Creator of the "Beefier" Block M: Martin Soave

Martin Soave with cartoon devil figures behind him

Martin Soave

Making Creativity a Career

Martin Soave was doing all the stuff a creative kid does when he was in high school in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan-drawing, painting, the works. In 1986, following his passions, he entered the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit. When they looked at Martin's portfolio, it was clear to them what he was going to be. "'Art Director,' they said. I didn't know what that was! I was just trying to figure out how to be creative and make a living," says Martin.

A year later, he transferred to U-M's art school and graduated with a BFA in Graphic Design. "U-M was more design studio," he says, "and that's where I wanted to be."

When Martin took a class at U-M's art school on typography, his "calling" became clear. "I was actually calling real people on the phone and talking with them about how to design fonts, what inspired them, and how they got started. It was the first time that I really made the connection between what real people do in their everyday jobs in this industry."

Typography was a natural fit. "It was a way of being creative, and having structure at the same time," he says.

Before joining Michigan Creative, Martin worked in a series of jobs, including the creative department at Zingerman's, and for now-defunct small design firms. In the early 1990s, he decided to go out on his own.

"I wasn't sure how to run an agency, but I knew how not to," says Martin. So he started one, and he was successful, but "I just burned out," he says. "It had gotten to the point where either I was going to be a creative or I was going to be a business person."

Martin started at what is now Michigan Creative in 1999. "I actually went to work for Biomedical Communications in the medical school. I had worked for them as an intern (as an art school senior), and they remembered me."

Over the years, Biomedical Communications merged with Marketing Communications which became Michigan Marketing and Design and is now Michigan Creative. On their website they describe themselves as "a team of writers, designers, project managers, photographers and web and video professionals who provide creative services for the U-M campus and Health System." Martin is one of their in-house multimedia designers.

A Bolder Image

Martin's latest accomplishment is the design of the new block M and "University of Michigan" font. His long-time friend, Michigan Creative's brand manager, Steve Busch, named the font "The Victors," after Michigan's famous fight song written by Louis Elbel in 1898.

By having one, clear "branding," the university's schools, colleges and auxilliary units become visually unified. "This [new block M/branding] is kind of an outward facing facelift. You will see that block M, and you will know it's Michigan," wherever you are in the world, Martin says.

"Actually what I did was took all of the existing 'M's and laid them on top of each other. We kind of matched them all together and that's what we came up with.

The serif font, Martin says, speaks to the history and prestige of the University. "I made it a little beefier than the normal serif," he says, "because so much of what we do these days is digital. I wanted to make sure it was readable on screen."

"It's probably closest to what the athletic department was using already," he says.

Ironically, Martin, who has lived in Ann Arbor for 26 years, has only been in the Big House twice. "And once was for a photo shoot," he says.

"When I see it out in the world (the font he designed)," says Martin, "I always do a little double-take." But that feeling isn't new to him. Martin sees his work often. He designed the logos for two local downtown Ann Arbor restaurants, Seva and Grizzly Peak. And four years ago, he bought a house (he is renovating) just down the street from the beautiful Argus Building, on the old West Side of Ann Arbor, where he works. So he's downtown, often.

In his spare time, aside from working on his house, Martin enjoys photography, mostly architectural and landscape. "I studied photography in art school," he says, "but didn't pursue it because I didn't think I had an eye for it. I've developed it over time. It's another way for me to connect things from a different point of view, which helps in the work that I do."

As of this writing, Martin was working on a website for Rehabilitation Robotics, which he says is fascinating. "The focus of this website is to attract the best and the brightest students. It has to be flashy, arresting, because students are bombarded with all sorts of stuff like this. Somehow we have to stand out."

In the end, Martin says, "It's really all about finding a way to convey the message, whatever it is. And the better I listen, the happier the client's going to be from the start."