Q+A: Marcos Chavez of TODA

We recently got the chance to speak with Marcos Chavez, the Principle and Creative Director for TODA, a multidisciplinary design firm housed at 20 Jay Street.

How did TODA get started?

I founded TODA 16 years ago with my friend from college, Mark Naden. We first met when both of us got the same job working for the student paper as the “layout” designers. I was studying graphic design and he was in architecture major. We both liked how we were able to bring our interests and skills together, with his 3D point of view and my conceptual perspective to create innovative and interesting design work. We made a simple plan saying, “let’s go get jobs, learn our craft, and then bring together what we learned someday and make a business of it.” And so we did that! Ten years later we came to New York to start our company. We wanted to brand ourselves in a smart, friendly way that communicated our concept of bringing several different disciplines together — as in TODA — which means in “everything” in Spanish. Project by project we approached our work by putting “the idea” first and created a range of work that would always find the best ways to communicate the idea in whichever mediums were best. Our mission was and still is: “to create ideas that inspire.” Over the years we’ve developed all kinds of design projects, from designing tea kettles to websites, creating books, chairs and designing exhibits, as well as packages and spaces. We’ve worked on naming and branding companies, designing products and collaborated with many individual people to create ideas that inspire.

What kinds of clients do you work with?

We’re a communication design firm that has a multidisciplinary approach with diverse clients to create different types of design pieces. We work with global companies like; Johnson & Johnson, Revlon and Samsung and also work with small companies and start-ups. Working with that range gives us a broad perspective and being able to affect the growth and success of a company at any size is exciting to participate in. With my work for the Revlon brand, American Crew, I was able to first (over 20 years ago) create the logo and packaging for product line and then over many years work with a team of great people to help build it into the number one men’s grooming brand in the world.  Our clients not only come in many sizes they also come from a broad range of industries and causes. We’ve participated in the education and publishing sector working with clients like Reader’s Digest, have done many projects in the health and beauty industry working on brands like MOP, Rogaine, o.b. and Listerine and recently creating a campaign for Johnson & Johnson’s sponsorship of U.S. Soccer. And for sure, we find it most inspiring to work with socially minded non-profit organizations like The Knight Foundation, AIGA and The American Foundation for the Blind.

What's your work style like?

We are visual communication designers with an affinity for the simple and smart. So in our design style and in our work space we like to balance form and function in new ways, while always leaving room for a twist or surprise. We love both minimal aesthetics and also have a heart for humanistic expressions that go against the grain.

Our work style is derived from our celebration of diversity. We find that source through the team we have, working with people from all sorts of backgrounds and interests and with a common thread of wanting to make a difference in the world through design. The key part of being a designer is you have to have the ability to empathize in order for your designs to reach the target audience. Designers need to be able to connect with people emotionally through the use of little weird shape, colors, lettering, images and words; and then bringing those elements together in a way that can touch people. We bring that together everyday in order to create work that effectively connects with the goals and audiences of our clients.


Tell us about your involvement with the DUMBO Acronym Challenge

We really enjoyed working on the DUMBO Acronym project as it gave us a chance to acknowledge the great community that we have been fortunate to be part of for the past 5 years. Having to deconstruct the meaning of the DUMBO acronym was a fun challenge and our approach was to bring new deeper meaning to the DUMBO name by acknowledging the innovative and creative spirit of the neighborhood. We came up with “Discover (Yo)Ur Mind Blowing Originality” as a nod to not only the creative community of DUMBO, but as an acknowledgment of our collective creative heritage. Our key inspiration was found in the work of early 20th century artists who paved the way towards modern design. Artists from the Dada movement who celebrated ‘nonsense’ through their use of words, typography and imagery. So our poster uses that inspiration to guide how we approach our typography and illustration choices resulting in a poster that is fun and engaging, representative of our neighborhood today, while still being rooted in the kind of thinking that got us all to where we are today.


I think for us, being in DUMBO is about being in an environment that’s inspirational. DUMBO is a destination – somewhere worth coming to everyday, to do the thing you want to be doing. DUMBO has a unique environment rooted in history and populated with forward thinking people. What I like about the neighborhood is that it feels like a small town, yet it has a global edge with businesses and organizations that are diverse. From tech to non-profit, artists and designers. DUMBO isn’t just one thing, there’s an energy for getting things done, making things better, celebrating life. I really like what the DUMBO Improvement District has been doing by recognizing this diversity and creating an even stronger environment for us by simply plugging together the broad range of people, creating activities and environments and enhancing our community.

What is TODA's office culture like?

Throughout the years we’ve always put a focus on the kind of people, space and activities that make up our culture. The people in our office is the most important thing to me and having the right kind of environment that inspires those people to come together to do the hard work of design is key. We definitely have an office with a range of energy. From periods of people diligently and quietly working, to stretches of exchanging  and sharing with each other. We try to be sure that we don’t find ourselves overly focused on our work and try to get up and out, having lunch together, going to events or taking field trips. My favorite is when we randomly take an afternoon, tape a sign to the door and head off to a museum to get outside of our routine and get inspired. I also encourage my interns and staff to share their work on occasion, just like we use to do at “show-and-tell” in grade school. I teach at Parsons and I think it’s important to have a mentality where we’re still in the mindset of being in a learning process.  We’re here to learn from each other and share with each other.


Your favorite place in DUMBO?

I really like the new entrance here to the park. We can walk out of our office and with a few steps we have the river and New York City in front of us. You can climb up that little grassy knoll, and sit on a thick soft carpet of nature and soak in the sun while facing the coolest city in the world!