Spirit of the Season: Quirky

At O+A, we are never content sending out a conventional holiday card. Conventional? Holiday? Aren’t those words contradictory? Through the years we’ve wanted our holiday greetings to be little parties in an envelope and, like all O+A parties, we have tried to make them memorable.
For that reason, our holiday cards are seldom cards. We’ve done coasters and tote bags, chapbooks and interactive digital art. Each summer, our Brand Studio starts brainstorming that year’s holiday mailer—someone always suggests socks. We talk it over for a few months and then, in November or early December, scramble to get it done in time.
Postage is always a concern. When you send out several hundred identical packages, you always fret if the quote you received for your sample item was accurate. One year, our greeting was a DIY popcorn stringing kit, complete with a little bag of un-popped corn. Each bag had to be filled by hand, and each had to weigh exactly the same. For a week after sending out our “popcorn bags,” the team lived in fear that hundreds would come back for insufficient postage (they didn’t).
So that’s the holiday spirit at O+A: ambitious, harried, anxious. Sort of like the holiday spirit everywhere. But also, always filled with laughs and love. We hope this season is bringing you a whole lot of the last two and not enough of the others to matter.

Some of our favorite “cards” from seasons past:


One year, we actually did send out cards—a deck of custom playing cards (because what better captures the spirit of the season than a game of high-stakes poker?). Each of our four brand designers at the time—Elizabeth Vereker, Paulina McFarland, Olivia Ward, Donald Koide—was responsible for one suit of a 52-card deck. For those who knew them, the treat was to see in each King, Queen, Jack, and Joker the personality of the designer.


Tote bags seemed like a functional gift for the holiday season. And since commercial design always starts with function, our team made this one durable, colorful and foldable into a small rectangle that could fit in a pocket. But good design is not only functional. The graphic pattern on the bag turned O+A’s logo into visual jazz improvisation. Or is it hip hop?


It doesn’t snow in San Francisco (…though given the world’s recent weather anomalies, anything feels possible), but brand designer Paulina McFarland hailed from Chicago (and originally Poland), so snow was very much a part of her winter perspective. When she created these coasters, the O’s, A’s and pluses suggested a dreamy blizzard or a frosted windowpane.


One of the great things about the classic Twelve Days of Christmas song is that, like a well-designed space, it is endlessly adaptable. The rhythm is so distinct, you can plug in any words that fit. Our staff plugged in some fun design-inspired lyrics and the Brand Studio interpreted them as merry graphics, the whole thing coming together as a poster you can sing!


One of our all-time favorite holiday creations was brand designer Sarah Hotchin’s lovely chapbook celebrating the books our designers remember most fondly from their high school years. Originally intended as an Artist Series tribute to the library O+A remodeled for the Stevenson School in Pebble Beach, Sarah’s mural-length illustration was so uplifting it became that year’s holiday gift.

Next year: socks!