BNC 2022 stories: the creation of Center
At the Brand New Conference 2022 in Austin, Texas, Alex Center kicked off proceedings with a rip-roaring talk about his life as a designer. From once being a shy child growing up on Long Island, he would go on to found his own design studio, Center, which boasts a client list including the likes of Conbody, Heywear and United Sodas of America.
With an expectant crowd having formed inside the stunning Long Center for the Performing Arts’ main theatre in downtown Austin, designer Alex Center gave a passionate and comical talk about his way into the world of brand design.
Having grown up on Long Island in the state of New York, Center found himself surrounded by “douchebag gym bros” and “douchebag finance bros”, as he describes them, meaning he struggled to fit in as a sensitive child.
Early on he developed a love of clothing brand Tommy Hilfiger, which offered him a more enticing identity than anything else presented to him. From there, he developed an appreciation of the power of brands which stays with him to this day. The possibility of becoming a graphic designer was too enticing.
Starting his career out at beverages company Glaceau, Center cut his teeth with some of the most exciting up-and-coming brands (and certainly played his own part in their rise). With no brand was this more evident than Vitamin Water, which he helped transform into a product with a luxurious touch, and enjoyed by celebrities.
With this success saw the Coca-Cola Company buy out Glaceau, and Center found himself working on some of the biggest beverage brands in the world including Powerade. Someone who despises change, he came to the difficult realisation it was time to move on and create something new for himself.
And so Center, initially comprising of just Center himself and a recent post-grad named Pete, was born. Starting with no clients and a rather loose business plan, the new design studio slowly but surely pulled itself into shape. Immediate success was found with Conbody, its first client. The fitness bootcamp studio was set up by an ex-convict and was appropriately branded with attendees being able to take ‘mugshots’ after their workouts.
More successful projects followed suit and by 2018 a new level of fame for Center had been achieved due to its project with United Sodas of America. By utilizing simple, colourful packaging to represent the unity of diversity that exists within the country, Center had created a brand whose products many people wanted to have as almost a cultural statement.
But it is the agency’s work from the past six months that Center may come to be remembered. Apple came calling and, after beating the competition at the pitching stage, Center can now call arguably the world’s biggest brand a client. But what is his secret?
He says, “I don’t look for the most talented people. I look for the best people.”
From once being a nervous child with a dream of designing for the biggest brands, Center has reached his goal and then some. He now enjoys giving young designers opportunities at his company and encouraging them to be themselves.
“Brands live in people, not in guidelines,” he concludes.