Designer Spotlight: Benjamin Dooling

Designer: Benjamin Dooling
Specialty: Packaging Design, Print, Brand Development
Location: Pasadena, CA
Design Motto: Smart. Simple. Cultured.

Benjamin Dooling grew up amidst the shavings and sawdust of his father’s furniture-making business. It was a setting flush with creativity: He’d watch as chunks of raw wood were given new life as credenzas, tables and chairs. It was artwork not hidden behind glass cases but that you could literally touch.

It wasn’t long before Dooling picked up his own tools—pen, paper and a MacBook—and began channeling the passion he witnessed in his father’s woodshop into his own handiwork as a graphic designer.

Dooling has found a niche in branding and packaging for the food and beverage industry, designing for companies including Starbucks, Seattle’s Best and Bellagio. Like his father before him, Dooling found himself drawn to creating designs that you can hold in your hand.

“Today’s world is becoming more and more intangible,” Dooling says. “I take pride in design that is hands on. It’s what drives me.”

Indeed, it was the driving force when he created a self-promotional piece earlier this year to attract a potential client. Rather than simply send the prerequisite resume, he turned to foodstuff packaging to proclaim his message: He designed kraft-paper bags filled with locally-roasted coffee and screenprinted them with a fully typographic design that illustrated both his packaging prowess and restrained design philosophy.

“Sometimes simple is difficult to achieve,” Dooling says. “It’s like being an architect. Making things work smarter and more efficiently in your design.”

That his style hinges on simplicity is something of a rarity in the world of packaging, where starbursts and blocks of in-your-face text are practically par for the course. But Dooling relishes the challenge of creating a clean design that will sell on store shelves.

For instance, when he was tasked with creating the packaging for a line of bottled smoothie drinks, all he had to start with was a generic white bottle. The owner told him, “Make it look good.”

Rather than going over-the-top with the opportunity of such an open slate, Dooling was intentional with every design element, even down to applying a clear label. “It was a fun challenge,” he says. “It goes to show that sometimes the simple things, the smallest touches, can make such a big difference.”

Of course, no one can deny the cachet of designing for such choice purveyors as those that adorn Dooling’s portfolio. But when you’re designing yet another bag of coffee, how do you keep your designs as fresh as the contents sealed inside?

“I get inspired by things that are completely different from what I’m working on,” Dooling explains. “I try to look at things that are not in the industry at all. If I’m given a project to design a new line, I’ll go look at industrial things or objects from history and maybe apply those ideas to it.”

It’s not surprising that for the guy whose creative spirit was sparked in his father’s woodshop, he has a knack for finding inspiration all around him. Even in another bag of coffee.