Eli Altman grew up in a household of writers, so it was only a matter of time until he became a part of the family business. At the tender age of 16, he got his first naming project and has been enjoying manipulating language in new creative ways ever since.
— The Logo Creative™ (@thelogocreative) October 23, 2019
He is currently the Creative Director of the brand naming studio A Hundred Monkeys which is a small creative studio with the mission to help make an everlasting impression, stand out in the crowd and tell the world what you’re made of.
After Eli graduated UCLA, He got a position as brand strategies for Meta Design in San Francisco while in this role he helped position the naming process.
In the year of 2012, Eli transitioned to his current role in the family business at A Hundred Monkeys, the California based brand naming studio that was originally founded by his father in 1990.
By having that experience of working with a bigger agency, then transitioning to a leadership position at A Hundred Monkeys has spared inspiration into Eli that has lead him to devote time to the business side of running a small creative studio.
As Eli explains in his Book Run Studio Run, He wrote it because the vast majority of books he’s read and the resources he has found hadn’t been created with the creative community in mind, and some concepts and improvements fit right, others felt out of place or needed to be adapted for running a small creative studios, he started to write down his own experiences and lessons learned along the way.
This lead to his second book Run Studio Run.
When we think about the business aspects of running a creative studio, there are very few books that act as an accurate guide such as this one.
Eli explains he believes that most creative studios can, with a little guidance, run much more profitable businesses.
Running a business is a lot like having a brand. You have one whether you like it or not so you might as well put in the work to have a good one
The Logo Creative – Hi Eli, I really enjoyed the book Run Studio Run it was a fantastic read, and the book design is really awesome. it’s also a pleasure to be featuring you in our interviews.
Eli Altman – Hi Andrew, thanks for the kind words, glad you enjoyed the book and happy to answer any questions you have. Fire away.
The Logo Creative – What was the turning point in your life when you decided to become a designer and how did you proceed?
Eli Altman – When I think back on it, I’ve wanted to do branding for as long as I can remember. When I was little I loved going to the grocery store with my mom to see all the new products. When I was eight I drew the logo of every professional sports team in the United States. I loved art and English at school. I took my first graphic design course in high school at the nearby California College of the Arts and designed an identity for an ice cream shop.
The Logo Creative – What does your day consist of?
Eli Altman – I wake up at 6:45 and get to work around 7:30. I like to get to work early so I have some time to work on my own. When I wrote Run Studio Run my main writing sessions happened at this time before everyone showed up. We always brief new projects at 9:30. I try to be as productive as I can as early as I can because I know it’s hard for me to get work done in the afternoons.
Depending on the day I’m working on naming, writing, presenting to clients, coordinating with partners. I usually leave work around 2 pm and take my dog, Davis, to the park. Davis loves the park. Then I usually go for a walk or run to reset a bit. After that, I check back in with work and finish anything else I can do on my own. I almost never work late. Never have.
The Logo Creative – Are you a morning person or night owl and is there a reason why?
Eli Altman – Definitely a morning person start work early and never work late at night.
The Logo Creative – What was the first logo you ever designed?
Eli Altman – I designed a logo for my “design business” in second grade. As far as I remember it only appeared on my business cards, of which I made 8. The business sadly closed down due to lack of paying clients.
The Logo Creative – What is your favourite logo you have designed?
Eli Altman – I don’t really know. I stopped being a designer after college. I went to UCLA and received a design degree. I started working at MetaDesign as a brand strategist because I saw that I could be more of a contributor as a writer and strategist. I still love design and spend a ton of time with it. Occasionally I design things for side projects but I prefer to work with my friends who are much more talented designers.
For the past 10 years, I’ve been working at and running A Hundred Monkeys, a creative studio that focuses on naming and brand messaging. So from here on out in this interview, I’ll be answering as the writer I am instead of the designer I might have been.
The Logo Creative – What’s the best name you’ve developed that the clients DIDN’T go for?
Eli Altman – For me, it’s important to not spend a lot of time thinking about what could have been. Design and writing are so subjective. There’s the work and then there’s the ability to convince clients it’s the right work. It’s important to not get attached to the work you’re doing for other people. We develop around 500 names for a client over the course of a project. We screen around 50 and present 24. In the end, they’re only picking one. As it turns out I have a terrible memory for the names that could have been. One time we did a whole project for a new chain of pizza restaurants inside a big hotel and then they decided they wanted to turn them into Chinese restaurants. Go figure.
The Logo Creative – What are your favourite names of all time?
Eli Altman – Some of my favorite names (that I had nothing to do with): Teenage Engineering, Africa Twin, Flik Flak, Cards Against Humanity, Outdoor Voices, Big Ass Fans, AiAiAi…
The Logo Creative – Can you describe or give us an overview of your naming process?
Eli Altman – In broad strokes — We start with understanding the project and people involved. As naming is subjective it’s important for us to get a sense of the decision-making dynamics for the group. We establish positioning and create what we call Naming Objectives which is how we tie naming to positioning. Once we’re aligned on what we want the name to do we start our internal creative process. Everyone on the team works on naming. All names are evaluated by the project team. Names that pass legal (and sometimes cultural) screening are presented to the client. The process is iterative. We want to end up with 3-6 names at the end of the process for a thorough legal review. From there we work with the client’s decision-makers and our design partners to pick a name.
The Logo Creative – What brands do you most admire and how do they influence your creative thinking?
Eli Altman – I like brands that show you that you don’t need to be like everyone else to succeed. Brands like Virgin, Caterpillar, and Big Ass Fans act like a license of sorts, showing people just how much you can get away with. By the numbers, most brands are serious, boring, or both. I like the brands I can point to and say “See? It’s ok to have a little fun.”
The Logo Creative – What do you consider your most successful project, and why?
Eli Altman – I think the trap here is to just pick the most successful company or product. To me, a successful project is one where you develop really strong work and get the client on board with something that will help them stand out for the right reasons.
So I’ll give you two answers. The first is Standard Deviant, a brewery in San Francisco. Normally we don’t get away with names like this. This time I’m happy we did.
I’m also really proud of Overture, the supersonic jet we named for Boom. It’s a dream to have your work on the side of an airplane. I’m excited to see them get to that point.
The Logo Creative – How long does it take to complete the average project from start to finish?
Eli Altman – Naming projects are 3-5 weeks. Writing, positioning, and brand architecture projects can take much longer.
The Logo Creative – Which software do you use frequently and is there any you would recommend to designers?
Eli Altman – One bit of software I’d recommend is Sublime Text. It’s a word processor with minimal bells and whistles. When I need to focus on my writing I turn my wifi off, close out all my apps and open Sublime Text.
The Logo Creative – What is your daily inspiration when you write?
Eli Altman – Reading. Reading is the best way to become a good writer. I’m not talking about reading work done for branding projects either. Well written fiction is usually my biggest inspiration.
The Logo Creative – When you’re not writing do you have a favorite free time activity you like to do?
Eli Altman – I play soccer (football), trail run, read.
The Logo Creative – What was the biggest challenge you ever faced on a project?
Eli Altman – Easy. Dealing with assholes. Over the years I’ve gotten much better at figuring out who’s going to be difficult. Getting repeat clients makes this happen much less frequently. But every once in awhile, one will sneak through the gates. In those cases it’s all about being professional and extracting yourself ASAP.
The Logo Creative – In your opinion what’s the best and worst part of your job as a writer?
Eli Altman – The best part is that I get to play with language all day. I’ve built strong relationships with amazing partners and clients. The worst part is… the aforementioned occasional asshole.
The Logo Creative – Who is the most inspiring person to you and why?
Eli Altman – My dad. He started A Hundred Monkeys, the company I currently run. During my life my dad never had a boss. He always worked for himself. He showed me it was cool to be weird and taught me most of what I know about being a writer and a creative person.
The Logo Creative – Who is your favourite graphic designer and why?
Eli Altman – The Eameses. I love their focus on process, materials, and understanding human needs. I also love that they only believed in innovation as a last resort.
The Logo Creative – What’s your favourite design quote or quote in general, and do you have a mantra or saying you live by?
Eli Altman – Yes. I have no idea where it comes from but the first time I heard it, it struck me immediately. “You are only as good as the obscurity of your sources.”
The Logo Creative – What steps did you take to start your business? Did you have to make any sacrifices on your journey?
Eli Altman – I need to recognize my privilege here. I was born into a creative family and got a close look at what it meant to run a studio from a very young age. As I said earlier my dad started A Hundred Monkeys and gave me the opportunity to run the business.
With that said, it’s a very different company now than it was when he was running it. We’ve grown significantly both in terms of studio size and output. But without his hard work and insight, who knows what I’d be doing right now.
The Logo Creative – Do you have any regrets? Is there anything you would have changed early on in your career?
Eli Altman – I try not to spend much time looking in the rearview mirror, especially in terms of regrets. You make the best decisions you can given the information and feelings you have. The rest sorts itself out.
The Logo Creative – If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self?
Eli Altman – Writing is an incredibly effective way to solidify your thoughts on anything. If you’re unsure how you feel, start writing about it.
The Logo Creative – What’s the most important piece of advice you have received as a creative person that’s helped you?
Eli Altman – This is a relationship game. Build strong relationships with people you admire and over-deliver.
The Logo Creative – What would be your advice for new Logo and Graphic Designers?
Eli Altman – Understand how you learn best and never stop teaching yourself. This field will change. Your ability to teach yourself gives you the flexibility that will keep you employable.