INTERVIEW – Justin Barber

Bold, Smart, Efficient Graphic Design


Born and raised in Tokyo, Japan – but currently located in Savannah, Georgia – Justin Barber is a freelance graphic designer (he claims his mum once won a pie baking contest and let him keep the trophy) who specialises in branding and identity. His work has been recognized by Apple, Behance, and International Designers Network, among others. 

Justin’s creative use of negative space in his logo designs are definitely something to envy. With some of his designs taking 15 minutes to over two weeks, it’s wonderful to see how far Justin has come in such a short time, and we can only imagine just how far he’ll go in his career as a designer. Below, all the way over from Australia, we interview Justin Barber about his beginnings and what the experience is like working on a design project. 

Hi there Justin how are you? How is life in Georgia treating you?

I’m doing well! Georgia’s playing nice but I certainly wouldn’t mind it if I woke up tomorrow and found myself magically transported to Australia.

We’re loving your work! Tell us about how you became working as a freelance designer.

Thank you! My freelance work really began in earnest in March of 2012, right after Spring Break of freshman year. I had just finished a Color Theory class that, thanks to the awesome professor who allowed us to do major-specific projects instead of just mixing paint the whole time, enabled me to produce four portfolio projects. Those projects in combination with the three I had completed for scholarship made me feel like I finally had enough work to display and motivated me to set up my own website. I already had a Behance and Dribbble portfolio, but thought having my own “.com” would make me more legit. Within a few weeks of my site being up I was fortunate enough to receive two or three job offers and they’ve kept coming since then.

Copyright – Justin Barber

Have you studied in design or are you self-taught?

After two years at art school working towards a BFA in Graphic Design it seems wrong to say but I really consider myself to be self-taught. Prior to my first class in college I had never been formally trained in any type of art; I spent my junior and senior years of high school absorbing everything I could find online about graphic design while teaching myself all the software. I’ve found that design is very intrinsic to me, so I don’t mean this in a conceited way, but my time in college has benefited me more in giving me design “reps” that facilitate my growth and development without the pressure of real-world consequences than in the learning of new skills or concepts.

How do you like to spend your free time?

I take naps pretty much every day after class to recharge. I have a few TV shows I really like (Modern Family, Parks & Rec, Community, Suits) and watch a lot of NBA. But really (nerd alert) a lot of my free time is spent on design. Looking at it, reading about it, making it…A couple of weekends ago I had some down time that I didn’t know what to do with so I made this for practice:

Copyright - Justin Barber
Copyright – Justin Barber

My friends teased me about having no life, but when you want to spend your down time doing the same thing as your work, you know you’re in the right place.

What is one of your favourite pieces or projects you’ve worked on and why?

My work for Takeaway Gourmet will always have a special place in my heart because not only were they the first major clients to hire me, but they’re also fantastic people doing something really great by providing a healthy, convenient food option in the second most obese city in America.

Copyright - Justin Barber
Copyright – Justin Barber

Their Facebook page is littered with comments from customers that are a testament to the positive difference in the world they’re making, and it’s a privilege to have played a small part in that. I’ve been working with them for just over a year now so it’s also cool seeing how far I’ve come in my understanding of branding since then and how that’s impacted the direction of the project.

Copyright - Justin Barber
Copyright – Justin Barber

How did you begin working on the piece/project, and does the outcome look similar to the first plan?

They found me right after my site launched and tried emailing me at the address I provided on there, but the address didn’t work (it works now, believe me). Thankfully they didn’t give up and actually ended up finding me via Facebook and messaging me on there, so after our initial contact there were a few phone discussions about what they were envisioning and I began creating some concepts. I ended up with around three different refined logos that I knew were complete garbage, but I didn’t have anything else to show them so I went with it anyway. Their feedback basically mirrored my feelings, one was ok but ultimately we hadn’t found “the one” yet. This was my first major client and I was totally stumped, which is a really scary place to be. So I went back to the drawing board conceptually and was able to identify where I had gotten off track, and started making a new logo. I hit this point where I had completed about 25% of it and I just knew it was going to be the one even though I wasn’t quite there yet. I was almost shaking in excitement as it was happening because I could see it unfolding in my mind before I was actually creating it on screen. That final version went through some fine tuning of the minute details no one would notice, but ultimately it’s the same look as their logo now.

Copyright - Justin Barber
Copyright – Justin Barber

When approached by a company to design or redesign a logo for them, what are the steps you take before the actual creation of the piece?

We’ll talk big picture first, and then as the logistics get taken care of (budget, contract, deposit). I ask them to provide me with a more detailed brief of the project that usually also contains three to five examples of logos they like. After looking over it I formulate some really targeted questions to get to the bottom of what they’re envisioning. Being able to narrow down what the conceptual side of the project is before any creation begins is absolutely key – so I’ll dialogue with the client until I’m convinced I’ve gotten everything out of them and I have a crystal clear idea of where the project needs to end up before starting even if I don’t necessarily know what it will look like.

On average, how long does a logo take to complete?

Sometimes it’s fifteen minutes and sometimes it’s a week or two.

What do you enjoy most about working on larger projects?

I love having the opportunity to explore what the concept and design can become further than just a logo. Nothing is more disappointing than creating a great logo, handing it over to the client, and that being the end of it. It’s like ending a book on a cliffhanger but there’s no sequel. So it’s always a really fun challenge and incredibly satisfying experience to push the concept and design further by discovering how to creatively present it in various contexts.

Copyright – Justin Barber

Where do you hope to go in the future in terms of your career?

As far as my short-term future, I’m hoping to transition into a design firm after graduating next year (ideally they would specialize in branding and identity). Ultimately, though, I want to go completely freelance or start my own firm, and that’s something I can see happening in the next five to ten years and something I want to be invested in long-term.

If you could summarise your collection of work in under a sentence, what would it say?

Bold, smart, efficient.

The Quirky Two:

If you had once chance to speak to everyone on the planet at the same time through a P.A system, what would you say?

There’s only one thing worth telling everyone in the world! I’d tell them I’ve got some bad news and some good news: The bad news is that we are born sinners and no matter how hard we try we are going to die sinners. BUT the good news is that because Jesus willingly took our punishment on himself by dying for our sins and rising again, we can be redeemed and enjoy eternal life – a completely free gift offered to us, no strings attached. All we have to do to receive it, is ask for God’s forgiveness and accept that it’s purely by His grace we are redeemed.

If you could sit down for coffee and chat with a person of interest (celebrity, actor, writer, designer, photographer) dead or alive, who would it be and why?

Steven Heller for sure – the man has written more about design than I will ever even know.

Work of Justin’s we can’t get enough of:

Truth & Lies Project
The Coffee House
The Studio

You can view the rest Justin’s Behance Profile here, or visit his website here.
We can’t wait to see where you go in the future with your design Justin!

Copyright – Justin Barber