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Art & Design How Hoodzpah Became a Small Design Agency EmpireAmy and Jennifer Hood launched their brand identity studio in 2011 — and the twin sisters have been crushing it since doors opened.

Hoozpah Design Triumph bonneville Motorcycle illustration

You have undoubtedly seen the work of Amy and Jennifer Hood. The twin sister design duo from Southern California have packed a lifetime of creativity into less than a decade through their brand and identity studio Hoodzpah Design Co. From their vibrant illustrations to original typeface and logo designs, they have worked with brands such as Target, Google, Red Bull, Airbnb, Disney, and more. While their work speaks volumes on its own, the sisters Hood have no interest in resting on the laurels of their past designs. They regularly speak at events, sharing their learning experiences — both good and bad — to educate and inspire other designers and entrepreneurs both young and old. With the release last year of their first book, Freelance, and Business, and Stuff: A guide for creatives, Amy and Jennifer show no signs of letting off the gas anytime soon. We slowed them down enough to answer a few questions, talk about dangerous old cars, and the good, bad (and sometimes ugly) world of design life.

Iron & Air: Who is Hoodzpah and what is your background?

The Hood Sisters: Hoodzpah is a brand identity and design studio based in Southern California. We’ve been designing for companies big and small since 2011 — everyone from small boutique shops like Barista Parlor and Docent Brewing to big huge companies like 20th Century Fox and Red Bull. We’re twin sisters, and like it or not, our paths have been intertwined since the womb. We both started out in the art world (if you can call spending four years on a two-year Community College Art Associates degree “the art world”), but switched to design when one of Amy’s regulars at the coffee shop where she worked offered us an apprenticeship in design at the local coupon clipper. Long story short, after three years the magazine folded. We were unhireable on paper but knew we were capable of more, so we started Hoodzpah and it’s been a wild ride ever since.

When did you both realize you wanted to make a career together?

Our mom always told us growing up that we were each other’s greatest assets. So I think we always knew we wanted to do something together.

There is a strong typographic foundation to everything that comes from your studio. Tell us why that is important.

Coming from art, I think we always just naturally want to sketch it and do it ourselves. For me, I often have the perfect lettering for a project in my mind, and instead of scrolling font foundries until my eyes bleed, I figure it’s easier to just make it myself. Also, since we mainly do brand identity design, we want to make sure the logos and wordmarks we create are ownable. What better way to do that than by creating your own lettering?

Who are your typographic heroes of the past and present?

Hands down, Herb Lubalin. He’s so maximalist, as am I. Everything has swashes galore and personality turned up to 11. Also, Susan Kare is a legend. She was just an art student when she was tapped to design the Mac icons by Steve Jobs and Apple. She had no idea what she was doing but she trusted her gut, and when that wasn’t enough, she hit the books. She also created many of the first bitmap fonts for Apple. I think she really resonates with me because she wasn’t classically trained; she was a student of research, like we are. Modern type designers I always look to for advice, feedback, and to just admire their work include Erik Marinovich, Adé Hogue, Simon Walker, Kyle Letendre, Mark Caneso, Lauren Griffin, and Teresa Wozniak.

There’s an element of automotive/moto influence in some of your work. What is it about motor vehicles that inspire you?

I think growing up in Huntington Beach and San Clemente, CA, it’s kind of ingrained in us through osmosis. There are classic cars, hot rods and rat rods, choppers and bikes everywhere. We love the custom culture of creating your own Frankenstein machine. We also just love all things vintage and retro. Old movies, music, cars … we’re here for it all. Our first car ever was a 1963 Chevy Corvair — “unsafe at any speed.” Amy’s daily driver for three years was a 1972 Mercedes 280 SEL and Jen drives a 2003 Land Rover Discovery. There’s nothing like driving down PCH with the windows down in an old car. You make friends at stoplights. Kids smile and wave. It’s so fun.

If you had to freeze time and live in one era of auto/industrial/graphic design, what would it be and why?

We love the ’60s and ’70s when it comes to cars and design. That’s when everything was extra: extra chrome, extra room, extra muscle, extra saturated colors, and the same goes for design.

What motivates you to create? What do you do to avoid burnout?

Usually, it’s the idea of something I want (a poster or a font) that I haven’t seen or haven’t seen done the way I want. Or it’s a harebrained scheme with friends. We have so many talented friends who have started businesses and we get to be the ones to visualize the design for them. Avoiding burnout is tough. Inspiration is a fickle mistress, she’s with you for a month and then gone. So you have to take advantage when she strikes. But when she’s left you, and you’re questioning your life and career and abilities, the best thing is to just walk outside, go to the beach, see that the earth is still spinning and the waves are still crashing. As much as design matters, it also doesn’t matter at all in the grand scheme and that’s good to remember.

What is your favorite distraction when you should actually be working?

Amy: I’m super into baking! I’m obsessed with The Great British Baking Show. My specialty is pies from scratch. Can’t wait for cherry season to be back.

Jen: TV. Every time! And eating.

No need to name names, but what was one of your biggest design failures/rejections, and how did you overcome it?

About three years into running Hoodzpah we got the biggest project we’ve ever gotten. A big, year-long website platform project with big bucks attached. We often subcontracted a good friend of ours to do dev when we needed it. She was sort of the unofficial Hoodzpah teammate. The project was our contract, but we really trusted her, so we just gave her access to the project bank account to pay out the dev team as needed. Very quickly she began to butt heads with our client. And then one day she just took half of the money out of the account and said she was out. The dev team still had to be paid and she wouldn’t give us access to any of the files. A huge lawsuit ensued, and even though we won in court, she still hasn’t paid back the money, and a friendship was lost over it. I think that’s the hardest part about growing up: realizing how much money affects people. So no matter if you’re working with your best friend or loved one, always write out the terms of your agreement and get an approval, at least in email or some form of writing, but even better in a contract form. Outline a termination clause in your contracts so people can leave amicably and easily. We now include really detailed kill fees so that if a client or subcontractor wants to get out of a project at any stage, it’s easy for all parties to know exactly what is owed in money and design files. Contracts are your lifeline! Our contract saved our butt.

Besides Iron & Air, who would be your dream client?

One of our big dream clients is the Lakers, and we are actually starting a project with them this year! We’ve gotten to do some movie title treatments for our friend, the talented Neri Rivas at 20th Century Fox. We’d love to do more in the movie/TV space in the coming year. Working with some of the moto/auto brands we love would be amazing: Land Rover, Mercedes, Triumph, Audi, BMW. Also, to our two biggest vices — Coca Cola and Coors — we will work in trade. To be able to do a big, high-level rebrand — to be trusted with that — that’s when we’ll know we’ve made it.

Flash forward 20 years … What does the future of Hoodzpah look like?

Two crotchety old twins bickering and making rad designs. Maybe with a little more money in the savings accounts.