RokRiot Reveals: DKNG

I’ve been a fan of DKNG for as long as I’ve been running this blog, and like a lot of the gig poster designers I choose to profile, DKNG (also known as Dan Kuhlken and Nathan Goldman) possess a set of skills that make them a true inspiration—a heady mix of design savvy and illustrative prowess.

For this installment of RokRiot Reveals, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dan Kuhlken, one-half of the very dynamic DKNG duo, about the creative process behind the shop’s recent poster for Okkervil River (above).

Why did you select this particular poster to discuss?

DK: We were currently working on this project when you first reached out to us. Coincidently, we had a good amount of process footage available to share, including sketches, reference imagery, and a process video. This poster in particular was a bit of an experiment for us in terms of style and approach so it felt like a good idea to share that process as well.

How did you and Nathan establish a creative direction?

DK: We knew from working with Okkervil River in the past that a previous member of the band was into ornithology (the study of birds) and we thought it was a good start to our brainstorming process. We then researched the location of the venue and found that the Baltimore Oriole was not only a beautiful and interesting specimen, but a relevant choice since the venue was in Baltimore.

Before selecting the poster’s final concept, what other ideas were you considering?

DK: We previous researched the band for a potential poster a while back and found that recurring themes revolving around the band were travel and surrealism. Most of this information was found by reading interviews with members of the band. We explored the idea of using an airplane as a central image, also combining the idea of a bird and plane to emphasis surrealism. We even explored the idea of illustrating paper airplanes, but we still preferred the organic nature of using birds in our final concept.

Typically, how much does a band’s persona or sound influence your design?

DK: Hugely. We do our best to prioritize the band’s voice in every piece we create. We don’t want to end up appearing to slap a band’s name on a design that could be used for other performers. We want the final piece to be relevant and special to the fans of the band, which is why concept development is so important to us.

How did you and Nathan tackle the design duties?

DK: In a nutshell, Nathan is a graphic designer, typographer and creative director. My main focus for any project is the illustration. Depending on what the concept ends up being, we delegate our workload accordingly. If the design is mainly illustrative I can count on Nathan to take command of the business side of things like client communication, printer coordination, invoicing, logistics etc. All in all, we do our best to keep both of our minds and hands on the project where best suited.

The poster’s strong geometry juxtaposed against the organic nature of the bird is a nice contrast – was this reflective of another theme you had in mind, or just a personal aesthetic?

DK: Honestly, geometry for me is much easier to swallow and understand than a loose organic style. It gives me a direction and set of rules to follow which help keep the design within a realm of style without looking too “hand drawn.” So I set out to make this poster geometric from the get go.

However, as the illustration progressed, so did little surprises like the mirror image of the bird. The original intent was to illustrate one bird but it didn’t quite fit well within the composition and seemed too asymmetrical for such a geometric look. Once I doubled up the bird, flipped it and changed it’s color, the “Ah Ha!” moment surfaced.

What inspired your color palette?

DK: We like to show subtle stories with our work and we felt by having two birds facing off in the design, a sense of relationship and/or conflict appeared, which we liked. We wanted to emphasis this by choosing two colors that complimented each other while also being very different from each other. On the color wheel orange and blue are complimentary colors and this works well since one color is cool and the other is warm. We originally settled on orange since the Baltimore Oriole’s colors are orange, white, and black.

Concentric circles are a strong component of the design, do they serve as a tribute to vinyl?

DK: We’ve found with our work and other artists as well that “circles sell”. We have our own theories on this but it’s simply one of those shapes that many people find appealing. Personally, I believe circles are calming and very sturdy/safe looking. Yes the line work in our design’s circles helps emphasize a tribute to vinyl, but that that is just a happy accident (or is it?).

Two circles sometimes can be even more personal since it mimics the idea of someone’s eyes looking back at you. We find that dueling imagery sometimes tells more of a story than singularity. We see two circles all the time and many times it creates a sense of curiosity and/or security (example: bicycle wheels, venn diagrams, and dare I say… boobs). I know I’m starting to sound like a crazy hippy so please understand that’s just my personal opinion.

Your time-lapse process video is quite amazing—how many hours of design does it represent?

DK: I would say it represents about two days of design which probably ends up being about 12-15 hours. We take a lot of time when editing these videos to not show the “boring” parts like a repetitive process that ends up not even being used. In fact, I spent probably 2-3 hours on a bird illustration that wasn’t even shown in the video.

We receive a lot of comments on our videos about how they are too fast or don’t show enough. However, we like the idea of their content to be more of a sneak peak or tease of our entire process. If we taught you the entire secret to a magic trick, then the sense of wonder would cease to exist, and who wants that?

Disclaimer: None of our designs were created with the assistance or magic, wizardry, voodoo or witchcraft.


Immerse yourself in the world of DKNG at Prepare to have your mind blown.

Like what you read above? Check out other installments of the RokRiot Reveals series with designers extraordinaire, Reedicus and Don Clark.


2 responses to “RokRiot Reveals: DKNG”

  1. Great interview. I too have been a massive fan of these guys! Well done & Cheers!

    Tommy Sheehan

    1. Thanks, Tommy! In addition to being crazy-talented, these guys are also really cool and down-to-earth.

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