Meet IFC’s one-man in-house design team

When Duke Aber joined IFC’s marketing team last November, he landed the kind of job you never plan on actually getting. Up until then, the Independent Film Channel outsourced all its design work. Last summer, for example, New York design firm Gretel spiffed up the brand’s logo and visual identity to make it more flexible on digital networks like Tumblr, Hulu, and YouTube. But around that time IFC started thinking about bringing design in-house, and, as luck would have it, Aber was looking to move from his graphics gig at Complex.

“It’s where our voice should be coming from, not from outside agencies,” he says. “We know best.” Aber’s hire signaled the start of an era of proprietary design at IFC, with him in charge of a small team—a very, very small team. “It’s just me,” he says.

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Aber happens to love the redesign that Gretel produced and has no plans to change it. In fact, coming on board after such a clean, fresh redesign is a boon to Aber, who’s responsible for putting together ad spots for each IFC show. “If you can just keep it consistent with what they put together, then you don’t have to kill yourself over every custom promotion.” Aber’s job is to carefully implement bespoke campaigns for the network’s slate of shows, each of which uses the anchor logo but has other colorful details woven throughout. Take Benders, an IFC original comedy about hockey that’s premiering this fall. “Benders is about a bunch of dudes on a hockey league, so we have the logos on scoreboards, but it’s still contained within that brand.”

Other campaigns have been a bit trickier to figure out, like the third season of The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, created by its star, David Cross of Arrested Development fame. To understand the storyline, Aber says, it’s crucial to know what happened in seasons one and two. “We’re trying to come up with a campaign that explains that without making you go back to watch everything,” he says. “Plus, [Cross] looks totally different.”

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Aber collaborates on these one-offs with the creative director, who was hired around the same time, as well as the in-house motion designer. At times, he also has the unusual advantage of working with the shows’ creators. Therein lies the beauty of working at a network defined by indie programming: small-scale operations foster a dynamic that would likely never happen at network behemoths like FX or ABC.

For Documentary Now!, a new show this summer by Fred Armisen and Bill Hader, Aber worked on materials with the two comedians. “That was an amazing collaboration—they obviously know what they’re doing.” Each episode in the series is a sort of mockumentary from a different time period, crafted specifically according to Armisen and Hader’s unique comedic perspective. They gave Aber actual photos to work with—a rare move, Aber says—and worked with IFC on spoof documentary posters to go with each episode.

Not every project gets that kind of devotional care—especially from actors who came down through SNL’s ranks—but Aber says that collaborative spirit runs through any campaign project he takes on. No strict hierarchy, and “no barking orders.” It helps that IFC isn’t chained to a corporate brand identity and that the general ethos is “less marketing, more art. If you have a great product you can pretty much make anything from it.”

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