The pursuit of infamous Hoosier bank robber John Dillinger helped a lot of FBI agents build their careers during the Depression era. And recounting those exploits has helped a pair of IUPUI alumni launch an Indianapolis branding business built on the visual communication skills they honed while earning bachelor’s of fine arts degrees from the Herron School of Art & Design.
Just two years after their work on a popular Indiana State Archives exhibit on Dillinger, Isaac Arthur and Cody Fague are making their mark through a downtown design firm called CODO Design. But while that project was the biggest of their IUPUI careers, “Cody and I had worked on several projects together while in school and a few freelance projects outside of class,” says Arthur. “When the Dillinger exhibition came along, we had been planning CODO for about a year and a half.”
Fague loved working on the Dillinger project. “The historic angle of the Dillinger story is what struck me the most,” he says. “I found the idea of John Dillinger and his gang tearing it up in the streets of sleepy Indiana towns super compelling. It was pretty ambitious.”
Vicki Casteel of the Indiana State Archives, whose own research provided much of the exhibit’s content, was impressed by research the team did into the styles prevalent during Dillinger’s day. That work provided an authenticity that made it “a very visual exhibit. Visitors were just awestruck with it,” Casteel says.
A vision of solutions
Visuals are at the heart of CODO’s work, and Arthur and Fague give Herron’s visual communications (VC) program full credit for preparing them for the competitive field of branding. Herron “taught us to become creative problem-solvers,” says Arthur, who graduated from high school in Plainfield, Ind. “A lot of other programs teach how to make things—Herron’s taught us to develop solutions!”
Matt Groshek, who oversees the VC program and assigned both to the Dillinger project, believes they have a skill crucial to any successful business. “They listen to people carefully, and pay attention to what they are really saying,” Groshek says, “which produces greater client trust and collaboration long-term.”
For Fague and Arthur, listening is vital to their research game plan, as is making clients part of the creative team. “They are the ones who know best what problems they need to solve, what they want their image to be,” says Arthur. “Then it’s up to us to take their ideas, develop options for them to evaluate and for all of us to refine them until we get things right.”
Such collaborations help “find that visual ‘voice’ that conveys information, appeals to emotions and personal interests that help our clients do their work,” adds Fague, an Indianapolis native and Broad Ripple High School grad.
Marcia Stone, a former VC lecturer and now part of the Indianapolis branding community, recognizes the technique. “That is something else we emphasized, how to work with people in creative settings, to involve them in the effort and make them part of the process,” Stone says. “But it’s also something those two do so naturally. They love keeping everyone involved and having a good time—and it works well for them.”
Drawn to non-profits
Groshek finds it intriguing that CODO has made its biggest splash in the pool of central Indiana non-profits, a field he knows Fague and Arthur are drawn toward. “They are excited about things in the world,” Groshek says. “They pay attention to what’s going on around them and in their community, and they imagine all the ways they can fit in.”
Community-based work suits them. “Isaac and I have had a lot of opportunities to work with cool non-profit and community service clients,” says Fague. “When we started (CODO), we wanted to do more of it.” That has led to work with organizations like the Mutt Strut (supporting the Humane Society), Dig-IN (supporting sustainability, Indiana-based food producers and local chefs) and the new Indy Bike Hub YMCA based in the Indianapolis City Market (supporting those who ride bicycles into downtown Indy).
Already, CODO’s work has generated local buzz among potential clients and even competitors, something that “gives us a lot of pride,” Arthur says. “Recognition from peers is a great compliment,” but neither takes anything for granted. “We’re just two guys working in a small, weird room,” Arthur adds with a chuckle. “But it is fun to see what ideas we can come up with.”
They consider IUPUI pivotal in their lives. “I really wanted to go to art school in Chicago, and couldn’t afford it,” says Fague. “But looking back, I realize that IUPUI is uniquely positioned to be the university of the future—it’s so connected to everything in this city!”
It also gave them perspective. “We really started learning when we graduated,” Arthur adds. “More than anything, what Herron taught us is how to keep learning, keep growing.”
The more the two explore the parameters of branding, the more excited they get about their careers. “Finding that one compelling image that identifies a company or a client is the key to everything,” says Arthur. “And when you get it, there’s no feeling like it. It’s magic!”