Eileen Tjan: Art in Board Games #24
This week we have Eileen Tjan a Designer who has worked with on games such as Pyramid Arcade, Zendo, and Fluxx. She also develops branding, collateral, and online marketing graphics with companies such as Looney Labs and Asmodee Digital.
Hello Eileen, thanks for taking the time to speak to us. Firstly, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m a designer and art director from Chicago IL but I’m splitting my time between working in Chicago and Detroit on a magazine called Grand Circus Magazine, an arts and culture publication! In Chicago, I run a design practice called OTHER Studio. We’re a multi-disclipinary studio but I think we’re most known for branding. In the past, I’ve worked on award-winning projects; across many industries and tasks: advertising, production, traditional branding, print and digital. But right now, I’m really enjoying the work I’m doing with my clients at OTHER and spending free time teaching a little, lecturing, hosting community events, and developing the magazine with my partner Alex Trajkovski.
Now we know a little more about you, I have to ask, as a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
My elementary school yearbook said I wanted to be an ACCOUNTANT! Totally different path haha. Other kids wanted to be astronauts, cowboys, or vets but young Eileen dreamed of being an accountant!
So how did you first get involved in making board games?
I was leaving my full time job to pursue freelance design and the Looneys were my first freelance client. At first, they just wanted some assistance designing a newsletter template and it ended up in a relationship to assist with their branding! When we went through the branding process and started to develop a good design relationship, they approached me with the Pyramid Arcade project, a compilation of their most popular Pyramid games.
When you are working on the art of a board game can you give us a quick overview of your creative or thought process and has this changed at all since you first started?
I think with a lot of game art boxes, there’s a very specific story or theme that can inform the game art. You can say oh this game is about space or animals, and immediately you have some visual information. Pyramid Arcade is a special case because it’s actually the compilation of 22 games each with different back stories, and the game pieces and boards themselves are not always literal so we had to be very conceptual with the art.
When we were tackling Pyramid Arcade the studio had recently brought on a young designer, Abe Zieleniec and he worked on this massive project with me. We start all project processes the same, we create mood boards to represent all the different conceptual directions we could explore. From there we dive into first round designs based on selected mood boards.
Before the Looneys landed on Pyramid Arcade, the set was called “Pyramid Throwdown” which is what you see in our preliminary art. We looked at logotype, general art elements, and tried to best assemble those pieces together. The box art front was the easiest place to start visualizing the look/feel of the game. I think we presented 3 options, 2 of mine and 1 from Abe. We ended up working out and producing the entire game based on the original pitched artwork. It’s pretty similar to what you see out now!
You were involved in the creation of Pyramid Arcade, so could you tell us a little bit about what that involved and what were the biggest challenges you faced?
I sort of touched on this in the last question, but the biggest challenge is that there’s no literal interpretation of the game outside of the pieces. So, we had to concept an entire art style and brand around two pieces of information: there are many games you can play with pyramids, and the pieces themselves. It had to be flexible to accommodate the many ways the game manifests! We chose a very flat, graphic, illustration style that was as playful as the pieces themselves. Then to represent each game, we made mini logos and patches for each game using geometry to drive the logic of those illustrations. The main artwork also tried to encompass the idea of many layers of games. You can see in the tunnel-like arch there are different environments and games represented. What we ended up with was a very colorful and diverse style of artwork for the game!
What was the inspiration or core idea that drove your work on Pyramid Arcade?
The core idea for this art style was inspired by the game itself. The pyramids are minimal, graphic game pieces so the style of pieces informed the style of the art. I like the fact that there can be an ever-changing number of games to play! People can make their own games and worlds. So we wanted to create art that felt fun and inviting but was also systematic so it could grow with the game. I’m pretty happy because it feels like something different when it sits on game shelves.
What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
I have a big compilation illustration book that I picked up from Kinokuniya and I am in love with all the work. I’m trying to study the way these artists are portraying fabrics, materials, and textures. I love anime so I’m bias, but also I’m just in love the range of work in this curation!
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to work in the board game industry?
PLAY A LOT OF GAMES AND HAVE FUN!
Do you have any current projects underway, or coming up that you’d like (or are able) to tell us about?
We’re working on some animations and an anthology issue of the magazine I mentioned before. We’ve got a few branding projects too. So there’s quite a variety in-house right now. I would LOVE to work on designing for more games; it’s so fun and really exercises my mind on what it means to “brand” and “design”. If you hear of anyone looking to work with a designer, let me know! ;)