Write down any and every idea you have.

Find a reputable graphic designer that you can work well with. Bounce around some ideas and do not be afraid to ask silly questions.

What recent projects have you been working on?

A lot of my time recently has been invested in The Somerset Chilli Co’s rebrand. I have been working with James Grace on a completely new look for his company. James had already been going for around 6 months and gained a great following. It has been a big task, but never laborious!

We’ve basically worked from the ground up, starting with a new logo and then moving onto his range of sauces and everything that follows. Lately we have spent a lot of time working on banners and loyalty cards for markets and creating menus and hospitality labels for stocking his products in restaurants, bars and pubs. It has been great watching his brand grow.

The Somerset Chilli Co's brand new labels
The Somerset Chilli Co's brand new labels

Where do you get your inspiration from?

Lately, Instagram. I opened an account at the start of the year. I’m about 10 years late to the party but better late than never. I mindlessly scroll through that and sometimes see something genius that inspires me!

I have a lot of artists that I’ve looked up to forever, mainly from the tattoo industry and skateboarding world - people like Steve Caballero, Vernon Courtlandt Johnson, Mike Giant and Jim and Jimbo Phillips. Whenever I can’t get into the swing of things, I’ll just look at their work.

How do you start designing a bottle label when a new client comes to you?

Normally I’ll set up a video call or phone call, but most are happy to liaise via email. It’s a lot easier to speak “directly” at first as it just saves on a lot of back-and-forth emails in the early stages.

Clients mostly have a vague idea of what they want and provide some visual reference or even something they have scribbled on paper, it all helps. We discuss layouts, themes, colours and anything that’s related to the overall look that they want.

The early concept of a label design I create is rough, I just keep it fast and loose for the initial concept. Just to ensure that the client and I are on the same page before investing any heavy time into a project.

Once we have the basics down, I create a more refined concept, that is still very open to changes. It doesn’t matter how many iterations we do, I want it to be perfect. Once we have a more refined concept down, I create a final, print ready version for the client.

Most clients are happy to take it from there, but others like to have me deal directly with whatever print service they use. I am always more than happy to.