Verified Expert Brand Designer: Character

Character is celebrating its 20-year anniversary this year, and this SF-based branding and design agency has a lot to be proud of. Founded by Ben Pham, Tish Evangelista, and Rishi Shourie, Character has helped startups like Doordash, Glint, Molekule, and many others, launch their companies into the world. We interviewed co-founder Ben Pham about Character’s early days, their commitment to collaborating with mission-driven founders, and why relationships define who they are and what they do as a branding firm.

On working with entrepreneurs:

“When you have an opportunity to sit in the room, hear how passionate they are, how they left a cushy job, and this is their mission, it’s inspiring. Oftentimes, it’s not financially motivated for them. It’s not about their ego. You think about that, and you’re like, “Wow, I get to be in this room with someone that’s really passionate” and we start believing in it. We have to believe in what they’re creating, and we have to believe that they’re leaving a positive impact on our culture. We want to make sure founders are contributing in a positive way. We believe in the people that we’re working with and what they’re doing.”

“The Character team was extremely creative and easy to work with, always open to exploring new ideas.” Howard Nuk, SF, Co-founder at Palm

Character’s branding philosophy:

Great brands, for us, is about relationships. It’s a long-lasting relationship, and those relationships are earned. We think of brands like a character within a story. They have a unique characteristic about them. When you have dinner parties, you’re inviting people into your home who you’re going to enjoy the next three hours drinking wine, eating food, and just talking to them. You always know who you’re going to invite and the dynamic of the room. We think about brands in the same way.

Below, you’ll find the rest of the founder reviews, the full interview, and more details like pricing and fee structures. This profile is part of our ongoing series covering startup brand designers and agencies with whom founders love to work, based on this survey and our own research. The survey is open indefinitely, so please fill it out if you haven’t already.

Interview with Character’s Creative Director & Co-Founder Ben Pham

Yvonne Leow: What’s Character’s origin story? How did it get started?

Ben Pham: We started in 1999, and the reason why we started our agency was, in 1999 if you were in San Francisco, and practicing graphic design during that time, a lot of our work was coming from biotech, and technology companies. Those companies did not look like the life science, biotech companies that we see today, because they were not lifestyle companies. Tech companies, during that time, did not look like lifestyle companies. We’re like, “Well, that’s not an area that we’re really interested in.” We felt like, you know, in southern California to LA, and New York, a lot of branding agencies were focusing on consumer lifestyle brands. Fashion, apparel, interior, and nobody was really doing that in San Francisco, and that was something that we were interested in. So we were like, “Let’s do that.”

As a result, we landed our first project, which is branding for Pottery Barn Kids. That really was a very different way of thinking about branding for kids, because most time, people think of bright primary colors, jumbled type. We realized that kids are not our target audience, it’s really parents, so we made a smooth and sophisticated system. And that got a lot of attention for Character, and then we went on to work with Gary Friedman, the CEO of Restoration Hardware.