Designers Matt Titone and Ron Thompson met in 2009 while working at Saatchi & Saatchi Los Angeles. Both have experience at large agencies and small design studios alike, so when they decided to open their own multidisciplinary firm in 2012 in L.A., one of the first things they knew they wanted was the freedom to pursue all kinds of projects without limitation.
After an exhaustive naming process, they chose the name ITAL/C. “We like it because it’s not too descriptive or cheesy, and it’s part of the design vocabulary,” says Thompson. “It’s also a way to stand apart without shouting and be a little more elegant.” Fortunately, they didn’t have to shout to get business, but they did make a conscious decision when they opened shop that they wouldn’t take on freelance projects any longer. “We told anyone who approached us separately for design jobs that they had to hire our firm. It was hard to turn down freelancing gigs, which are often pretty lucrative as an individual,” he says.
Situated on a busy street in Venice Beach, ITAL/C is sandwiched between two very colorful storefronts—a hair salon and a Mexican restaurant. Its plain, white facade is in stark contrast to the busy neighborhood, a nod to the firm’s modernist sensibilities. But inside, it’s more like a man-cave with bookshelves and desk spaces built from beer pallets, lots of colorful art on the walls, a big wooden table in the center of the room where the two partners work.
When they aren’t working on client work, Titone and Thompson create their own projecs for causes they’re passionate about. For instance, with California experiencing its worst drought in decades, the duo devised “Drought Tips,” which they posted daily on their Instagram feed for two weeks until they got too busy with other jobs. “Hopefully, we’ll have time to make more soon, because we really had a lot of fun with it and it’s an issue of great concern to us,” says Thompson.
Their first commission was for Family Band, a traveling photo booth company run by two brothers and a sister in New York City. “They build these cool little photo booths at high-end events that produce only Polaroid pictures,” Thompson says. ITAL/C created a fun, pared-down branding system that included take-aways like Polaroid photo sleeves, tote bags, business cards, and little pins and stickers. This clean, back-to-basics aesthetic, punctuated with graphic illustrations, is what these guys are known for. “We draw a lot of influence from mid-century modern style and the Eames’ approach, which is optimistic and simple,” Titone says. “We’ve been really excited to work with clients who are starting out themselves, and come back with new, bigger deliverables to help them succeed.”
But they’re selective about the kinds of clients they work with. “We don’t want to sell sugar water any more. We’ve made a conscious effort to work with clients who are committed to things we love and believe in, such as athleticism and healthy lifestyles,” says Titone, a surfing enthusiast. That’s why they were stoked (to borrow a local phrase) when Reebok asked them to design Rally, a magazine about professional female athletes. Yes, they’re all wearing Reebok, but there’s real—not filler—editorial content here, too. “It’s basically a catalog disguised as a magazine,” Titone says. “We came up with the concept for the issue, managed photo shoots in L.A., New York, and France, and hired female writers so there was a female voice throughout the issue.” The bold, colorful photos pop when paired with the clean (and cleverly laid out) sans serif type, allowing each spread to tell a different story.
In addition to client work, they run Indoek, a surf culture blog offering original content, mobile travel guides, and beautifully designed products (no joke, this is probably the nicest wax kit you’ll ever see). It’s become so popular in the surfing community that pro surfers often contact them asking to be featured. Such was the case with Owen Wright for “The Anatomy of Owen.”
“Owen is one of the best surfers in the world. His agent is a huge fan of the site, so he offered up Owen to us, and we built a narrative around him,” Titone explains. “Physically, he’s huge. Most surfers are small, squatty guys, but Owen is like the Russian in Rocky IV—really built. He’s a force and he stands out.” The stark, black-and-white photos portray Wright almost as a mythical creature. The design purposely avoids surfing images and innuendos, to put him in the same context as other professional athletes.
With a portfolio brimming with projects from animation and illustration to motion graphics, identities, and interiors, Titone and Thompson are steadily making a major name for themselves not just on the West coast, but in design community at large. “Our niche is that we don’t have a niche,” says Thompson. “We’re restless souls, and it’s exciting to work on so many different things.”